Whipps: Vision is fine, but people need service


For the Recorder
Published: 10/27/2020 4:46:45 PM

ATHOL — Her opponent says the next state representative for the 2nd Franklin District should bring a new vision to the job. Incumbent Susannah Whipps says vision is fine, but vision won’t untangle unemployment problems, RMV mistakes, business license complications or help navigate the complicated bureaucracy of any number of state departments, divisions or offices.

Whipps sees her main responsibility as providing top-notch constituent services, whether those constituents are individuals, business owners or local town officials.

An Independent, Whipps is seeking her fourth term in the state House of Representatives. She was first elected as a Republican but changed her affiliation to unenrolled/independent in 2017 and now caucuses with the Democratic majority on Beacon Hill. Prior to winning her seat, Whipps served on the Athol Selectboard for 10 years.

Whipps is being challenged by Athol Democrat William LaRose of Athol, who is making his first foray into electoral politics. The 2nd Franklin District includes Athol, Warwick, Orange, Erving, Gill, Wendell, New Salem, Phillipston, Royalston, Templeton and Belchertown (Precinct A).

Some issues that were particularly bothersome, Whipps said, have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“There are always people coming to our office trying to find housing,” she said. “The wait lists are very long for public housing. And we don’t have any provisions in our district for homeless shelters. We usually have to send people either way east or way west.

“Food insecurity has also grown quite a bit,” she continued. “I speak to a lot of people who volunteer at food pantries and, you know, it’s sad. I’ve always been a champion of SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and HIP (Healthy Initiatives Program) and other resources, and we’re seeing more families with children who are food insecure.”

Whipps said the economic impact of COVID-19 has been widespread.

“It’s been a tough time,” she said. “Unemployment, obviously, is worse. And then, when you throw in all the fraudulent unemployment claims that slow things up, that keeps people from getting their benefits right away.

“I actually had someone open up a fraudulent unemployment claim in my name, with my Social Security number,” she added. “I got a letter from the Department of Labor and I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’”

Sponsoring and supporting legislation, having a vision, is important, Whipps said, but she believes an effective state representative needs to be a problem solver.

“When people come to our office, we’re usually their last stop,” she explained. “I always say nobody calls us, nobody knocks on our door, if their house is warm and their cupboards are full. They’re coming to us when we have a serious issue, and we’ve done more cases since March than I think we did in the three years prior to March.”

A member of the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Whipps said she believes that, due in large part to the effects of the pandemic, the country will soon be faced with another major problem.

“I have been saying, since about mid-April, that I genuinely believe the next health care crisis we have in this nation will be a children’s mental and behavioral health crisis; and the more I think about it, with our seniors as well.

“Isolation is something, prior to COVID, that has had great effect,” she continued. “The majority of the towns in my district, 20 percent or more of their residents are over 65 years old. And 40 to 45 percent of those people live by themselves. Isolation in seniors leads to poor eating habits, poor sleeping habits, lack of exercise, lack of mental stimulation, and when folks are in the highest risk category, it truly is difficult to ask them to stay home.”

Regarding children, Whipps noted that reports of child abuse and neglect are down since March, but that isn’t necessarily a positive development.

“The reports of it are down,” she said. “The incidents of it are not down. Kids develop relationships with people at school — whether it’s teachers or the lunch ladies — and everybody that works in a school is a mandated reporter and required to report instances of neglect or abuse, or malnourishment.

“So, having tens of thousands of kids at home and not at school is keeping them away from people who check on their wellness. I think we’ll be dealing with the impact of that in the near future, and we need to develop a plan for dealing with it.”

A graduate of Athol High School and Fitchburg State College (now University), Whipps had opened two restaurants by the time she was in her early 20s. However, shortly after 2000, she found herself working for the business founded by her father in 1977, Whipps Inc., an Athol company that manufactures water control systems.

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