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This Week in Massachusetts – May 9, 2023

Posted on May 8, 2023

EXTERNAL: Axios: Boston’s sluggish downtown recovery

Foot traffic around Boston’s Financial District is barely half of what it was pre-pandemic.

That’s according to anonymized mobile device connectivity data analyzed by researchers at the University of Toronto’s School of Cities.

The big picture: Boston’s sluggish recovery is partly due to its heavy concentration of workers in financial services and tech — many of whom decamped elsewhere during the pandemic — and a shortage of affordable housing, especially downtown.

Why it matters: Downtowns became ghost towns during the height of the pandemic as people sought to “flatten the curve” by staying home as much as possible.

Even as the pandemic ebbs, the era of remote and hybrid work it ushered in means fewer people visiting restaurants, bars and shops.

That has big implications for downtown economies, which have historically relied on commuting workers who spend money before, during and after their daily 9–5s.

Yes, but: Businesses and political leaders are increasingly trying to curtail remote and hybrid work, which could boost downtown recovery levels.

Mayor Wu tried to bring crowds downtown last year with a series of block parties and has continued the trend with sports watch parties, beer gardens and other outdoor events.

EXTERNAL: Boston Globe: Fed hikes interest rates again despite concerns of a looming recession

Despite slowing economic growth, another bank failure, and a showdown over the debt limit, Federal Reserve officials Wednesday raised a key interest rate for the third time this year but signaled it might be the last one for a while.

The quarter percentage point increase, the 10th straight hike by the Fed’s monetary policy committee, underscored how officials are prioritizing their fight against still-elevated inflation over fears that higher borrowing costs will push the nation into a recession. The central bank’s benchmark rate is now between 5 percent and 5.25 percent, the highest since 2007.

The rate has reached the level the Fed had projected for the end of 2023, and analysts expect officials to hold off on any more increases in order to gauge how the tighter credit conditions affect an economy being buffeted by strong headwinds.

In a statement, the Fed said it would “closely monitor” incoming economic data and take into account a delayed effect from the higher rates in “determining” whether additional increases are necessary. That wording was softer than in its last statement in March, when the Fed said it anticipated additional hikes might be appropriate.

EXTERNAL: Boston Business Journal: Mass. business confidence falls to lowest point since 2020

With a hike in interest rates and a slowdown in small-business loans, Massachusetts employer confidence has fallen from optimistic to neutral territory in the month of April. The month recorded the lowest level of confidence since December 2020, according to the Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index.

The monthly survey collects information from more than 140 Massachusetts employers, and last month business confidence dropped 1.4 points to 50.1, entering it into neutral territory. The confidence level inched closer to pessimistic territory, which is below 50. April’s confidence is eight points lower than a year ago.

“The neutrality position does not surprise me at all,” said Nada Sanders, professor of supply chain management at Northeastern University.

Sanders said that due to high interest rates from the Federal Reserve, employers are seeing signs of slowing business activity.

On top of that, the uncertainty in the financial sector is “really significant” when it comes to business confidence, Sanders said.

Over the past two months, three major regional banks have failed — Silicon Valley Bank, Signature Bank, and First Republic Bank. The demise of these banks point “point to the uncertainty” that employers are feeling, Sanders said.

Despite a drop in business confidence in the state, the U.S. index rose 1.4 points to 42.4, but remained in pessimistic territory for a seventh consecutive month. The future index, which measure projections for the economy six months from now, lost 1.2 point, putting it in pessimistic territory at 48.8.

EXTERNAL: Commonwealth Magazine: A big chunk of lobbying in Mass. is not tracked

IN MARCH, Professor Julia Payson of New York University addressed a small group who had gathered at Boston University’s Initiative on Cities to hear about the new book she wrote — When Cities Lobby.

