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Berkshire Mayors, Sen. Markey Talk Need For Federal Aid

A white man in a white shirt and khakis stands behind a podium in a park in front of a large campaign bus and a woman in a dress
Josh Landes
Senator Ed Markey addressing supporters in downtown Pittsfield's Park Square this summer.

Democratic Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey says additional federal coronavirus relief funding is needed for the state and cities.

Markey directed his ire at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell during a virtual press conference with Massachusetts mayors Thursday morning, blaming the Kentucky Republican for leaving additional aid for states and cities out of a proposed $900 billion spending plan being debated in Congress.

“State and local governments deserve help, not to be a bargaining point,” said the senator. “And as the New Year looms, instead of being able to plan on relief funding to set next year's budgets, mayors and city managers are being left with layoffs and reduced services. Without this critical funding, we are at risk of losing public safety employees, libraries, parks, and recreation workers, the essential staff that makes our cities function with more than a foot of snow on the ground across Massachusetts – two feet out in Pittsfield.”

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer said federal funding has been critical to the city’s response to the pandemic.

“Just today, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, we have 47 new COVID-19 cases,” she said. “People are fighting for their lives. And it's our job in municipal government to have all of those safety nets in place to protect them. Our approach in Pittsfield has been ‘people first’ from the very beginning. And the CARES Act funding that was first passed that's about to expire on December 30 has been a key element to putting initiatives in place to protect the people of Pittsfield. So the first thing we need to fight for is an extension of that current CARES Act funding, so that we can continue to do things like help the homeless population in the city of Pittsfield, with emergency sheltering, food and other essentials.”

As it stands, cities and states will have to return any unspent federal aid if no extension to the CARES Act is passed.

Tyer said federal aid has allowed Pittsfield to expand its public health department to facilitate faster response times and efficient contact tracing.

“We've purchased PPE for our first responders,” she said. “They are on the front line and they are arriving at medical calls, emergency calls, police calls in a community that's currently in the ‘red’ category, meaning that we're at high risk for transmission. We have spent our CARES Act money over the summer months preparing our schools for in-person learning. So lots of money spent on repairing ventilation systems, making sure the air quality is satisfactory to give teachers and families the confidence to send their kids to school.”

The mayor says future aid will be vital for the city to continue dealing with the pandemic and its many ripples.

“It's going to be vital for the people of Pittsfield and their families to have access to additional unemployment funds so that they can sustain themselves and their families through this pandemic,” said Tyer. “We need our businesses and our restaurants to have economic relief and recovery and CARES Act can be a part of that jigsaw puzzle that we all put together to keep our economy thriving and sustaining and in recovery.”

North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard was also on the call.

“We're dealing with the same issues, and on the day of a snowstorm that we're still digging out from because the snow is still falling here in the Berkshires," he said. "You know, the costs of this pandemic to our municipalities can't be overlooked. You know, every one of us wrestles with our snow and ice budget at the end of the year. And we're going to do that in a context this year that is especially challenging because of everything that we've done.”

Markey said that he was optimistic about Congress passing a more comprehensive relief package once President-Elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20th.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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