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Lawmakers: Waiting game for handicap placards unacceptable in WMass

  • Holly Handfield of Easthampton, stands by her car parked in a handicapped spot at Old Navy in Hadley and talks about the delays she encountered getting handicapped placards for her car. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • left Deb Levheim, of Ludlow and Julia Beaudoin, of Belchertown and a CNA who works with Levheim, stand by the car parked in a handicapped spot at Trader Joes in Hadley and talk about the delays they encountered getting handicapped placards for her car. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Holly Handfield, of Easthampton, stands by her car parked in a handicapped spot at Old Navy in Hadley and talks about the delays she encountered getting disability placards for her car. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Deb Levheim, left, of Ludlow and Julia Beaudoin, of Belchertown and a certified nursing assistant who works with Levheim, stand by the car parked in a handicapped spot at Trader Joe’s in Hadley and talk about the delays they encountered getting disability placards for her car. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Margie Wissman walks to her car in the parking lot out side Dicks Sporting Good in Hadley and talks about her experience getting handicapped placards for her car. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS



Staff Writer
Friday, September 14, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — Two years ago, Ashfield resident Tom McCrumm broke his hip skiing. He was on crutches and struggled to get around.

With all his paperwork in order, he headed to the Greenfield Registry of Motor Vehicles branch thinking he would have to wait about 20 minutes before leaving with a temporary handicap, or disability parking placard. Instead, he was told he would have to wait four to six weeks.

“I left and came home fuming,” McCrumm, 73, said. “I’m still bent out of shape about it two years later.”

At the time, McCrumm said he didn’t understand why there was such a big delay to get a placard and contacted state Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, who helped him get one about a week later.

“But someone shouldn’t have to call their legislator to have to do that,” said Kulik, who is one 14 lawmakers who this week wrote to state Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack about western Massachusetts residents having to wait months to receive placards when residents in eastern part of the state have timely access to them.

The Sept. 10 letter is the second time in more than two years that lawmakers have requested that the state Department of Transportation provide quicker service for western Massachusetts residents seeking handicap placards. A letter dated Feb. 1, 2016, from Registrar of Motor Vehicles Erin Deveney told lawmakers from Hamsphire, Berkshire, Hampden and Franklin counties that a process had not been followed for processing temporary handicapped placards by RMV employees and that the problem would be fixed and steps taken to re-educate staff.

Deveney acknowledged that the RMV’s current processing of mailed in applications was “not an acceptable service level,” and that the agency was hiring additional staff to speed up the processing of the placards.

“It has since come to our attention that the problem has not been remedied, and it appears that there is no process in place to allow residents of western Massachusetts to obtain temporary handicap placards in a timely or reasonable manner,” states the letter from lawmakers this week, and which is signed by state reps. John Scibak, Solomon-Goldstein Rose, and Stephen Kulik, as well as state senators Eric Lesser, Adam Hinds and Donald F. Humason, among others.

The lawmakers note in their letter that at the Boston RMV, one can apply and receive a placard much quicker – sometimes in just a day – according to state legislators. Applications are processed in the RMV’s Haymarket office, which leaves residents in the western part of the state with two options: make the drive to Boston, or wait.

“The suggestion that already-handicapped residents of western Massachusetts should endure a taxing round-trip drive of 150 miles or more to Boston in order to obtain a handicap placard is insensitive, to say the least, and displays a shocking indifference to the reason they need the placards in the first place,” the letter states. It continued, “… this is clearly a pattern in which residents of western Massachusetts continue to be treated as second-class citizens, with unequal access to the state resources enjoyed by residents of eastern Massachusetts.”

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation said in a statement Wednesday that it has recently made progress on the issue.

“Over the past several months, the Registry has reduced a significant backlog of placard applications, and most customers are currently receiving placards within a week of sending their applications to the Registry.”

But state Sen. Lesser, D-Longmeadow, said he has heard from constituents that the problem is still happening, and others interviewed by the Gazette experienced delays similar to McCrumm. 

Deb Levheim of South Hadley applied for a handicap placard last December or January. She was surprised at how long it took to arrive.“We didn’t get it until after April of this year,” she said while getting into her car in a handicap parking spot at Trader Joe’s in Hadley. 

“There was no way I was going to go to Boston,” she responded when asked if she had considered traveling there for faster service.

Levheim’s certified nursing assistant, Julia Beaudoin, said her mother applied last year for a handicap placard that took several months to receive. 

“It’s really kind of ridiculous,” she said.

Holly Handfield of Easthampton applied about two years ago for her placard.

“I think it took a little bit longer than I thought it would,” she said. “But I have patience … I find anything takes more time in western Massachusetts if it’s going through Boston,” she said.

She said the placard has been really useful for her to get around. “It’s a lot easier,” she said. 

In the legislators’ Sept. 10 letter, they request “a concrete plan” from the RMV on how the problem will be addressed. 

“We’re simply asking for the services which our tax money pays for,” Lesser said, noting that such services should be equally accessible to the state’s resident no matter where they live.

According to the Department of Transportation, applications dropped off at RMVs around the state are faxed to Boston where staff have been trained to expedite processing and send placards out the same day. 

Whether you live in Hadley or Boston, the level of service should be the same, said state Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley. If the roles were reversed and applications were processed in the greater Springfield area, he said, those in eastern Massachusetts and the Boston area would “go ballistic.”

“What’s so special about living in Boston?” McCrumm asked in an interview Wednesday. “We’re all here, we have the same department of transportation.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com