Dr. Payson told the small crowd that the inspiration for her book came while she was a graduate student in California listening to NPR, and a strange statistic popped up: local governments in California are the state’s top spenders on lobbyists, spending more than any individual private interest. Included in that number were not only outside firms, but in-house lobbyists who worked directly for local governments. This is notable in a state where Silicon Valley billionaires, Hollywood studio heads, and some of the highest-grossing farmers in the country all live, work, and lobby.

Throughout her talk, Payson repeatedly pointed to something her book revealed: Massachusetts was an outlier among states, with records indicating between 0 percent and 15 percent of cities and towns in the state spend money on lobbying.

Joining Payson on the panel was Claire Kelly, the city of Boston’s intergovernmental relations director.  Payson pointed out that Kelly would be required to register as a lobbyist in most other states.  Kelly acknowledged as much, saying, “Yesterday I didn’t think of myself as a lobbyist,” and leaving unanswered whether the discussion had changed her mind.

EXTERNAL: WBUR: Report: Boston’s child care capacity remains below pre-pandemic levels

While the height of the COVID-19 pandemic might be a few years behind us, Massachusetts’ child care industry is still struggling to recover.

According to a new report out Wednesday, much of the industry’s struggles can be linked to a lingering early educator shortage. Statewide, there were 5,000 fewer early-childhood educators in 2021 than in 2019. And as of spring 2022, 35% of center-based child care programs reported being unable to operate at full capacity.

The city of Boston alone lost about 120 licensed early education providers since 2019. Three-quarters of these providers were family-based centers, where people provide care for a small number of children in their homes.

“The loss of family child care programs is particularly concerning from an equity perspective,” said the report from The Boston Opportunity Agenda — a public-private partnership. The report was co-sponsored by the Boston’s Office of Early Childhood and multiple philanthropies. Authors highlighted that family-based care is often relied upon by low-income families, parents with non-traditional work hours and families of color.

EXTERNAL: Telegram: Mass. lawmakers champion funding for worker-owned businesses

After working with Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s fame on the creation of a cooperative clothing manufacturer, SweatX, in Los Angeles, Kevin O’Brien brought the experience back to his hometown of Worcester where he launched WorX Printing Cooperative, an employee-owned business.

The company, with eight full-time employees and a partnership with the Worcester Technical High School graphics department, prints merchandise in bulk and piece-by-piece for socially conscious and progressive clients including state Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey.

“It’s nice to know I am part of positive change in the world,” said O’Brien, the company’s founder, general manager and one of its owner-workers. The printing enterprise is a worker-owned union cooperative, and the company’s products can be seen all around Worcester – on the backs of teachers at City Hall rallies, at the recent Earth Day cleanup and at the United Way Day of Caring.

EXTERNAL: Boston Globe: Healey Provides $1.75 Million for Immigrant Assistance Program

A total of $1.75 million has been authorized by Governor Maura Healey to go towards the formation of the Immigrant Assistance Service program.

A collaboration between the state Office for Refugees and Immigrants and Department of Housing and Community Development, the project will aim to offer resources such as legal counsel, health screenings, and case management for newly arrived immigrants to the Commonwealth.

Healey’s office stated that once fully operational, the project should be able to support upwards of 800 individuals and families through the funding.

EXTERNAL: Boston Herald: Boston drops COVID vaccine mandate for city employees

Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration will lift the COVID vaccine mandate for all city employees on May 11, a decision that comes about a month after the state’s top court ruled in favor of Boston having this pandemic-era policy in place.

Administration officials said this mandate, implemented by Wu in December 2021, is no longer needed — as cases are low and most people have developed immunity to the virus, through either vaccination or infection.

They also cited the expiration of federal and state public health emergencies, which will also take place on the same date this month.

“The public health landscape has changed considerably,” Chief People Officer Alex Lawrence said in a Wednesday memo to department heads. “We have more tools to manage this virus, data indicate there are fewer large-scale breakouts, and our healthcare system is not under the acute strain it was in December 2021.”

