McCormack Speaks

October 21, 2020
by jackli001
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From COVID Economy to Clean Energy Economy

By David W. Cash, Dean, McCormack Graduate School

While the House, Senate and White House are at the brink of a recovery deal, the economic impacts of COVID-19 become even more stark. The pandemic and its most recent spikes have wiped out jobs and shuttered businesses, with the already disadvantaged bearing the brunt of the pandemic. Out of this devastation, it will be a big win if Congress and the White House can eventually take significant steps toward protecting those families and businesses on the edge of economic collapse.

But we also have the opportunity not just for a win, but for a win-win. If future stimulus packages in the US strategically transform a foundation of our way of life – our energy system – to seize multiple benefits, in addition to rebuilding the economy, we will be judged in the future as having generated opportunity from crisis. As a recent report in Science outlines, this idea could be effective globally and cost a fraction of what COVID response spending is likely to be: “We show that low-carbon investments to put the world on an ambitious track toward net zero carbon dioxide emissions by mid-century are dwarfed by currently announced COVID-19 stimulus funds.” [1]

So as the debate drags on, we face a crucial crossroads.

One possible path would direct federal funding towards recreating our previously unsustainable dependence on fossil fuels and its devastating impact on health, geopolitical stability, and the climate.

Alternatively, we can choose a path where investments support jobs that will transform our energy system and make it cheaper, more reliable, more home-grown, more just, cleaner, and more sustainable for future generations. The US would reestablish leadership in the global clean energy marketplace, provide jobs across rural, suburban and urban communities, and begin to redress the disproportionate environmental impacts that marginal communities have endured.

What might this path look like? These guideposts could help.

Massive renewable energy deployment: The 2009 stimulus investments launched a renewable revolution where solar and wind became cheaper than natural gas in some places. And of course, once built, the fuel for solar and wind is free and clean. The right market signals like long-term production and investment tax credits can provide incentives to solidify renewable technologies.

Energy storage commercialization: Since the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, storage – advanced batteries – will be necessary to provide full-time power. On the cusp of affordable commercial-scale and residential-scale storage technologies, large federal investment could push technologies into the marketplace.

Energy efficiency everywhere: Energy efficiency is still the cheapest “source” of energy. Some states have unleashed efficiency, but federal dollars could triple state utility investments in energy efficiency. And since the return on investment is so good, this could more than quadruple ratepayers’ savings on energy bills.

Infrastructure investments: Study after study show that our electric grid needs major upgrades, especially when we add offshore wind, electric vehicles and storage. Strategic and significant investments now will make our economy ready for the smart clean energy future.

Job growth: Stimulus dollars must target sectors poised to grow and train workers. The clean energy sector has demonstrated success in this regard over the last 15 years. And many of these jobs stay here, like energy auditors (can’t outsource), solar panel installers (can’t outsource), wind turbine maintenance workers (can’t outsource), and energy efficiency retrofitters (can’t outsource).

Transportation Transformation: Other countries are racing to capture the global electric vehicle (EV) market. Unfortunately, we are ceding that market to China, Germany and India. And public transit systems in the US are in disrepair and underfunded. Stimulus funds for the manufacture and sale of EVs, and for public transit to become world-class, will reap big benefits in reducing congestion, generating manufacturing jobs, creating cleaner air, and providing consumers with vehicles that are cheaper to run and maintain.

Research and Development (R&D): Deep investments in energy R&D in public research labs, the private sector, and universities have always reaped big economic benefits. These would help develop the technologies of the future now and add to job growth.

More Equal Energy: All of the above investments must target low-income communities and communities of color which have not always benefited from clean energy economic growth. Now is the time to assure energy equity.

The right path is clear. The window of opportunity is limited. The consequences of the alternatives are dire. The next stimulus bill should provide a win-win and help solidify our travel to the clean energy future.

David W. Cash is the Dean of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and a former Commissioner in the Department of Public Utilities and Department of Environmental Protection in Massachusetts.


[1] Marina Andrijevic and Schleussner, C-F., Gidden, M.J., McCollum, D.L., and Rogelj, J. (2020) COVID-19 recovery funds dwarf clean energy investment needs. Science October 16: pp. 298-300.

August 6, 2020
by jackli001
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Minimum Wage Continues to Stifle Economic Mobility in Massachusetts

Stephanie Haynes, MPA Candidate, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

Stephanie Philippe (Haynes), MPA Candidate, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

Back when I first graduated from the University of Massachusetts – Boston (UMB), I thought for sure that I deserved and earned my way to a life of high salaries and comfortable living. To me, I earned the right to be paid above minimum wage and people who earned minimum wage just need to work harder. It wasn’t until I had to live a real life (i.e. one that was not supported by family) that I realized minimum-wage workers are hard workers and in many instances, they are working harder than us.

