June 23, 2021
Bay State Banner: Pressley secures federal funding
U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley is fighting for funding for local community projects to help residents recover from several of last year’s hardships. If she is successful, hundreds of thousands of dollars will go to programs at the Dimock Center, La Colaborativa in Chelsea and the mayor’s tuition-free college program, as well as several others across the Massachusetts 7th district.
Pressley has already made significant progress with transportation projects on Blue Hill Avenue and Columbia Road, securing $15 million in House appropriations for the Roxbury multimodal transit project.
After communicating with local leadership and mayor’s offices in the district, Pressley and her staff submitted seven community projects to the House appropriations bill. While the same process goes on in the Senate with a different set of submissions, the two bodies will conference between now and the end of the fiscal year to decide which projects make the final round.
As a health center in Boston, serving Roxbury since 1862, the Dimock Center is working to make care for those struggling with substance abuse more accessible.
While the center has a full range of services for women who need to detox and recover from substance use disorder, the men’s program has a significant gap in care.
Dr. Charles Anderson, Dimock’s president and CEO, said that many men leave care at the Dimock Center because clinical stabilization is not offered.
“Now that you’ve gotten detoxified, you have to start working through all the other clinical issues that are going on,” Anderson told the Banner.
Instead, many men who are struggling go straight from detox back into their communities, only to return with the same issue. Others seek clinical stabilization at other health centers that may or may not have the capacity to take them on.
“We have also successfully taken men from detox to the residential [recovery], but it’s not ideal,” Anderson said.
With the $1 million, the Dimock Center would be able to bring in 300 additional community members who are in need. Without it, the doctor said, families may continue to suffer as substance abuse destabilizes homes.
Pressley told the Banner that the Dimock Center is crucial to fighting health disparities in Roxbury.
“Our community health centers have been overutilized and under-resourced for a very long time,” she said.
Both the congresswoman and Anderson mentioned that there has been a 69% increase in unintentional overdoses among Black men this year.
“This funding is going to provide Roxbury residents and neighboring areas with critically needed substance use disorder treatment and programming,” Pressley said.
The Chelsea Collaborative, now known as La Colaborativa, never closed during the pandemic, as the need was greater than ever in the city.
The organization’s job placement program, which began before the pandemic reached its peak, will become a COVID employment recovery program if Pressley’s appropriations request is approved. The $300,000 will be used to hire new job navigators and English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers.
“Most of our members are English level one and two,” said Dinanyili Paulino, chief operating officer of La Colaborativa.
“We started with emergency ESL classes, leadership classes revamping the resume [and] interview skills,” she said.
Those who help with training are focused on food and hospitality workers who are trying to pivot in the aftermath of COVID closures. They’ve already seen 1,000 people sign up for online ESL classes, with the help of the city of Chelsea.
Paulino said the community is suffering from eviction and gentrification pressures at such a level that La Colaborativa was assisting families with up to $22,000 in rent owed.
In addition to helping with job loss, they were also placing families in hotels and helping them with RAFT applications.
“We were seeing illegal eviction, even with a moratorium being implemented,” Paulino said.
The devastation continues, she said, because of the economic impacts of the pandemic, and so La Colaborativa spoke at length with Pressley about supporting an economic recovery plan.
“This funding is for rapid reemployment, and this is going to help the Chelsea community to create pathways to jobs, and to pay rent,” Pressley said.
Pressley has joined the chorus of legislators calling for the cancellation of student debt, and her request for support for Boston’s Tuition-Free Community College Plan takes aim at the problem.
The program is for qualifying students who attend Bunker Hill Community College, Massasoit Community College, MassBay Community, Roxbury Community College, Urban College of Boston, and Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, a school that could also see support from one of Pressley’s appropriations requests.
“We estimate that it’s probably 150 to 200 people that we’ll be able to help with these funds,” said Deputy Director of Workforce Development Katy Gall.
Not only does the program cover full tuition for an associate’s or bachelor’s degree after the federal Pell Grant is applied, but students who qualify also receive $250 per semester for college-related costs, like textbooks and fees.
Gall said that several industries are looking for employees to fill positions within the next couple of years, because of how much of the workforce was lost to the pandemic. Getting students this college money right away is part of the city’s economic recovery, “particularly for many of our talented workers that were just laid off, who were also on the front lines of exposure.”
Those same workers, especially low-wage workers, can use this program to advance their career after pandemic-related adversity.
“Tuition is the biggest barrier,” she said.
Though the Tuition Free College Plan receives money from a local trust, subsidizing it with this $1 million could give more students the boost they need to recover from job loss or switch careers.
The congresswoman is celebrating a step forward in community requests. A transformative project for the Blue Hill Avenue corridor is included in the House’s surface transportation appropriations bill. Like other appropriations bills, it will go through the voting and debate process in the Senate before it reaches the president’s desk.
The $12 million project focuses on multi-modal transportation, improving the layout of sidewalks, bike lanes, vehicle traffic and bus lanes. Pressley aims to better connect Nubian Square to Mattapan Square through Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan.
“Every inequity and disparity that I seek to address, including the racial wealth gap in the Massachusetts 7th [District]—transit is right at the center of that,” Pressley told the Banner.
The proposed improvements, she said, will be focused on transit reliability, safety, climate resilience and livability in the area.
“This project, in every way, mirrors the work that I went to do in Washington for transit justice,” Pressley said.