Employee testing requirements will also be eliminated on May 11. Although no longer needed, Lawrence said these policies were critical tools for the city, in terms of curbing virus exposure and transmission in workplaces and the community at large, during the height of the pandemic.

The mandate prompted 95% of employees to submit proof of vaccination by late January 2022, Lawrence said.

EXTERNAL: Commonwealth Magazine: Envisioning a Massachusetts ‘iLottery’

IF THE MASSACHUSETTS LOTTERY expands onto the internet with a new “iLottery,” what could it look like? Let’s spin the wheel.

Option 1 – Michigan. Started in 2014, the Michigan lottery is “the standard” for online lottery platforms, says interim Massachusetts State Lottery director Mark Bracken. The site hits you with a big payout draw game, bright banner ads for featured games, and a request to send you notifications about the iLottery’s offerings. Below, a series of colorful game icons pulls you into quick scratch-ticket-like games that would run you 10 cents to $20.   

Option 2 – Illinois. This was the first online lottery in the country after the federal government declared online lottery sales legal. Like Michigan, a prominent draw game hits the eye first, but those draw games also continue down the page rather than dedicating much digital real estate to instant scratch games. But its new neon Fast Play section directs players to those quick-hit games after a registration page.

Option 3 – Pennsylvania. Here’s a more bare-bones style of site. White backdrop, scrolling ads for digital scratch games, and a simple collection of past winners, coupon collections, and a menu for directing players to draw games or instant scratch games.

EXTERNAL: Boston Herald: Massachusetts lawmaker wants to divert control of commuter rail from MBTA

A top transportation-focused lawmaker wants to hand control of the state’s commuter rail services to the Department of Transportation, a move he says would allow the MBTA to focus on subway and bus service.

Rep. William Straus, a Bristol County Democrat, said it is “fanciful to think” that high-level decisions for the commuter rail are being made by top MBTA officials when Department of Transportation officials have often led the charge for the transit service.

“So why don’t we just end the fiction that the MBTA operates, or makes the key decisions regarding commuter rail? The other policy reason is commuter rail, and daily subway and bus service are very different kinds of operations in terms of how you deploy equipment, and schedule,” said Straus, the co-chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee.

The proposal is part of legislation scheduled for a Monday Transportation Committee hearing, where advocates are expected to weigh in on Straus’ bill and others dealing with the commuter rail, MBTA, Western Massachusetts rail service, and East-West rail.

HEALTHCARE Universal masking is almost over at major Boston hospitals

Starting Friday, major hospitals in the Boston area will no longer require most people to wear masks while on their grounds.

The state’s COVID-19 public health emergency is set to expire on May 11. The following day, Boston Medical Center, Mass General Brigham, Tufts Medical Center, Beth Israel Lahey Health, and UMass Memorial Health will lift their mult-year mask mandates requiring every person on hospital premises to wear a mask regardless of vaccination status.

“Today, the number of COVID-19 cases has declined significantly, and the impact of infection has lessened due to improved access to testing, development of substantial immunity through vaccination, and availability of effective medical therapies. Given these changing circumstances, we are in a safer place to end universal masking at this time,” Dr. Sharon Wright, chief infection prevention officer at Beth Israel Lahey, said in a statement.

EXTERNAL: State House News: New Governor, New Hope On Health Standards Bill

A public health standards bill that died on the last governor’s desk is back before the Legislature, and supporters are more hopeful since there’s a new occupant in the corner office.

The legislation, which both branches approved unanimously last session, is meant to accelerate improvements to local and regional public health systems to address disparities in public health services by requiring the Department of Public Health to enshrine a set of standards for “foundational public health services” across Massachusetts and to “promote and provide adequate resources for boards of health.”

The SAPHE 2.0 bill (H 2204 / S 1334) would implement epidemiology, investigation, credentialing, data-collection and other public health standards at the local and regional levels. Supporters say the state’s 351 municipalities have varying public health responses — a problem that was exacerbated during the pandemic.

