WSAR NEWS Archives for 2020-05

Unemployment In The Commonwealth Continues To Rise

During the week of May 17 to May 23, the Commonwealth had 37,618 individuals file a standard Unemployment Insurance claim. 


This is a decrease of 463 from the week prior. Since March 15, a total of 897,205 initial claims have been filed in Massachusetts. 


147,594 Commonwealth residents filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance last week bringing the total number of claimants who have filed for PUA to 518,796.


The Department of Unemployment Assistance has grown from 50 employees to over 1900 since the month of March due to the desperate needs of the pandemic. 


The Massachusetts D.U.A is beginning to implement additional identity verification measures after criminal enterprises stole personal information from prior national data breaches. 


This will temporarily delay the payment time frame for many claims after a large amount of attempted illegitimate claims were filed using the Unemployment Assistance system.  


Individuals who believe they may have had a false claim filed using their identity are urged to utilize the D.U.A contact form found at or on the phone at 877-626-6800.

Swansea Selectmen's Chairman Steven Kitchin Passes The Buck



For logically thinking people, which do you suppose should come first?  A town’s election, or a town’s special meeting?  Swansea’s Annual Town Election is currently scheduled to be held on June 22nd, however, a special town meeting has been slated for June 1st.


To put the matter into perspective, Swansea town meetings can sometimes attract up to 300 people, depending on the matters up for vote.  Further, over a dozen Swansea elected officials’ terms have already expired, including Select Board Chairman, Steven Kitchin, who has strongly advocated to prioritize holding the Special Town Meeting before the Annual Town Election.


During the May 19th Selectmen’s meeting, Kitchin refused to take a position on moving the Special Town Meeting from it’s current date of June 1st, and instead placed the responsibility upon the Town Moderator, Paul Burke, whose term has also expired and is up for re-election as well.  Kitchin said, “This is a challenging call…” and, “this decision is to be made by the moderator in consultation with the Board of Selectmen.”


Selectman Derek Heim made his concerns known and said, “I made this pretty clear weeks ago.  There should be contingency plans.  I am still waiting to hear how this will be handled at the Venus De Milo.”


Burke had stated at a previous Selectmen’s meeting that he had coordinated with the Venus De Milo to conduct the Special Town Meeting in their large banquet hall, but as of May 19th, hadn’t produced a plan to the Swansea Board of Selectmen as to how the meeting could be held safely in light of the Coronavirus pandemic.


Selectman Christopher Carreiro weighed in by asking Acting Town Administrator, James Purcell, “There are so many other communities in the Commonwealth in the same position.  What are other communities doing?”  Purcell responded, “They’re having meetings outside.”

Statistically speaking, the community’s most vulnerable population, the elderly, represent the greatest number of voters in Swansea.


In neighboring Somerset, town officials have crafted a plan that prioritizes their Annual Town Election before any Town Meeting.  Currently, Somerset’s Annual Town Election is scheduled for Saturday, June 13th, while their Annual Town Meeting has been postponed until August 3, 2020.


The Swansea Board of Selectmen have a scheduled meeting for tonight, Tuesday, May 26th, which is less than one week before the scheduled Special Town Meeting, meanwhile, their current posted agenda does not include any mention of delaying the June 1st Special Town Meeting.

Is A New Somerset Town Newspaper In The Works?

With Gatehouse Media deciding on the recent layoffs at the Spectator Newspaper, a town selectman is inquiring about forming a new local news publication. 


David Berube indicated during the most recent session of the Somerset Selectmen that he along with a group of individuals are looking at the requirements to create another newspaper.


“Personally, I want to start a new paper,” he said. “We are in the middle of the process. That’s on the table as is a lot of things.”


Berube made it known he would seek to rehire local journalists that have been laid off this Spring. 


He also made it clear that he is still looking for additional individuals as well as anyone who thinks they can provide assistance or help in some form. 


"I want to reach out to the community,” the Somerset Selectman said. “If there is anyone who feels they can add to this group to make this happen, please reach out to the town hall.” 


