Cong. Kennedy, Chelsea Leaders Discuss COVID-19 Threat in City

Congressman Joseph Kennedy joined City Council President Roy Avellaneda, Vice President Judith Garcia, and Executive Director Maria Belen Power April 9 for an emergency frontline broadcast to discuss the COVID-19 virus and its severe impact on Chelsea.

Chelsea is among the communities in Massachusetts that have been hit the hardest by COVID-19.

Avellaneda said the city is in need of additional federal funding to help in the fight against the virus.

“What we need is assistance from the federal level, we need money, direct assistance from the federal government to local communities that can help pay for food and for shelter,” said Avellaneda, “We are struggling right now to buy the supplies. We’re lucky that Chelsea had at least some monies in free cash to give to the health and human services department to buy more food and medical supplies, but we’re finding that the housing part – finding a shelter for people that need to be separated from their loved ones – is the most difficult part.”

Kennedy asked Garcia to provide updated data on the cases in Chelsea and its context in the current crisis. She first thanked Kennedy for providing the forum in which Chelsea leaders could communicate directly to him and cite their concerns.

“We have a rate of 96 confirmed cases per 10,000 residents – and that is scary,” said Garcia. “It comes as no surprise that communities like Chelsea that have a predominantly immigrant population are being impacted way more.”

Belen Power, assistant executive director of GreenRoots, also thanked Kennedy for “having this conversation” with Chelsea leaders. Belen Power delivered what observers called “a brilliant, well-articulated presentation” on the topic of environmental justice. Belen Power later appeared on an NBC-10 television broadcast for an interview about the crisis in Chelsea.

“The three factors of environmental justice are language, race and income,” said Belen Power. “Every census tract in Chelsea fits the definition of an environmental justice community. So the entire city of Chelsea falls within the definition of what is a population that needs the additional resources.

“For decades we’ve been trying to pass legislation in Massachusetts that would allow additional protection to communities like Chelsea, Brockton, Lawrence, East Boston,” continued Belen Power. “We’ve been ringing the bells, we’ve been ringing the sirens, obviously in different contexts, but we know that the three high risk conditions of hypertension, diabetes, and respiratory illnesses – we have the highest rates of those in Massachusetts. The definition of what does it mean to be a vulnerable community – we are it.”

Belen Power explained further that Chelsea has a very high concentration of “essential employees” that are the backbone of the economy and there are groups living in small apartment units, thus making it difficult to “socially distance.”

“Everything that’s being highlighted now sets the stage for a perfect storm, and that’s what we’re seeing and that’s what we’re experiencing,” said Garcia, “It’s very emotional, but it’s also very inspiring to see that despite all this, our community has come together to create a response team and create the resources for our community.”

Kennedy displayed an in-depth knowledge of Chelsea’s situation in respect to the global pandemic and knew of the day-to-day challenges facing residents here. “That 111 [route] bus was packed,” noted Kennedy, “because everybody in that community needed to go to work to make rent or was working in a job that was deemed essential.”

During the forum, Kennedy also referred to his own well-researched statistics which confirmed that Chelsea is being hit harder by the crisis than other communities such as Somerville and Brookline.

Kennedy has been a frequent visitor to the city in the course of his campaign for U.S. Senate. His participation in a tour of the Saint Luke’s Church brought attention to that congregation’s community service. Kennedy’s COVID-19 frontline broadcast with Chelsea leaders also seemed to bring statewide spotlight on the crisis facing the city which has been described as “a hot spot.”

Kennedy has also drawn praise for the technological savviness of his Senate campaign, a fact highlighted in a recent Boston Herald column by Joe Battenfeld.

Kennedy’s final message to Chelsea residents was, “Stay healthy and stay safe and let us know what we can do.”

Councillor Garcia, a prominent supporter of Kennedy’s campaign, felt the virtual meeting went very well.

“I think the purpose of having that conversation with Congressman Joe Kennedy is to continue to have a broader conversation of what’s happening in Chelsea,” said Garcia, “We know that the city is being disproportionately affected by the pandemic in ways that are visible, So it was good to have the dialog with Congressman Joe Kennedy and really highlight some of the areas where we’re taking action but above that, highlight some of the areas where we could use some help.”

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