I hope you and your loved ones are doing well. Once the rain subsides, it looks as though it will be another beautiful weekend in western Massachusetts. I hope you are able to get outside to take in the beautiful fall foliage and safely enjoy all the First Franklin District has to offer.
I am excited to join Monte Belmonte tomorrow (October 17th) live on The River and WHMP from Mike’s Corn Maze in Sunderland with Suffrage Succotash, an event to celebrate voting and our city and town clerks and postal workers. This year’s maze theme is Vote 2020: The stalks have never been higher. The a-mazing Mike’s Maze team is inviting the public to exercise their cornstitutional right. Tune in from 12 – 2 pm on 101.5 FM in Hampshire Co. or 107.5 FM in Franklin Co. to go live with Senator Jo Comerford, Congressman Jim McGovern, and me as we talk about the importance of voting and voting protections. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, you will need to sign up to enjoy the maze in person. Learn more here.
Prior to the maze, I’ll be stopping by to thank volunteers at the Mohawk Trail flu clinic, volunteering at the Montague Wood Bank, and talking with the Clark family at Clarkdale Fruit Farm in Deerfield. On Monday, I’ll be joining Senator Comerford on her day-long Connecticut River kayaking trip to highlight the importance of the river to the 1st Franklin District. I have made it a priority to connect with you in a variety of ways during the COVID-19 pandemic but your health and safety remain my top priority. At each of these stops, COVID-19 prevention including wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and frequent handwashing are an absolute necessity.
As always if you or a neighbor is experiencing challenges with the state and are in need of assistance, please do not hesitate to reach out to my office.
All the best,
Natalie M. Blais
1st Franklin District
LEGISLATIVE UPDATE ON THE REVISED FY21 BUDGET
Earlier this week, Governor Baker released a revised FY21 budget. On a positive note, Revised House 2 maintains the FY20 Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) investment of $1.129 billion to local cities and towns across the Commonwealth. Additionally, the proposal increases Chapter 70 support for local public schools by $108 million compared to Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20).
The link below will provide you with an executive summary:
Additional information can be found here:
The House will now develop a proposed budget and have hearings (likely in early November). The Senate will then develop a budget. The two bills will likely be conferenced towards the end of November/beginning of December.
THE LATEST ON COVID19
Recently, the 1st Franklin town of Sunderland was moved to “Red” on the COVID-19 Community-Level Data Map. But what does that mean?
Based on the average daily cases per 100,000 residents (over a two week period) each city or town in MA has been designated as a higher risk (red), moderate risk (yellow), or lower risk (green) community. Communities with fewer than 5 cases are not given a designation. You can click here for a look at designations statewide.
Below please find the statement I issued in collaboration with State Representative Mindy Domb, who represents Amherst, and Senator Jo Comerford.
In light of two of our shared towns going “red” on the statewide COVID-19 map and being described as “high risk” areas, we call on the Baker Administration to collaborate with the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the towns of Amherst and Sunderland to ensure the accurate and timely reporting of data and to support an effective response, including a state-funded free COVID-19 testing site for asymptomatic individuals in Hampshire County and support to school districts serving these communities to mitigate further disruption.
On August 24, 2020, eleven members of the Hampshire County (see attached) delegation wrote to Secretary of Health and Human Services MaryLou Sudders and Department of Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel to request a stop-the-spread state-funded COVID-19 testing site in Hampshire County. As we noted in our request, “The influx of students and the likelihood that many residents live and work in different communities, often crossing boundaries between low and high risk, underscores the need expressed by our constituents. A county testing site would support their interest in learning their status and taking the necessary steps (self quarantine, isolation, contact tracing) to contain the pandemic.” We have yet to receive an official response from the Administration.
While it is by no means a substitute for prevention practices like wearing a mask, social distancing, hand washing, and avoiding large gatherings, testing is detection and can help reinforce prevention. It provides essential information for our communities and constituents in order for them to understand and act on their status. It is key for contact tracers and public health officials as they undertake their invaluable work. Finally, testing is a critical service for our communities as they endeavor to prevent transmission and respond to the outbreaks that have resulted in this new “high risk” designation.
We once again urge the Baker Administration to ensure our constituents have access to the resources they need to identify and respond effectively and quickly to the outbreak, including both the sharing of necessary data and providing access to COVID-19 testing as a public health imperative. The towns of Amherst and Sunderland are in a unique position where data is being collected by two sources for residents: the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s outstanding and robust testing program and the local town’s public health officers. Aligning these data sources in the most efficient way requires additional state’s resources and attention. In addition, Hampshire County needs and deserves a state-funded free COVID-19 testing site for asymptomatic individuals to support our efforts to reduce transmission, limit the outbreak, and protect the health of our communities.
GENERAL ELECTION: VOTE NOVEMBER 3rd
This session, the Legislature passed a bill to protect voters’ health and safety while also expanding and safeguarding accessibility during the COVID19 pandemic. Under the new law, every registered voter can choose to vote by mail, vote early in person or vote in person in the General Election.
By law, the Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin was required to send vote by mail applications to all registered voters for the November 3rd General Election. The deadline to apply for a mail in ballot is Wednesday, October 28th.
Voters may return their ballot in the mail, in a secure dropbox, or in person. I have compiled a list of 1st Franklin District information here. For the General Election, ballots mailed must be postmarked by November 3rd and arrive by November 6th in order to be counted. Alternatively, and I strongly encourage you to do so, you can return it by hand to your local election office.
If you did not receive an application or you lost the form, you can visit the Secretary’s website at www.sec.state.ma.us to complete an online application. Once your application is submitted, your city or town clerk will mail a ballot with pre-paid return postage.
For voters who choose to vote in-person, polling locations will have new safety measures in place to protect your health. There will be seven days of in-person early voting for both the primary and General Elections to increase accessibility and maximize safety. For the General Election, in-person voting will be available from Saturday, October 17th to Friday, October 30th. I have compiled a list of 1st Franklin District early voting days/hours here. Alternatively, voters can still cast their ballots in person on Election Day.
Neither our right to participate nor our health and safety should be compromised as we cast our ballots during the COVID19 pandemic. If you have any concerns about voting in person, I urge you to complete your vote by mail application today.
For more information, the Secretary of the Commonwealth has posted a Frequently Asked Questions page at www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/eleev/early-voting-faq.htm. You can also reach his office at 1-800-462-VOTE email@example.com. And as always, please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly if you have questions or concerns:firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-362-9453.
Again, all of this information is included on my website at https://www.repblais.org/2020elections.
October 17-30 – In-person early voting available at your local election office
October 28 – Deadline for Vote By Mail Application to be received by your local election office
November 3 – General Election; Postmark for mailed ballots
TAKE ACTIONIf you have a free moment, please give your local town clerk a call or write them a quick thank you note for all that they have been doing for our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to successfully orchestrating our historic outdoor annual town meetings, they have also been working overtime (literally) to ensure our safety while protecting our right to vote during these difficult times. Don’t know your town clerk? Here’s a list!