Massachusetts is one of a handful of states that does not dedicate annual baselines or formula funding to local public health departments.

EXTERNAL:Boston Herald: Poll: Registered nurses say hospital care in Mass. has gotten worse over last two years

Nearly nine in 10 registered nurses in Massachusetts say the overall quality of the healthcare system has degraded over the past two years and inadequate staffing at hospitals is one of the biggest challenges they face, according to a new survey released Friday.

A poll of 531 registered nurses in the state commissioned by the Massachusetts Nurses Association and carried out by Beacon Research also found that three-quarters of surveyed nurses say they are caring for too many patients at one time and do not have enough time to provide each patient with the care and attention they need.

Patients often require more resources and time because they may have delayed seeking care during the pandemic, said Katie Murphy, an ICU registered nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

“The lack of nurses at the bedside is felt even more acutely because the patients need more of our time,” Murphy told the Herald. “We’re just not finding the resources that we need.”

EXTERNAL: Boston Globe: Editorial: Small-business health insurance market facing ‘death spiral’

Neil Abramson offers health insurance to the 26 employees at his Leominster consignment stores, ECi Stores, but many of them don’t take it, choosing instead to get insured by a spouse’s plan or through the state-subsidized Health Connector. “It’s just too expensive,” Abramson said.

With costs rising each year, his company’s family plan costs $2,100 a month, of which the company pays half. Deductibles have also increased. Abramson employs mostly women in positions ranging from management to cashiers. Abramson said the health insurance he can offer as a small business isn’t as good as a big company’s, putting him at a competitive disadvantage when recruiting new workers. He has had workers leave to take other retail jobs or even to become teachers’ assistants or entry-level health care workers because schools and hospitals offer better benefits.

Since Massachusetts implemented health care reform in 2006, followed by the national Affordable Care Act in 2010, access to insurance has become nearly universal. But where people are getting their coverage has changed, and fewer people are insured by small employers. That trend reflects a growing competitive concern for businesses that are the economic backbone of the state — one that also threatens to increase costs for taxpayers.

EXTERNAL: Boston Globe: RSV vaccine approved for older adults

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved GSK’s vaccine for the respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, for adults who are 60 and older, the company said.

The vaccine, to be sold as Arexvy, appears to be the first in the world approved for sale to protect older adults from RSV, a potentially fatal respiratory illness.

The FDA estimates that RSV is associated with 6,000 to 10,000 deaths each year in adults 65 and older and at least 60,000 hospitalizations in that age group. It is a leading killer of children worldwide.

Last winter, RSV contributed to the “tripledemic” also involving flu and COVID cases that swamped children’s hospitals and some ICU wards.

Announcing the approval, Dr. Peter Marks, the agency’s vaccine division chief, said: “Older adults, in particular those with underlying health conditions, such as heart or lung disease or weakened immune systems, are at high risk for severe disease caused by RSV.”

EXTERNAL: Boston Globe: California startup with MIT roots harnessing AI to target age-related diseases

The painstaking work of drug discovery may be getting a time-saving assist from the emerging field of artificial intelligence.

A tiny startup with Cambridge technology roots is harnessing AI to identify anti-aging drug candidates. But it has set up shop more than 3,000 miles away in the Silicon Valley city of San Carlos, Calif.

In a paper posted Thursday in the scientific journal Nature Aging, founders of Integrated Biosciences outline how they’ve combined synthetic biology with machine learning to rapidly accelerate screening for new drugs. Their approach scanned a chemical library of more than 800,000 compounds to find three with properties that enable them to kill so-called “zombie cells” implicated in age-related illnesses, from cancers and diabetes to cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s diseases.

“We’re trying to go after aging and aging-associated disorders,” said Felix Wong, a co-founder of Integrated Biosciences, who was the first author on the Nature Aging publication. “We all know loved ones who have suffered from some of these conditions.”