EDITED 5/28/2020:  At the request of Selectman Berube, inquiries should be directed to him at his email address:  DBER930@COMCAST.NET


“Leave a message for me and I will definitely get back to you to see if your input or expertise can help us in this matter."


Gatehouse, also recently purchased the Gannett media company who owns U.S.A Today.

Bristol County Prisoner Release Alert Notification System

The Bristol County Sheriff’s Office has updated its prisoner release alert notification system to include the criminal histories of county inmates being released by hail due to the pandemic. 


Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson noted that he found the record for a single individual, who was released with over 70 other counts including rape, narcotics possession and distribution.


Hodgson indicated that he has opposed the release of prisoners due to the virus as it goes against the best interest of public safety. He says he took an oath to protect Bristol County and wants the public to know who is being released. 


The graphic is available on the Bristol County Sheriff’s Department website and all of their social platforms.

Fall River's Mobile Addiction Van Services Coming Soon

Fall River will share in a series of contracts through the Massachusetts Department of Health to provide mobile addiction van services in the city as well as New Bedford, Boston and Worcester. 


This will attempt to serve individuals with a high risk for overdose and other medical complications associated with substance abuse. 


SSTAR Addiction Treatment Centers will provide services in both New Bedford and Fall River with an annual grant of 350,000 dollars. Everything kicks off on the first day in July. 


The vans will provide treatment and basic clinical care. They will be designed to include medication for addiction treatment, narcan distribution and training as well as syringe exchanges.


Other services offered will include primary care services for wounds, vaccinations and screening for communicable diseases, including HIV and TB. 


Referrals for behavioral health services and specialty care will also be made available for those in need.


The overall goal of supplying these vans to the public is to provide care to individuals not receiving the correct care through other means. 


There is also hope that this will provide connections to long-term, community-based care in an effort to prevent overdose deaths, support long-term recovery and improve overall health and quality of life in the most vulnerable individuals.

Ayanna Pressley Questions Governor Bakers Timeline

Massachusetts House Member Ayanna Pressley took to Twitter on Tuesday with a warning to Governor Charlie Baker and urged him to reconsider his timeline. 


She is concerned the Commonwealth is moving too fast within its first phase of reopening the state. 


Pressley said, “Policy decisions that offer a false choice between public health & economic recovery will hurt our communities.”


Manufacturing and construction returned to work this week while later in the month, hair salons and barbershops, curbside services for retail and other sectors of the economy will make their way back online. 


The Commonwealth Congresswoman expressed her and her colleagues' confusion with the plan.


On Tuesday Pressley followed up her first Tweet urging the Governor to change his timeline with this, “Yesterday’s announcement left us with more questions than answers and I have been on the phone with families worried about childcare, faith leaders concerned it is not safe to gather, and small businesses worried about their workers’ health and access to PPE.”


Offices will also begin to open in the next few weeks with Boston opening their office doors on June 1st. 

Massachusetts Begins To Reopen

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts will slowly start to reopen today.


Governor Charlie Baker announced a four-part plan over the next several weeks and months earlier this morning at a daily press conference to start gearing up for the Massachusetts economy to come back to life. 


“We’ll progress through four phases, opening more sectors of the economy and activities only when the public health data indicate when it's appropriate to do so,“ Baker said. “Each phase will last at least three weeks but may last longer if the public health data doesn’t support moving forward.”


The Governor gave credit to the state’s residents for complying with guidelines and working together through the pandemic. 


“We have all been doing our jobs to fight back,” Baker said. “As a result, positive rates are moving in the right direction and hospitalizations are down.”


The first sectors of the economy to open up will include places of worship among other things. 


“The public health metrics that guide this process mean it’s possible to reopen manufacturing facilities and construction sites effective today,” Governor Baker said.


Churches and other places of worship will have a new set of guidelines to follow. Construction workers and manufacturers will have to limit face-to-face and customer interactions. 