One of the things that I think drives this sort of thinking is the perception of who is and who is not ‘deserving’ in our society. Crippled by social biases, many people believe that if someone is making little money it is because they didn’t work hard enough to make more. But the truth is I know people who have worked hard all their lives yet they still make way less than they need to live. Livable minimum wages help address issues of poverty. They are not a handout; rather, they should be seen as setting the financial foundation down equally, so people can be self-reliant. That way people get the chance to always move forward.

Poverty comes in all different forms. To be mindful of that, we have found ways to try to measure poverty – Absolute Poverty and Relative Poverty. When it comes to Absolute Poverty, society agrees that this is when someone is barely able to secure even the most minimal of necessities (i.e.: clothes, a home, hygiene). Here, we try to consider human basic needs and, if you cannot secure those things for yourself or provide them to your family unit, you might be living in absolute poverty. Relative Poverty measures poverty a little differently. “In this case, poverty is defined as having incomes below a certain level relative to the median income in a country. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ( uses a relative measure, defining poverty as 50 percent of the median disposable income in a given country. The relative poverty standard then changes with median incomes (Weller, 2019)”. This means you are able to provide and maintain housing, food, and shelter but, compared to many others, you are deeply struggling.

Imagine, you have been saving to buy a home for the past 10-15 years with the goal of being able to move into a good neighborhood with a monthly mortgage of $1,000-$1,250. This is the American dream and you have a job, so maintaining this home on a $40,000 salary is all you will be doing. After taking out a mortgage, your annual take home salary has already been lowered by $12,000-$15,000 annually. You are left with $25,000, which has to cover your other necessities (food, transportation, utilities, credit cards). Additionally, you may have other bills that you must pay out of that salary. By the time you have finished paying your mandatory bills, you are left with a small pool of remaining disposable income and, as such, it becomes very difficult to move up without making some serious concessions. In the real world, a lot of people do not get to be paid $40k; for them, life is a constant struggle. How can you thrive under those conditions?

Raising the minimum wage would mean that families do not have to decide between paying bills, eating, securing other basic needs, or enjoying life. Even at a $15 minimum wage, individuals would only be making $28,800 which takes them only just above the poverty threshold. When you think about it that way, it begs the question: why are we making it so hard for people to have livable wages?  In our journey to end poverty, we must consider using the minimum wage as a tool to close the equity gap.

 

Reference:

Weller, C. E. (2019). Seventh lecture: Poverty, inequality and budgets. Retrieved from https://umb.umassonline.net/bbcswebdav/pid-3313944-dt-content-rid-26097425_1/courses/B2910-2382/LN, 7th Lecture, PUBADM G 602, Poverty and Inequality, Fall 2019.docx

August 6, 2020
by jackli001
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Mental Health in the Times of COVID-19 – Describing the Necessity for Greater Access

Jeney Zhang, MPA Candidate, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

Jeney Zhang, MPA Candidate, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

As we navigate these extraordinary times amid a global pandemic, economic closures, social distancing, and transitions to online learning have severely impacted the mental health and psyche of us all. The physiological impact of COVID-19 stretches far beyond the physical illness wrought by the disease; the new normal of isolation and quarantine is taking a mental toll. Society, as a whole, is now confronted with and needs to learn how to cope with the fear and anxiety of not only avoiding contracting the disease, but also the sense of economic, social, and academic uncertainty. The stress inflicted by the onset of the pandemic and its aftermath is driving a current mental health crisis. Nearly half of Americans report issues related to mental health due to the COVID-19 crisis and a hotline dedicated to emotional distress saw a more than 1,000% increase in April as compared to last year.

Massachusetts has begun taking steps to address this important issue. On March 15, Governor Charlie Baker issued an executive order requiring insurers to cover all “medically necessary” services via telehealth, including behavioral and mental health. While this is a step in the right direction, the underlying issues of mental health treatment in America still remain. This order expands people’s ability to access behavioral telehealth, but issues of mental health parity related to decisions of medical necessity and rate structures as compared to physical health must still be addressed. Though the stigma of mental illness has decreased in recent years, the treatment and management of it still do not measure up to standards of care associated with physical ailments.

The Massachusetts Legislature is currently working to address these critical barriers to improving access to mental health care. In early February, the state Senate unanimously approved the “Mental Health ABC Act”, designed to put mental health care on par with other physical forms of medical care, remove prior authorization from insurers before receiving care, and expand mental health access to underserved populations. The bill now heads to the Massachusetts House.