EXTERNAL: State House News: Still Bullish on Tax Relief, Healey Huddling with Top Lawmakers

Tax relief is poised to be a main topic of discussion when Beacon Hill’s top Democrats huddle privately Monday for the first time in nearly a month.

Eyes are on Senate President Karen Spilka, whose appetite for cutting taxes will determine the next steps after the state’s tax collection figures plummeted in April and left government running about $700 million below the original projections used to craft this year’s budget.

Spilka, who has not outlined clear plans for a tax relief proposal, will meet with House Speaker Ron Mariano and Gov. Maura Healey for a semi-regular closed-doors conversation Monday, one day before top Senate Democrats roll out their proposed fiscal 2024 state budget. The Big Three plan to field questions from reporters afterward.

Healey filed her nearly $1 billion tax relief bill on Feb. 28, and the House approved its own nearly $1.1 billion package on April 13. Both of those plans featured in the respective budget bills crafted by the administration and the House, while Senate leaders have not made clear if their upcoming budget proposal will factor in tax relief.

Healey has remained bullish about the affordability of her nearly $1 billion tax relief bill despite the April downturn in revenues, saying her budget team factored in a likely slowdown when they crafted the legislation and her FY24 budget bill.

After doubling down on Friday, Healey tripled down on a sense of optimism in an interview that aired Sunday, telling WCVB’s “On the Record” she anticipates no need to slash spending in FY23 to balance the state’s books.

“They may make noise. Not going to happen,” Healey replied when asked about progressive groups voicing concerns over potential cuts to state programs. “We have the money there to make the investments in our people. Again, education, job training, workforce development — that money is there. We need to continue to push with those strong investments.”

She later defended her tax bill against criticism of some of its business-friendly elements, including her proposal to reduce the state’s short-term capital gains tax rate from 12 percent to 5 percent.

“I want to be clear to my progressive friends. The reason I proposed that tax package is because Massachusetts, while a wonderful place to live — we will remain a place that protects reproductive freedom, access to health care, maintains high education, cares about the environment — we’re also a place that’s an outlier when it comes to competing for workforce talent and business,” Healey said. “We cannot afford people leaving our state. That’s why we need to make these changes.”

EXTERNAL: Boston Globe: Overshadowed by rent control debate, proposals for transfer taxes pick up steam in housing discussions

The revival of rent control in Massachusetts has been polled, protested, and picked over on Beacon Hill, where its odds appear slim, if not nil.

Meanwhile, more quietly — though not without controversy — backers have been steadily building support for another proposal, searching for the right combination of policy details and political environment to get it into law. And, with mounting pressure on the Legislature to act on housing, they hope they’ve found their moment.

Roughly a dozen cities and towns in Massachusetts are asking lawmakers for permission to impose a local transfer tax on the sale of real estate to raise revenue for affordable housing. While the proposals vary, most would impose a fee between half a percent and 2 percent on high-dollar real estate transactions.

Pushed fruitlessly for years by officials in Boston and neighboring cities, the Cape and Islands, and even by major businesses such as Mass General Brigham, the proposed tax has been vociferously opposed by real estate industry groups. But the mounting urgency of the housing crisis, a new Democratic governor in the corner office, and the growing number of communities agitating for the tax are coming together to open a window that supporters say didn’t exist before.

EXTERNAL: Commonwealth Magazine: Boston rent control plan on the ropes

Whatever the term for it, it sure looks like legislative leaders are giving it some play when it comes to Boston’s home-rule petition to reestablish rent control in the city.

Mayor Michelle Wu has made reining in rents a centerpiece of her housing policy. She got the City Council to sign off on a home-rule petition that would let Boston regulate rent increases, something that was outlawed via a 1994 statewide ballot question ending rent control.

That sent the measure to Beacon Hill, where it must win approval of the Legislature and governor to take effect.

There has been skepticism all along about the Legislature’s interest in opening the door to rent control, but this week that wariness seemed to become something closer to outright antipathy.