“We’re permitting more sectors of our economy to open, effective May 25th and others on June 1st under phase one,” Governor Baker said.


One week from today outdoor facilities and various recreational sites will reopen, as well. Medical facilities will now be able to see more patients agreed upon a set schedule over the next two weeks. 


Those working from home over the last two months will possibly be able to return on May 25th. 


“Starting one week from now, we’re permitting office space to reopen to 25% capacity except in Boston,” Baker said. 


Retail and haircare will also make its return in a week with new guidelines.

“On May 25th, retail establishments may also offer curbside service,” Baker said. “Some personal services such as barbershops and hair salons may also reopen, provided that they follow the new rules.”


The Governor also issued a new stay-at-home advisory limiting gatherings to maintain less than ten people. Residents are advised to only leave their homes for health care, worship, work and outdoor activities. 


Those over the age of 65 along with those with pre-existing conditions are advised to stay home except for essential errands like groceries and health care.

The Fall River Secondary Gets Approval

A nearly 159 million dollar agreement with Skanska D.W. White JV was approved by the M.B.T.A Fiscal and Management Control Board to begin building the Fall River Secondary.


This marks the first major construction project for Phase One of the Southcoast Rail endeavor.


Phase one will connect Southeastern Mass and Boston by providing riders with what is termed a one-seat trip from Taunton, Fall River and New Bedford to SOuth Station in less than 90 minutes. 


The first phase is expected to be complete by 2023. The work will focus on track infrastructure, train layover space, grade crossings, bridges, parking lots and stations. 


At least 100 million dollars has been expended on construction work, real estate, vehicle procurement and related design and contract management. 


Commuter rail stations will be built in Freetown and in Fall River with 200 parking spots expected in Fall River as well as a bus drop-off area on North Main Street. 


A layover facility for train storage will be constructed at Weavers Cove. It will contain six tracks where trains will be stored in an 1,8000-square foot building.

Coronavirus Surge Centers In New Bedford

New Bedford City Administrators have been informed that the state will not be footing the bill for the care of Massachusetts Health Patients at the Medical Surge Facility on Acushnet Avenue. 


Therefore, the facility will be closed down, according to the city. The state’s decision renders it economically infeasible to continue operations. 


The Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services told the city that there are no patients currently at the facility and no further residents with the Coronavirus are expected to be admitted. 


The Acushnet Ave location is the second of two surge facilities that opened in New Bedford with the help of Southcoast Health Essex Group Management Corporation. 


Their hope was to serve patients recovering from COVID-19 while freeing up hospital beds in the local area. 


The facility located on Rockdale Avenue, which opened back in mid-April, will remain open to serve Coronavirus patients. 


A third facility is located on the Umass Dartmouth Campus. Originally, that location was not supposed to open unless the first two New Bedford spots reached capacity. It will now stay open due to the closing on Acushnet Ave. 


New Bedford’s Mayor announced that he will retain the city’s rights as lessee of the Acushnet Ave facility. 


Jon Mitchell said if there is a future surge of Coronavirus patients this spot can be reopened as a regional care facility.

Fall River's New Chief Of Police Talks Culture Change

In a conversation with the new Chief of Police in Fall River, Jeff Cardoza tells WSAR changes to the culture are one of his priorities in taking over the Fall River Police Department.


"We're striving for efficiency and effectiveness.,” he said. “We need to consider some changes.”


The new Police Chief maintains he will be flexible in his position. 


“If it doesn't work out, I'm not afraid to say I was wrong and to fix it and go back to the way it was," Cardoza said.


Strategies like regionalization is something that is being discussed currently in an attempt to bolster the number of officers on the force. 


"I have some ideas,” Cardoza told WSAR. “I've shared them with the Mayor and he has some interest in maybe going into that a bit deeper.”


“Perhaps, we can bring regionalization, if you will, of some services in the department that would allow us to put some additional people who are already here working on the street.,” the Chief continued. “This will have to be discussed with the union and my intention is to bring them in for the process."


