By State Representative Christine Barber
One year into the COVID pandemic, we have many urgent needs across the Commonwealth. The pandemic has changed life for all of us and exposed wide disparities in our ability to access health care and housing, disproportionately harming communities of color.
Simply put, there is a lot to do at the State House this session to meet this moment.
But I have hope that together we can make significant change. I am committed to working with the people of Somerville and Medford to provide equitable solutions for the challenges we face. As more people become active and engaged in organizing to improve our communities, we are heading in a promising direction.
That organizing helped win some recent fights at the State House – bold climate change legislation including environmental justice and net-zero goals, bills to protect reproductive health and health care access, and budgets supporting our community through rental subsidies and stronger eviction rules, unemployment assistance, and grants to small businesses and arts organizations.
As we begin the 2021-2022 state legislative session, it is imperative that we continue to address the systemic racism and white supremacy that has been present for so long in our recovery. I will continue to work with grassroots groups locally and across Massachusetts to build on our recent victories and find opportunities to move forward.
My primary goals are mitigating the impact of COVID-19 and paving the path for a strong, equitable recovery, by passing bills that improve access to health care and housing, shore up resources for early education and care, provide basic rights to immigrants and keep our air clean. My key priorities this session are:
● Ensuring people can afford their prescriptions. The cost of prescription drugs continues to rise, and the pandemic has increased the urgency to make medications affordable, particularly for people with asthma, diabetes, and other illnesses that worsen COVID-19’s impact. I’ve partnered with grassroots groups to tackle prescription drug prices, with a special emphasis on communities that face disproportionate barriers to accessing medications.
● Keeping people in their homes and creating more affordable housing. The COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted housing affordability as a basic health and safety need. In response, I have filed legislation to provide greater rental assistance to families who are struggling. I have also introduced legislation to update the state’s fair housing law to prohibit the denial of housing developments in local communities solely because they would include affordable units for families.
● Ensuring immigrants’ safety. Without the ability to apply for a Massachusetts driver’s license, immigrants, many of whom are essential workers, put themselves at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, and have difficulty getting to work or taking a child to the doctor. Working with local immigration activists, I have re-filed a bill to allow all people to apply for drivers’ licenses, regardless of immigration status. Passing this bill would make an immediate, positive impact on the lives of immigrant families in Massachusetts.
● Providing children with opportunities to learn. Early education is a cornerstone of the state’s recovery, and has been crucial for frontline workers throughout the pandemic. Early education and child care programs have been devastated by the pandemic, leaving many families and children without safe places to learn and play. Two bills I have filed will provide support to early education and out-of-school providers, including protections for the early educators in these programs.
● Keeping our air clean. The legislature recently passed a transformative climate change bill, but more work remains. In Somerville and Medford, motor vehicle, bus and truck traffic causes dramatically high asthma rates. I’m working with Representative Mike Connolly to address air quality, particularly for people who live near I-93. I am also working to create state targets to convert buses and other fleets of vehicles to zero-emissions over the next decade.
I am proud of the collaborative efforts of so many people from Somerville and Medford on these issues. Your ideas and activism make this work possible, and I look forward to staying engaged with all of you. I encourage you to contact me directly with ideas, questions, and comments.
Though we face many challenges in these uncertain times, we also have new opportunities to work together and move our values forward to create real change. Somerville and Medford are vibrant communities filled with active, engaged residents, and we can be the example for others. By working together, we can ensure that basic rights and protections – like health care, education, safety, clean air, and housing – are available to all.
Christine P. Barber is a State Representative for the 34th Middlesex District, which includes neighborhoods in Somerville and Medford. Stay in touch with Christine on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for her newsletter.