WBUR’s Steve Brown reported yesterday that the home-rule petition, filed by first-term Boston state Rep. Sam Montaño, has drawn no cosponsors thus far.

EXTERNAL: Boston Globe: Mass. tax revenues for April fell $2.2 billion below what state collected a year ago

After years of sometimes record-breaking budget surpluses, state tax revenue plummeted in April, falling nearly $2.2 billion below what the state collected in that month a year ago and leaving Massachusetts running — by one measure — $700 million below projections for the year to date.

Lawmakers and budget officials have long braced for a slowdown, but the extent of the drop for April, typically the strongest month, caught some on Beacon Hill by surprise. Collections fell more than $1.6 billion short of what officials originally projected for the month, according to data released Wednesday, and quickly cratered what had been an overachieving revenue picture.

The state had closed March with $868 million more in revenue than it originally anticipated. The reversal in fortunes last month now opens the possibility that the state may need to tap a roughly $1.7 billion escrow account it built using surplus money from a year ago to close any potential gap in the $52 billion budget.

EXTERNAL: Boston Globe: Healey says revenue shortfall ‘accounted for’ as some fear budget cuts

Governor Maura Healey tried to calm fiscal fears from progressives and budget hawks alike in a television appearance Sunday, insisting recent news of a $2 billion revenue shortfall was expected and won’t change her plans.

“It’s not something that we didn’t anticipate — and in fact, my budget and my tax proposal accounted for that,” Healey said speaking on WCVB’s “On the Record” weekly Sunday morning politics show.

While Healey acknowledged $2 billion is “a big number,” she said it’s “going to be covered and accounted for.”

For the past several days, Healey has reiterated that all systems are still go on her parallel proposals for a $55.6 billion fiscal 2024 state budget that includes sizable hikes for environmental and educational initiatives and $1-billion-a-year tax-cut package that included cuts for capital gains and relief for families with children.

Revenue data released Wednesday showed that the state collected significantly less in taxes in April than anticipated: a drop of $2.163 billion or 31.2 percent from the same month last year and $1.435 billion or 23.1 percent below the most recent monthly benchmark projection.

The steep decline has forced a reexamination of the affordability of pending spending measures and tax relief proposals, and may force Healey’s team to come up with a package to balance the state budget over the last eight weeks of fiscal year 2023


EXTERNAL: WBUR: Why a plan to drive down electric prices in Mass. led to higher bills

Like most people, Noemy Rodriguez never gave much thought to various charges on her electric bill. All she knew was that the $80 a month she was paying Eversource felt like too much.

So when some salespeople knocked on the door of her East Boston apartment a few years ago and said they could sign her up for “a state plan” that would lower her bill, she was intrigued. The two men — one of whom spoke Spanish — also said they were working with the city, so she felt like she could trust them.

“I thought this was going to benefit me,” she said through an interpreter. “I was so ignorant.”

Massachusetts is one of about a dozen states where residents can choose to buy electricity from a supplier other than their default utility. When lawmakers set up this system in the late 1990s, the assumption was that a competitive marketplace would result in lower power prices for customers. But for the most part, the opposite has happened.

In Rodriguez’s case, her bills were lower at first. The problems didn’t start until after someone from the company called her about renewing her plan.

EXTERNAL: Globe: Healey administration aims to ‘go big’ on offshore wind, seeking to generate 25 percent of state’s electricity

The Healey administration has launched the state’s fourth round of bidding for offshore wind contracts, and it’s the biggest one yet.

The state Department of Energy Resources released a request for proposals on Tuesday that invites bids to provide up to 3,600 megawatts of offshore wind power to the state’s three investor-owned electric utilities. That equals more than 25 percent of the state’s annual electricity demand.

Energy officials in Governor Maura Healey’s administration have been urged by industry and political leaders to essentially “go big” with this round of solicitation to build wind farms. That’s in part because states such as New York and New Jersey had surpassed Massachusetts with much larger offshore wind goals, even though Massachusetts was the first state to line up contracts for a major offshore wind farm.