Currently, Chief Cardoza is examining the details of the FY-2021 budget for his department.

Mayor Paul Coogan Talks Hiring New Chief Of Police In Fall River

Three contenders interviewed for the job of Fall River Police Chief last week. 


Mayor Paul Coogan said that the trio faced a series of questions in what will be the first of two rounds in the process. 


"There's a series of questions such as describing a time when their ethics are challenged or their knowledge on budgets,” Mayor Coogan said. “How will it be to run a department when you're above people who used to be friends?”


He told WSAR that the questioning was targeted more towards local topics. 


“There were a series (of questions) that were targeted toward Fall River,” Coogan said. “We talked about homelessness. We talked about panhandling."


A panel of seven Fall River citizens met in a local church and asked various follow-up questions as Coogan explained.


"What do you think is the biggest problem facing the Fall River Police Department right now?” He gave as an example. “Give us a couple of your accomplishments in your career in Fall River. We were looking to get an idea of what these people are like.”


The process is a thorough one and will be met with a second round of interviews with the three. 


“There will probably be another series of interviews that will be much more targeted to specific things I'd like to see get done in the city,” Mayor Coogan said. “Hopefully by then we'll be closer to making a pick."


The question of the interviewing process being too private has been brought up since the news of looking to hire a new police chief. The Mayor countered that by highlighting how past administrations like Jasiel Correia were less public than this time around, 


"I don't know if they're more private than they've been in the past,” the Mayor said. “I've heard mixed things about what’s happened in the past.”


“Last time there was no interview whatsoever and then we had a new police chief,” Mayor Coogan chuckled. “This is definitely more public than that. We did have three substantial candidates and they all did an excellent job."


There is currently no firm timeline for the selection of a permanent police chief.

Congressman Joe Kennedy Introduces Legislation To Guarantee Health Coverage During COVID-19 Pandemic

Massachusetts 4th District Congressman Joe Kennedy III along with Washington 7th District Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal led a group of 32 representatives this morning in introducing the Medicare Crisis Program Act.


The act will ensure everyone guaranteed access to health care during the current pandemic. 


The program expands Medicare and Medicaid eligibility during the crisis, caps out-of-pocket costs for those enrolling as well as eliminate co=pays, coinsurance or deductibles related to COVID-19 testing and related care. 


Congresswoman Jayapal is Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and discussed what this act entails. 


“Our nation’s for-profit, employment-based health care system did not make sense before COVID-19 struck, and it is proving dangerous and deadly during the crisis,” she said. “Millions of Americans are losing their job and their health insurance at precisely the moment when we need everyone to be able to access care and treatment for illness.” 


Over 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment over the last five weeks with that number expected to rise to 35 million. Many have lost their income and seen healthcare coverage disappear in the midst of a public health emergency. 


“The Medicare Crisis Program Act would guarantee health care for millions of people struggling with the health and economic realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and protect Americans from outrageous out-of-pocket costs,” Jayapal explained.


The thought is that expanding the number of Americans eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, the Medicare Crisis Program act will guarantee healthcare when it's needed the most. 


“A health care system more concerned with profits than patients was never equipped to confront a pandemic like COVID-19,” Congressman Kennedy said. “Because of our nation’s stubborn failure to guarantee universal health care, millions of people are now not only out of a job, but out of health care coverage as coronavirus ravages their communities.”


Kennedy along with Jayapal and their colleagues want to be able to change the way the system works as he believes this pandemic has exposed the healthcare system for its monstrous flaws. 


“With the Medicare Crisis Program Act, we can begin to fill in the gaps of a fundamentally flawed health care system during this pandemic and chart a path towards Medicare For All when it ends,” said Kennedy.


The Medicare Crisis Program Act would remain in effect for enrollees until the federal and state unemployment rate returns to within 2% of the unemployment rate in the last quarter of 2019 or they are employed and enrolled in sufficient health insurance, whichever occurs first.