Report details proposals to reshape post-pandemic state

  • ADAM HINDS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/6/2021 9:22:43 AM

BOSTON — The Senate Committee on Reimagining Massachusetts Post-Pandemic Resiliency has released a report outlining proposals on topics that range from broadband access, housing and public health to caregiving, education and the future of work.

“This will initiate and have a lot of discussion,” Senate President Karen Spilka said at a Tuesday press conference. “This is a blueprint for both immediate needs and long-term needs.”

While Spilka said the report outlines a potential policy future that can serve as a guide for months and years to come, its proposals will still have to go through the Senate’s processes. The special committee was formed earlier this year and is chaired by Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield.

“This is the initial findings of this two-year committee,” Hinds said during the news conference. “It feels like there’s no bigger set of issues to be grappling with.”

Hinds said the committee was focused on getting proposals on the table as the Legislature looks at how it will spend approximately $5 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act money.

The report looks at five areas: the digital divide; child care, early education, intergenerational care and the care economy; new paths to economic opportunity, housing prices and real estate; and transit and transportation.

Hinds said these topics rose to the top in the five hearings the committee held, and that in examining the impact of the pandemic, deeper issues with the state were revealed, including stagnating wages, the affordability of care and rising home costs.

The report looks at the impact of the pandemic on these five areas and puts forward policy proposals. For instance, the digital divide section states that while some areas of the state lack robust options for secure broadband, the biggest barrier to broadband access is income.

“The reality is, it’s not just an infrastructure issue,” Hinds said in an interview.

The section includes a proposal for better low-cost options from internet providers, which could be achieved through $50-$100 million annually from the state.

On the care front, the report contains a proposal for expanded tax credits for those caring for children, the elderly or family members with disabilities that could cost $100-150 million annually. Another proposal would create intergenerational campuses, locating facilities for the elderly alongside schools, allowing for intergenerational engagement and the sharing of space.

Spilka said she was particularly struck by the devastating effects that COVID-19 has had on women in the workplace.

She said the state needs to come up with more creative solutions to help strengthen the caregiving sector in Massachusetts to better support those — often women — trying to juggle work while looking after vulnerable family members.

“It’s clear to me that if we wish to have a full and equitable recovery, we must take a look at the factors that affect women’s employment at every level and in every sector,” she said.

The report acknowledged that remote work is more accessible to those with a higher income and to white populations.

“How do you get at the persistent wealth and income gaps by race?” asked Hinds, who noted that this was a driving force behind many of the policy proposals.

He also said the data for where we are vulnerable as a society keeps pointing to disparate outcomes by income and race.

“It screams out for more investment and action,” Hinds said.

The combination of the pandemic, an ongoing racial reckoning and federal funds set the stage for making meaningful improvements, Hinds said.

One of the proposals in the report would create a public bank with a mission to foster racial and ethnic equity. The proposal states that while upfront costs would be $500 million to $1 billion, it would be self-funding once capitalized.

Some of the issues referenced in the report focus on how families can build wealth in so-called “underbanked communities,” where people may not have traditional bank accounts and use institutions such as check cashers and payday lenders.

“How do you handle underbanked communities and the implications of intergenerational wealth transfers, and how do we try once and for all to make progress on income and wealth gaps that drive disparate health outcomes and different lifelong earnings and education attainment?” Hinds asked.

A $400-$500 million investment in existing programs to increase the housing and rental stock is put forward in the report. The transportation section, meanwhile, floats the idea of free bus fares in some areas.

The report makes it clear that the committee’s work is not done and that it will also be looking at areas that include health costs and health equity, climate change, environmental justice, democracy, voting systems and governance, along with K-12 and higher education.

Hinds said the committee could release another report with proposals next spring.

This story includes reporting from the Associated Press.

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