The first of three Worcester, MA community meetings to decide the allocation of only $10m of $146m in COVID relief funds was held this past Monday, August 23rd. Worcester workers stood up and called for community control over 100% of COVID funds, to near unanimous applause! Ignoring community members, the city railroaded community feedback into pre-written city ideas for allocating the $10m. There is little doubt from working people that their feedback was and will be ignored; the need to organize outside of city government channels to win a democratic process for distributing the funds is as clear now as ever. Below is the text of the leaflet distributed by Worcester ISG members at the event and at tables around the city.
Worcester is supposed to receive $110.6M from the federal government in COVID relief money as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), as well as an additional $36M in state funds. Worcester has been hit hard by the COVID pandemic. Corporate cutbacks during COVID overwhelmingly hit working people the most, with local unemployment matching the spike in national unemployment to nearly 15% at the height of the pandemic so far, the highest rate ever observed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The federal government gave trillions in bailouts to corporations, but didn’t provide enough direct assistance to working people. Millions are still without work or are working in unsafe conditions, including another upsurge in COVID infections. Even with the eviction moratorium covering some areas, many working class families face enormous rent debt and are expected to immediately pay all the back rent when the moratorium ends, or face eviction. The relief funds give Worcester a chance to provide more direct assistance and resources needed to help people recover from the effects of the pandemic.
Yet, much like the stimulus measures introduced by Democratic and Republican politicians in Congress, working people are last in line to benefit from the distribution of ARPA funds as proposed by the Worcester City Manager. $12.5 million proposed for a private developer fund to build for-profit apartments with some supposedly “affordable” units. $15 million to cover the loss of city revenues from facilities like DCU Center. Councilors have also proposed using some of this money to compensate landlords for missed rent, meaning huge payouts for the landlords who sit on hundreds of properties in the city – but not direct payments to the many tenants who had their jobs or hours of work cut and who are drowning in rent debt. City Manager Ed Augustus has decided community input is only relevant for deciding how $10M out of the $146M should be spent. This cancels out any real democratic process about how most of the money should be spent and there is no direct decision-making and oversight by the community over any of the $146M in ARPA funds.
Only three public meetings for community input on ARPA funds have been scheduled by Worcester city officials. There’s little information or publicity about these meetings, and city politicians want to push through with a plan for the ARPA funds by the end of September. City officials don’t seem interested in most people finding out about the ARPA money or most people having a direct say in how the money should be spent. ARPA funds will be available for the next five years, through 2026. There’s time for a democratic process to distribute the funds that truly includes the people of Worcester. The Independent Socialist Group calls for progressive community organizations, unions, and residents to build a coalition for a real pandemic recovery, organizing together to develop demands so the ARPA funds are used to directly benefit the working class, the vast majority of people in Worcester. We support the call from Massachusetts Jobs with Justice for more community meetings. An organized campaign can back community demands for a real pandemic recovery with the political pressure needed to win them.
The Independent Socialist Group demands:
- A democratic process that gives the community control over how 100% of the ARPA funds are allocated, with community oversight and control of implementing those decisions. A real, democratic outreach effort including multilingual notices to be mailed to every resident, as well as online, email, and telephone announcements.
- Rent relief payments for working class families who are drowning in back rent and could face eviction once the moratorium is up!
- Massive city investment in new high quality public housing to combat the housing affordability crisis in Worcester. Policies around ARPA money for public housing should be democratically controlled by renters and homeowners – not by banks, contractors, or real estate corporations.
- High quality, affordable, municipal broadband be developed to replace current for-profit monopolies.
- Properly staff Worcester public schools, including fair pay and benefits for educators and support staff. Hire more educators and reduce class sizes to protect students and staff during the pandemic and help address teacher burnout. Allow remote learning options for those who do not feel safe returning to in-person classes.
- Expand and improve public transit. Permanently implement a fare-free system. Increase the number of routes and buses and expand union transit jobs. Develop a plan for a city owned and operated light rail system. Use both ARPA money received by the city as well as the $33 million in relief funds paid directly to the WRTA for mass transit.
If you or your organization are interested in organizing on this issue, please reach out to us!