The Commonwealth and the whole of America have been in the throes of a mental health crisis for decades and the current COVID-19 pandemic only serves to exacerbate the issue and further expose our lack of preparedness to handle the crisis. Though governments actions to reduce barriers and provide greater access to mental health care are moving in the right direction, the fact remains we lack the proper infrastructure to provide the care needed. The mental health care system in America is vastly underfunded, fragmented, and ill-prepared to handle the volume of new cases sure to arise from this pandemic. Even prior to the current crisis, 1 in 5 US adults suffered from mental illnesses yet less than half receive the necessary treatment. We can hope a silver lining will be found amid current hardships. Perhaps, because the pandemic exposed the already-strained mental health resources and capacity in this country, renewed attention, funding, and planning will be given to this sector as we move forward and recover.

For those suffering during these trying times, the state, other government agencies, and the University Health Services at UMass Boston offer resources supporting mental health and strategies to cope. Prioritizing your mental health and coping with the added stress will make you stronger and better prepared to tackle this new normal, for however longer it may last.

June 8, 2020
by jackli001
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Ubuntu – Poem by James Whitacre

James Whitacre, PhD Student in Global Governance and Human Security & Research Associate, Center for Governance and Sustainability

Ubuntu 2020 Event

For me, the poem “Ubuntu” marks a moment of solidarity in our Pan-African Graduate Scholars Association. While we have different research areas as Africanists, Africans, and African American Africans, “Ubuntu” explores a place some call home. Through a geophysical-psychology blend (Kano’s granite, etc), the poem grounds itself in Nigeria’s regional socio-cultural realities. Paying tribute to difference (because unity is not uniformity), the poem highlights a shared human orientation to the current Covid-19 scourge. A mirror peck of the ocean which is Ubuntu’s traditional meaning, this contemporary poem invites readers to transcend our “selves”, use our hearts, and contemplate our interconnection to our communities and the human whole.

One Professor,

With roots to one place,

Where 500 languages live,

In the hearts of 200 million people,

Whose feet walk, where soil speaks,

Loose sand Norths,

Granite in Kano,

Red Savannas,

Forest Souths,

Many people, sharing an orientation,

To the coming and going,

of droughts and floods.

 

Nigeria…

Now a land of who lives and who dies,

Because of a disease named after a crown,

One Professor,

With roots to one place,

Taught me one word,

Which our whole world needs now more than ever,

while we wait out this common drought:

Ubuntu. Ubuntu. Ubuntu.

“I am because you are.”

April 30, 2020
by jackli001
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Art Creates Community and Comfort – and We Must Defend It

By Hsin-Ching Wu, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

Hsin-Ching Wu, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

From late February to early March, as the world watched the outbreak of COVID-19 spreading like a wildfire from country to country, things seemed to be rather unruffled here in Massachusetts.  At UMass Boston, the spring semester had been in full swing.  I had then just defended my dissertation focusing on a case study of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which is the state’s designated public agency providing funding and services to nonprofit cultural institutions, schools, communities and individual artists.

Before long, by mid-March, everything changed.  The COVID-19 pandemic turned into more than just a public health crisis, and social distancing became the new normal.

Personally, even though the PhD training has given me plenty of experiences of working in solitude, the adjustment has not been easy.  As I read about the developing situations here in the U.S. as well as back home in Taiwan, I found myself, maybe like many others, going through various emotions.  In the midst of uncertainties, I discovered an unexpected outlet through creativity when I started participating in weekly virtual drawing sessions with friends.  Once a hobby of my childhood and adolescent years, I have not drawn for a very long time.  Surprisingly, the simple action of producing images with lines and shadows has brought me calmness.

Elsewhere, stories have emerged that during the periods of social/physical distancing, forms of cultural, creative, and artistic expressions inspire and comfort many individuals across the globe. For instance, in Italy, residents have been seen singing and playing instruments on their balconies.  Here in the U.S., the students of Boston Conservatory at Berklee and Berklee College of Music presented stay-at-home “Love Sweet Love” in a video to send a positive message.  A variety of nonprofit cultural institutions have been offering some forms of virtual exhibits, performance, and tours.  Some artists and musicians are providing free online courses.  Amid social/physical distancing, culture (an umbrella term that encompasses the arts, humanities, and heritage) gives people much needed solace.

However, in spite of these transcendental benefits, as compared to other industries, little attention is given to the nonprofit cultural sector, which is facing devastating difficulties.  From an economic standpoint, in the U.S. alone, by mid-March, nonprofit arts organizations had already lost at least $3.2 billons of revenues.

As pointed out by the UNESCO, this is a shared plight across the board.  Nevertheless, I would argue that it is time for public policy to move past the efficiency argument as measured solely by monetary value.  As this pandemic demonstrates, societies require more than a good economy to function.  There are other essential elements, including but not limited to equitable social benefits, universal access to healthcare, a clean and safe environment, communal support and connection, and the arts, heritage, and humanities, all of which are not quantifiable by market price alone.

While societies continue to weather the crisis, I remain hopeful that this shared experience will lead to an increased recognition and appreciation of the value of culture, and the significance of continuing public support for the sector.

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