Senate committee to probe post-COVID society
Hinds says panel will focus on prioritizing legislation
WHEN SEN. ADAM HINDS looks at the disproportionate toll COVID-19 has taken on poor people and communities of color in Massachusetts, he said, “It’s hard not to experience it as a massive policy failure.”
Hinds, a Pittsfield Democrat who now chairs a special Senate Committee on Reimagining Massachusetts Post-Pandemic Resiliency, said inequity will be a major focus of the committee as it has broad discussions on how to rebuild a stronger state in the wake of the COVID-19 emergency.
“It would be a dereliction of duty if we didn’t do everything in our power to correct the inequities that led to more death in certain communities,” Hinds said.
The special Senate committee is planning to hold its first hearing Tuesday, which will include an introduction to the committee’s work, and panel discussions focused on the digital divide, housing policy, and issues affecting Southeastern Massachusetts. Hinds, speaking to reporters in advance of the hearing, laid out an ambitious agenda for the committee, which he said will consider both immediate and longer-term issues regarding how the pandemic changed society. Rather than studying the topic and issuing a report, Hinds said the committee will be used to sift through and prioritize policy proposals to determine what legislation should move forward and what budget areas should be invested in as society recovers from the pandemic.
Hinds said one of the short-term issues he hopes to tackle is the digital divide. In Pittsfield, for example, 1,800 students lacked internet access when the shift to remote learning started, and some teachers were teaching remote classes sitting in a parking lot outside a public library to get wi-fi.
Horowitz added that the problem is not only about a lack of infrastructure in certain rural communities, but also about a lack of money to pay for internet service in poor, urban neighborhoods. He noted that a lot of the focus this past year was on students not being able to access remote education. As schools reopen, he said, the problem will shift to adults not being able to access telehealth appointments or remote work opportunities.
Issues like housing also have both short and long-term implications. For now, Hinds said, lawmakers need to figure out how to prevent a spate of evictions. Longer term, examining data about housing trends could provide insight into how the pandemic has changed the state’s geography.For example, with companies increasingly talking about allowing more remote work, that could make living in suburbs further from Boston more appealing. If people only have to commute into Boston once or twice a week, Horowitz said, “All of a sudden, Boston has a lot more suburbs.” A population shift to further-out communities could affect housing prices, commuting and transportation patterns, and demand for childcare. Horowitz said if there is an exodus from Boston, that could lower housing prices, which would be good for those currently priced out. But it also creates the potential for “second generation white flight” depending on who has jobs with flexibility that allows them to leave the city.
Hinds said other areas the committee wants to keep an eye on include potential changes to childcare; job retraining and what industries are likely to grow in the future; what an acceptance of remote learning means for the future of education; and how to address the impacts of systemic racism on communities, neighborhoods, and health care.