Sen. Comerford looks to ‘build back better’ following pandemic

  • COMERFORD

Staff Writer
Published: 4/27/2021 5:46:05 PM

What a post-pandemic Western Massachusetts might look like was the focus during a virtual town hall with state Sen. Jo Comerford on Monday, who said she’d like to see everyone work together to “build back better” while remaining committed to public health and emergency preparedness.

Comerford, D-Northampton, said she has filed bills or co-sponsored ones she believes build bridges to what’s ahead. She said she and her staff have also been working, since she took office in 2019, on health care, unemployment and eviction when it comes to individuals, while at the same time helping municipalities apply for and get grants, and work with state agencies.

“We’ve brought home money to people and programs and we’ve set priorities,” she said.

Some of the bills Comerford talked about involve banning the construction of new correctional facilities, protecting the homes of people who die while on MassHealth, and education reform.

“We have a lot of bills and there’s a lot I could say, but I’m mentioning just a bill or two under each category,” she noted.

For instance, she said MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) testing should not be done this year to “determine a diploma” for students, first because some will be disproportionately represented and also because measuring excellence should be redefined.

Comerford said higher education — with schools including Greenfield Community College, Holyoke Community College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst — is the bedrock of the economy in the Pioneer Valley.

“We have to help with the student debt crisis,” she said.

Comerford is also focusing on foster care. She would like to see a foster care review office, for example.

Meanwhile, she plans to concentrate on energy and the environment this year, saying there is a “massive bill” coming and will be discussed at a later date.

“And agriculture is like a heartbeat to us in this area,” she said. “We need to do all we can to help farmers stay farming. We need equity in agriculture for farmers of color.”

Comerford said a lot can be said about health care.

“Local public health keeps us safe,” she said. “We saw this during COVID. Public health officials need resources.”

There are many social determinants when it comes to health, she said, including affordable housing, so that will be another focus, as will getting money for cities and towns that want to build fire stations, public works buildings and town halls.

“We have money for libraries and schools,” she said, “and there should be money for those other types of buildings as well. There’s a lot of frustration over this.”

Most important, Comerford said, she wants to see her districts become more equitable, more resilient and stronger post-pandemic.

“We’ll decide how to charge forward,” she said, “and take what we learned during COVID and use it to be better.”

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.


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