Innovation isn't just for the artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs among us. In a time when traditional ways of doing business are going out the window, we've had to try a few experiments of our own, including one today. For the first time ever this week, we held a virtual installment of the Curated Conversations series. This month's guest: Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts.
Senator Markey has served in Congress for over four decades and never experienced a time like this. The Malden native spoke to Manifest Boston co-founder Linda Henry and our intimate group of Bostonians from the house he grew up in, which is still his home today. On a daily basis, he's having virtual meetings with those in the fishing and restaurant industries, frontline workers, and many more who are impacted by this pandemic.
While the Senator is proud of his hard work to win relief for the people and businesses of Massachusetts so far, he knows that he will have to fight to keep our state protected. As we move to the next round of funding, he's hopeful that political gamesmanship can be avoided and that there will be a lot of oversight to ensure fairness.
One industry of particular concern to our state is education. Of about $13 billion allocated for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund package, Massachusetts received $270 million, "a drop in the bucket to what we’ll need," Markey said. Much of it is being used to help students with things like food and housing. A lot is to make sure schools have funding as well, especially smaller colleges. The objective is to keep these institutions alive and well so students can go back to them and climb the opportunity ladder.
Many want to know what needs to happen for MA to open up our businesses and return to work again. Senator Markey cited three key things:
- Testing, which can’t be done at the limited level we’re doing now. It needs to be quick and inexpensive (or even free!).
- Tracing. When someone is identified, a tracing system needs to be put in place. Governor Baker has already done great work on this, but funding and coordination must come from the federal level.
- Universal personal protective equipment. Shortages of equipment such as masks and gloves are simply unsafe for all.
The question we must ask is, "Do we have enough of each of these?" Until we can answer affirmatively, we won't receive a date or timeline. In the Senator's own words, “It’s not about a date. It’s about data. When we have the data, then we can decide what the date is.”
With this conversation taking place on Earth Day, another central topic was climate change and the Green New Deal that Senator Markey introduced last year with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The topic is especially relevant in the age of COVID-19 given that pollution in the air triggers asthma and other respiratory illnesses. “We’ve had a warning," said Markey. "We ignored Mother Nature.” But we have a chance to correct it by putting this issue front and center for the election this year.
Senator Markey concluded the conversation with a message of hope. His dream is that we will appreciate all of the people who are deemed “essential workers,” whether they be postmen, grocery deliverers, supermarket workers, or others. He wants our country to realize that we need to provide sick leave, childcare, guaranteed income, and protections for everyone in our society. During this time, he hopes we see the holes in our existing system and recognize our moral obligation — and resulting political obligation — to fix those problems.
You can catch up on the whole conversation by watching a video recording of the virtual session on Boston.com.
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