Legislators’ jobs bill not for everyone
In an effort to address the state’s staggering unemployment numbers caused by the coronavirus pandemic, two local lawmakers have filed legislation that would offer out-of-work individuals a chance at new jobs.
Sen. Jamie Eldridge and recently elected 37 th Middlesex District Rep. Danillo Sena filed a bill to establish the Massachusetts Works Progress Administration Program ( WPAP).
According to Eldridge’s office, this measure — an obvious reference to the Works Progress Administration, the massive federal jobs-creating effort established by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935 during the height of the Great Depression — would receive and support proposed initiatives for unemployed and underemployed residents in underprivileged communities.
These programs include contact tracing for coronavirus, climate-change resiliency and environmental conservation, as well as creating jobs for projects covering water quality, infrastructure, online education, child care and the cannabis industry.
“Residents are seeking to get back to work and provide for their families, but the COVID-19 pandemic continues to put a strain on the economy with many folks still jobless,” Eldridge said in a press release.
“COVID-19 has been economically disastrous, especially in our immigrant communities and communities of color,” added Rep. Sena, a former member of Eldridge’s Senate staff, who served as his district director for six years.
If approved, the bill stipulates that the program would operate within the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. The WPAP would receive project proposals from state departments and agencies to determine how best to support them.
With an unemployment rate standing at 16.3% as of May, every unemployed Massachusetts resident could use an economic shot in the arm. However, this WPAP bill seems specifically targeted toward a certain segment of the population, especially, to paraphrase Eldridge, the many immigrant families not eligible to receive unemployment benefits or the federal CARES Act stimulus checks.
Those would be undocumented — illegal — immigrants. Though in most cases hard-working, tax-paying members of society, their refusal to abide by our immigration laws comes at a cost.
We also don’t see a funding mechanism to support this program. It’s not realistic in this revenue-depleted environment to believe that any state agency will have sufficient resources to pay for any perceived need.
Back in the day of the original WPA, when unemployment had reached 20% nationwide, the federal government made an initial appropriation of $4.9 billion — about $94 billion in today’s dollars.
That money was used primarily for the construction of public buildings, roads and bridges — which remain acute infrastructure needs today — not climate-change resiliency and environmental conservation, this bill’s apparent top-two priorities, in addition to jobs in the cannabis industry.
The state just laid off the majority of coronavirus contact tracers, due to communication glitches and the lack of cooperation by the target audience.
Other jobs mentioned — for projects including water quality, infrastructure, online education, and child care — would seem to be a much higher priority.
And we believe a bill that enlists the input — and hopefully financial assistance — from the state’s business community would better match jobs with job seekers.
But we’ll give these two Acton legislators credit for putting this topic out for public debate. We’re certain their colleagues in the Legislature will offer their ideas as this bill progresses.