Homepage-- Programs and Services -- Contact Information
Challenges we face in tough economic times
By Smitty Pignatelli
As we head into the second year of the 2011-2012 legislative session, I want to welcome the newest member of the Berkshire delegation to the State House, Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier. She represents the city of Pittsfield, and I am very excited to work with her regarding issues that affect seniors in Western Massachusetts.
As you know, we still face a tough economic climate, which continues to put extra pressure on our state budget and added strain on our social services programs. The demand for services continues to rise, and until we see a sustained recovery in the job market, we will be faced with these budgetary burdens. Recently, there have been some glimmers of hope with the Pittsfield metropolitan area seeing the largest yearly job gains in the Commonwealth, a 4.5% growth since 2010. Berkshire Countyís unemployment rate also continued a downward trend and is now at 6.4 percent. While these are certainly encouraging numbers, we have a lot of work ahead of us to get back to where we were before the recession hit. Even though our stateís economy is faring relatively well, the nationís is not. This partly helps to explain the recent cut in funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
Because of the tough economy, many programs have seen federal dollars dry up, including LIHEAP. This year, President Obama cut the program from $3.6 billion to $1.7 billion. This cut is going to have drastic impacts on Massachusetts and especially on seniors who often rely on this program to make it through the heating season. Additionally, the actual cost of home heating oil continues to rise as compared to last year. All of these factors continue to put strains on seniors with fixed budgets.
Another challenge we face is the battle to increase funding for rural public transportation. This is perhaps one of the greatest impediments to seniors' ability to stay in their homes. Because of the long distances people have to travel to visit their doctors, go grocery shopping, or get the mail, it is very important we provide a viable transportation network for those who can no longer drive. Some seniors are fortunate enough to have children and grandchildren in the area to help out with transportation, but many do not, and absolutely need a way to get around.
As we begin the budget process again, it is of utmost importance we continue to fight for increased funding for programs, such as those offered by Elder Services, which provide help to those in need. Organizations like Elder Services play such a vital role in our communities and provide important services that would otherwise not be available. Hopefully with continued improvement in our economy, we can begin to restore some of the funding to these programs. I look forward to working with my colleagues to make this a reality.
I hope you all have a joyous New Year.
Smitty Pignatelli is the State Representative of the Fourth District. To contact him, call 1-617-722-2582 or email email@example.com.