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Poverty, child care top concerns for local women

— It wasn’t that long ago that Rosemarie Freeland was raising her children alone, was on welfare and needed subsidized housing to keep from becoming homeless.

“I was on welfare in the 1990s, prior to reform,” she told members of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, who were at Greenfield High School Wednesday night to hear women’s concerns.

Freeland said she had just gotten out of an abusive marriage and was attending Greenfield Community College.

She said she needed child care and it was available on campus at a decent cost.

All of the services offered to her helped Freeland graduate and get a good job to support her children, she said.

Today, she is coordinator of the Greenfield Community College Women’s Resource Center.

Unfortunately, she said, many services have been eliminated due to budget cuts and she is concerned that the state has taken a few steps backward.

She said obstacles, such as domestic violence, housing, lack of child care, inability to buy nutritious food and transportation make it even harder on women and put them at even higher risk of becoming homeless or needing services and she’s hoping the commission can do something about it.

The commission is an independent state agency consisting of 18 commissioners drawn from diverse racial, ethnic, religious, age, sexual orientation and socioeconomic backgrounds. It works closely with state legislators to promote and pass legislation that positively impacts women.

Samantha Wood, night managing editor at The Recorder in Greenfield, spoke to the commission about the comments and concerns she has heard from friends and acquaintances.

Wood said she reached out to women because she sees a lot of news cross her desk each night and knows how deeply most of it affects women in Greenfield and throughout the county and the state.

Wood told the commission that women need good jobs, and said that can’t be overstated, because many are heads of household. She said unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of opportunity.

She said women told her that they are concerned there aren’t enough mentoring opportunities across income brackets and careers.

Wood said that poverty and lack of affordable child care cripple women, who can’t save for retirement, so become more impoverished as they age.

She said that many women feel the need for some sort of larger retail store in the Greenfield area, whether it is for economic reasons or for convenience.

And, she said there need to be more programs for teen girls so they can learn about community activism, voting, becoming leaders and more.

Others reiterated her concerns and added access to reproductive health care, cancer care, public transportation and science education as other areas they see lacking.

Former Northampton mayor and current Executive Director of Community Action Mary Claire Higgins said the state also has to look at its schools, especially early childhood care and education.

“To put a couple of children in child care can cost up to $13,000 a year in Massachusetts,” said Higgins.

She said women raising children alone cannot afford those prices and asked the commission to advocate for a more comprehensive study of the needs of women.

Higgins said it hurts the entire community when a woman can’t find or afford child care.

“There’s no economic development without accessible, affordable child care,” said Higgins.

Transportation was another issue talked about for a good part of the two-hour public hearing.

Many of the attendees, most of whom work for local social service agencies, said they see a woman who desperately needs services, but can’t get them because she doesn’t have transportation to get to where she needs to go for them — many times they are located out of town because so many agencies have consolidated to save money.

Others who attended the public hearing included state Rep. Denise Andrews, former Judge Herbert and Janet Hodos, Ann Wiley, a professor of psychology at GCC, Lucy Hartry from Tapestry, which provides reproductive care to residents in the state’s four most western counties, and Susan Mareneck, executive director of the Turners Falls nonprofit Montague Catholic Social Ministries.

About two dozen were in attendance.

The commission holds numerous public hearings each year throughout the state where it talks about equal rights, political participation, diversity, women’s health and other issues affecting women.

It will hold its Advocacy Day at the Statehouse in Boston on May 15, 2013.

Chairwoman Victoria Budson, who is the founding executive director of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, said anyone may attend that event.

Budson said it would surprise people to find out that one call to the state Legislature can make a difference, eight can sway a vote, and 15 calls can work wonders.

For information, visit: www.mass.gov/women.

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