Both candidates seeking to become the next state representative for the 3rd Hampshire District say they will push to preserve programs that feed families, ensure workers earn a living wage and promote better transportation options.
At a forum Monday at the Bangs Community Center, sponsored by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, Democrats Eric Nakajima and Mindy Domb pledged to put their efforts behind concepts that keep the social safety net intact for Massachusetts residents.
Domb said she intends to “fight like heck” to make sure the Healthy Incentives Program, which allows those enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to enhance their benefits, is not only funded at its current level, but expanded.
HIP is good for farmers and the families who can use the program to obtain fresh, locally grown produce, she said.
“I think it dispels the myth that low-income families don’t know how to eat healthy,” Domb said.
Nakajima said HIP is a “tremendous success story” and that he intends to advocate for food programs in the state budget, even if it means doing so outside the normal budget.
“I want to fight to increase funding in that supplemental budget,” Nakajima said.
Domb, the executive director of the Amherst Survival Center, and Nakajima, the chairman of the Amherst Regional School Committee, are vying to win the nomination at the Sept. 4 primary for the seat that represents Amherst, Pelham and Precinct 1 in Granby. With no Republican or independent candidate competing in the Nov. 6 general election, the winner will replace Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, who is not seeking re-election to the position.
Protecting food stamps
Nakajima and Domb are largely in agreement that new revenues are needed to support what they see as vital programs.
Nakajima said he is aghast at a federal bill aimed at reducing SNAP benefits that he said demonizes people who use food stamps.
“This is a mean-spirited, asinine bill coming out of Congress,” Nakajima said.
As a legislator, he said, he will oppose these sort of conservative ideas. “Fighting back against this right-wing philosophy is part of it,” Nakajima said.
Domb said she will stand with Congressman James McGovern in his efforts to protect SNAP benefits from threats.
“We need to make sure we’re lobbying and we’re behind Congressman McGovern,” Domb said.
SNAP is good for the economy, she said, adding that she would like to see more schools have fresh, local produce through farm-to-school programs.
Though legislation was recently adopted that will get the state to a $15 minimum wage, that still may not be high enough. “The main problem is jobs don’t pay a living wage,” Domb said.
Paid medical leave is a way to keep individuals engaged in the workforce, she said, though it could be enhanced. “I’m glad we have it, but I’d like to raise it,” Domb said.
Nakajima said what the Legislature called the grand bargain, which provides paid family leave and raises the minimum wage, is a decent start, though he is bothered by provisions that eliminate time-and-a-half pay on Sundays and holidays.
He suggested indexing minimum wage to inflation and then fighting to bring it to an even higher level.
Support for seniors
Nakajima said he would lend support to senior citizens and older residents through housing and meals programs, and lower taxes.
“We need to advocate for full funding of programs like Meals on Wheels,” Nakajima said.
He suggested establishing a property tax circuit breaker that would exempt some elders from paying local property taxes if their income falls below a certain level.
Domb said Massachusetts ranks near the bottom nationwide for housing security for senior citizens, and that the Legislature may need to look at how to create deeply affordable units for seniors.
“We can do more to incentivize with tax breaks,” Domb said.
Getting around is critical for people with limited incomes. Domb said she would like to see better public transit that can get people to medical appointments.
“I think we should be expanding routes as well as designing complete streets and expanding utilization of bicycles,” Nakajima said.
Domb said she supports plastic bag bans and that she is part of an effort to make reusable bags available, even for those who couldn’t afford to buy a tote bag.
Nakajima said plastic gets into waterways and the feed cycle of animals, which is one of the reasons he supports a statewide ban on plastic bags.
“The reality is we’ve got to get these products, this waste, these bags out of the ecological cycle,” Nakajima said.
Nakajima wants to make a move on progressive taxation, and change the way charter schools are funded, so school districts aren’t squeezed for funding and can maintain programs such as culinary arts, which was cut prior to the coming school year at Amherst Regional High School.
Domb said she fully supports educating children in nutrition and cooking, and regrets losing these classes at schools due to budget constraints.
“These are the programs kids should be able to have in high school,” Domb said.
Revolution in the House
Both expressed frustration at the the inaction in the Legislature, where too few bills get passed.
“I actually think the problem comes back to a lack of transparency in the House,” Domb said.
She hopes to better publicize what is happening in the Legislature, including a roll call of her votes, and wants constituents to put pressure on her colleagues to create a progressive agenda on Beacon Hill.
Nakajima observed that when a legislative session ends, many bills are left to die, or legislators find ways to run out the clock on them.
The election next month can begin making a change to this process.
“Honestly, there needs to be a bit of a revolution in the House,” Nakajima said.