EXTERNAL: SHNS: Healey’s Big Offshore Wind Foray Lands In Choppy Waters

The Healey administration wants to add up to 3,600 more megawatts of capacity to the state’s offshore wind pipeline in one swoop, a procurement that Gov. Maura Healey herself dubbed “the biggest in our region’s history.”

But how much more the proposal moves the needle on the clean energy transition depends on the outlook of two other wind projects selected in prior rounds.

The state Department of Energy Resources and electricity companies on Tuesday jointly unveiled a 165-page draft request for proposals that they want to guide the next round of soliciting offshore wind power, which would be the fourth under a 2016 law and the first with Healey at the helm.

Their proposal calls for adding at least 400 MW and as much as 3,600 MW more to the constellation of in-development or under-contract offshore wind projects. That maximum amount would be more than twice as large as the 1,600 megawatts selected in the last round two years ago and, according to the Healey administration, on its own would meet about a quarter of the state’s annual electricity demand.


EXTERNAL: WGBH: Minority-owned firms see big jump in Massachusetts state contracts

Minority-owned businesses won contracts worth $217 million from Massachusetts state agencies last year, a jump of more than $50 million from the year before, according to new data from the state’s Supplier Diversity Office.

The data in a new annual report covering fiscal year 2022 — which ended last June — also shows that minority-owned firms received another $133 million in subcontracting and other ancillary work from white contractors working on state projects.

That brings the minority business total to $350 million for the year, or about 5.4% of state contracts. The increase comes as the state made a number of changes to the agency tasked with supplier diversity, giving it more teeth to enforce the commonwealth’s goals and creating more tools for agencies to see their own progress.

Gov. Maura Healey on Wednesday touted the increase and told GBH News that her administration is “committed” to doing more.

“Massachusetts is home to so many incredible, diverse businesses that are the backbone of our communities and economy. We are glad that Massachusetts exceeded our goals for supplier diversity last year, with more minority-owned firms winning state contracts than ever before,” Healey said in a prepared statement. “Our administration is committed to building on this progress.”

EXTERNAL: Mass Live: Ayanna Pressley promises to ‘take the mantle’ of Equal Rights Amendment fight

Rights Amendment guaranteeing protections against discrimination by sex, passed by both houses of Congress in 1972, never made it into the Constitution.

But, as the Boston Democrat said to applause in an interview with GBH Tuesday afternoon at the Boston Public Library, she intends to “take the mantle” of the fight, even in the face of recent Republican opposition.

“Black women should be leading and centered in this movement because Black women and other marginalized groups – the LGBTQ community – stand and benefit the most,” Pressley said at the event Tuesday.

Pressley expressed her concerns over last month’s U.S. Senate vote that blocked a measure proposed by her and several other Democrats to place the 1972 Equal Rights Amendment into the Constitution after the three-fourths threshold of states to ratify it was reached in 2020.


EXTERNAL: Boston Herald: As public education push heats up on Beacon Hill, advocates eye ‘adequate’ funding

Sophia Garcia, a Boston-area student, worked full time, took a full course load to maintain financial aid, and pulled out a loan so she could attend a local private university during the Spring 2021 semester.

Arriving on campus — she declined to say which institution — in January 2021 felt “like the moment my life will begin,” she told a group of rally-goers in front of the State House Wednesday afternoon.

“The university doesn’t know what they did by accepting me. I’m running through all their resources like a tomb raider. Sorry to anybody behind me, because I’m taking it all,” said Garcia, a Revere-raised daughter of immigrants from Ecuador and Puerto Rico.

But by the time April rolled around, Garcia said she did not recognize herself in the mirror. Days were turning into a blur. She was barely sleeping for more than two hours. And she was living off energy drinks and fruit snacks.

Difficulties were arising at work and she started to fall behind on her classes all because of the jam packed schedule she had to maintain just to afford a private university. Eventually, she said, she decided to leave.