Morning Briefs: Latest Derailment | 'Stalled' Police Benefits | Refugee Resettlement Snag
5/12/22 10:47 AM
- Construction Car Derailment Extends Blue Line Disruption
- Police Seek Benefits For Line Of Duty COVID Deaths
- Refugee Resettlement Effort Hits Snag
Construction Car Derailment Extends Blue Line Disruption
Complications from a construction vehicle derailment will prompt the MBTA to keep Blue Line subway service between Maverick and Bowdoin stations suspended until Wednesday, more than a week after after the shutdown was originally expected to end. T officials announced Thursday that they will keep the diversion in place through Tuesday, May 17 and resume running trains beyond their current endpoint at Airport the following day. In the meantime, shuttle buses will continue to run in a one-way, outbound loop from Maverick to Government Center, and passengers should expect delays. Buses will also continue to operate between stations on the Rockport Line and Beverly Station, where trains will run the remainder of the commuter rail line into Boston, through Sunday, May 15. "Due to the complicated area of track in the diversion area, a construction tool cart derailed near Airport station earlier this week. There were no injuries," the MBTA announced in a press release. "The process to re-rail the tool cart earlier this week and make other repairs while continuing to finish scheduled work means additional time is needed to safely complete the project." The latest delay marks the second time this week that the transit agency pushed back the end date to a project envisioned as a 14-day closure to accelerate repair work. On Sunday, the final day scheduled for the original shutdown, the MBTA said it would keep trains offline on that section of track until Friday. T officials already scrapped plans for a second Blue Line shutdown this month that would have halted trains between Wonderland and Orient Heights from May 12 to May 29 for work on the Suffolk Downs pedestrian bridge and will instead roll out that diversion at a later date. "The MBTA apologizes for the need to extend this diversion, and for the inconvenience experienced by riders during this service suspension," the agency said in its Thursday announcement. "The MBTA knows how frustrating any service interruption is for riders, including unscheduled extensions in shuttle bus diversions, and work crews are actively working as quickly and safely as possible to get the work done. The MBTA continues to express its appreciation of riders' patience as this important Blue Line work is completed correctly." - Chris Lisinski/SHNS
Police Seek Benefits For Line Of Duty COVID Deaths
With formal sessions winding down for the year, police in Massachusetts are trying to draw attention to what they see as "stalled" bills that would provide state death benefits to first responders who die due to COVID-19 transmission that occurred in the line of duty. The Violently Injured Police Officers Organization (VIPO) and the New England Chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors are calling on Massachusetts to join states like Michigan, Missouri and Ohio that have approved similar bills. In Massachusetts, the bills haven't progressed beyond the committee level. Citing the Officer Down Memorial Page as their source, the two groups said that at least 760 law enforcement officers nationwide have died of COVID-19 exposure in the line of duty since 2020, including seven in Massachusetts. "A couple of them have already received federal death benefits, but have yet to receive any state benefits because the Commonwealth of Massachusetts hasn't done anything to pass legislation support these families," VIPO cofounder Mario Oliveira, a retired Somerville detective, said. The Public Service Committee in July heard Sen. Michael Moore's line of duty death benefits bill and rolled it into another bill (H 2650), which is before the House Ways and Means Committee. Another bill (S 1727) would grant benefits to the family of Rutland Police Detective John Songy, who died in May 2020. "In a few weeks, it will be the second anniversary of Detective John Songy's death, and his widow, Joanne Songy, is still waiting for state support and benefits," Oliveira said. "Joanne is working three jobs to make ends meet and to make her mortgage and car payments and other bills that are due." The House gave initial approval to the Songy bill in March. It's now before the House Committee on Bills in Third Reading, chaired by Rep. Denise Garlick. The groups are appealing for lawmakers to act on the bills this week, which is National Police Week, a designation approved by Congress in 1962. - Michael P. Norton/SHNS
Refugee Resettlement Effort Hits Snag
A month after Russia invaded Ukraine as millions fled that eastern European nation, the Legislature set aside $10 million to help resettlement agencies around Massachusetts prepare for the expected influx of refugees. The midyear budget signed by Gov. Charlie Baker at the start of April directed the Office for Refugees and Immigrants to use up to three-quarters of the money for direct assistance to refugees, including securing immigration status, and a quarter for administrative costs. But so far, the funding has not yet been released to the organizations that contract with the U.S. State Department to do this work, and there has been some disagreement between the state and resettlement agencies over how the money can be used. "We're in a conversation now with the Mass. Office of Refugees to clarify legislative intent and client need," said Jeff Thielman, CEO of International Institute of New England, which works with refugees and other immigrants in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The dispute centers around whether agencies like IINE can use the new funding to support immigrants and refugees arriving from countries that aren't Ukraine, such as Haiti, Afghanistan and South America. Thielman said it's the hope of IINE and other groups that the money can be distributed proportionally based on the volume of refugees arriving from different parts of the world. "What they all have in common is that they are fleeing conflict and want to restart their lives," Thielman said. A large portion of the assistance goes to pay rent in a high-cost state like Massachusetts, according to Thielman. IINE has helped resettle 500 Afghans in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and has about 240 Haitian entrants enrolled in services in its Boston and Lowell offices. He said he's heard of 150 or more refugees from Ukraine arriving, mostly in the western part of the state. The reasons for the confusion are unclear. The law states that the $10 million shall be used "for services for refugees and immigrants including, but not limited to, Ukrainian refugees and immigrants." It also states that the funding shall be made available through June 30, 2023, but that is another point Thielman said resettlement groups are hoping to "make more explicit." Sen. Harriette Chandler of Worcester is working on an amendment to the annual state budget to clarify the Legislature's intent. The Senate plans to consider its budget bill beginning on Tuesday, May 24. "I think everyone has the right intentions. We're just working to get all aligned and on the same page," Thielman said. - Matt Murphy/SHNS
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