With Berkshires 'losing people,' residents being counted on to comply with census

State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, is backing an effort to help jobless state residents receive help through a short-lived federal program. 

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PITTSFIELD — A Berkshires legislator is among several elected officials trying to help jobless residents who failed to qualify for enhanced federal benefits this summer.

State Rep. Paul W. Mark, D-Peru, is a co-sponsor of a measure introduced Monday that would provide up to $1,800 in benefits to as many as 17,000 people. The legislation was filed by state Sen. Patricia D. Jehlen, D-Somerville, chairwoman of Labor and Workforce Development.

According to state Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, a co-sponsor, the bill would allow the Baker administration to increase jobless benefits for recipients who were getting under $100 a week in help at the time a special grant program debuted in August. It would be retroactive.

“We face an urgent moment as a once-in-a-century pandemic combines with the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression,” Lesser said in a statement.

Lawmakers say thousands of people missed out on eligibility for renewed federal help due to restrictions placed by the Trump administration for what’s known as the Lost Wages Assistance Grant. Those grants temporarily extended a $300 weekly payment to certain jobless workers.

Other local lawmakers signed a September letter to Rosalin Acosta, secretary of the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, in support of state action to help those workers. They included state Reps. John Barrett III, D-North Adams; Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield; and William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox. 

When the grant program began taking applications in August, it excluded people receiving under $100 a week in benefits, according to Lesser. The grants covered weeks ending Aug. 1 to Sept. 5.

Lawmakers note that both Rhode Island and New Hampshire took action to ensure that people receiving benefits under $100 a week were eligible for the assistance, provided through funds already allocated for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

“This legislation would provide critical dollars to families struggling to make ends meet,” Jehlen said in a statement. “With the threat of eviction now back on the table for unemployed families, we should do everything we can to get families the assistance they need to stay in their homes and stay healthy during this pandemic.”

“Right now, a shortfall of as little as $18 is standing in the way of people getting $1,800 in their pockets,” said state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton. “This is something the state can and must remedy.”

The House and Senate versions of the measure were assigned to committee review Monday.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and 413-588-8341.

Investigations editor

Larry Parnass, investigations editor, joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant and CommonWealth Magazine.


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