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.

Sentinel & Enterprise - - OPINION -

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.

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