Grants Awarded for Municipal Water Projects
BOSTON — The Mass. Water Pollution Abatement Trust (MWPAT) announced the approval of more than $6 million in need-based principal-forgiveness grants on 20 water infrastructure loans from across the state. “This money will deliver relief to communities struggling to finance key water projects that provide for the health and well-being of their citizens,” said state Treasurer Steven Grossman, who serves as the chairman of the MWPAT. “This funding frees up additional capital to go to other important local priorities, such as transportation infrastructure, education, and public safety.” The 20 grants, administered by the state and funded by the federal government, were awarded on a competitive basis to cities and towns most in need of financial assistance associated with loan payments to the MWPAT. Because of the reduction of loan principal funded by the grants, impacted communities will see their biannual loan payments reduced, freeing up capital for other local needs. The loans were originated to pay for municipal water projects such as upgrades to water-treatment facilities and stormwater and sewer improvement projects. “As Governor Patrick has so clearly pointed out, the Commonwealth has a significant and expensive backlog of water infrastructure projects to address in order to fully protect the environment and the public health,” said Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell of the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection, who serves on the MWPAT board. “I am pleased to join our trust partners to provide this assistance to these communities to make their projects more affordable.” The $6 million in loan forgiveness is associated with a total original loan amount of $98 million, an overall principal reduction of 6%. “As the executive director of the trust, I am excited to announce $6 million in principal forgiveness to these communities that have shown a strong commitment to improving their water infrastructure,” said Sue Perez. “This award represents our third year providing principal forgiveness, and to date we have awarded roughly $33 million in principal forgiveness under this program.” The MWPAT lends financial assistance to the Commonwealth under the State Revolving Fund program by providing subsidized loans to cities and towns for water-infrastructure development. Since its establishment in 1989, the trust has loaned approximately $6 billion to improve and maintain the quality of water in the Commonwealth. An estimated 97% of Massachusetts’ citizens have benefited from the MWPAT’s financial assistance.
Massachusetts Economy Shows Positive Signs
BOSTON — After a period of lackluster economic growth, the Massachusetts economy sprang to life in the first three months of this year as hiring increased, incomes rose, and consumer spending rebounded, according to a new report by the University of Massachusetts and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. The state’s economy grew at an annual rate of 3.9% between January and March, accelerating from 2.4% at the end of last year and outpacing the national economic growth rate of 2.5% during the three-month period. The state has recovered from the Great Recession faster than the nation as a whole, regaining as of January all the jobs lost in the downturn even as U.S. employment remains millions of jobs below the pre-recession peak. That has helped boost incomes here, which have been further supported by the strong stock market and rising home values, leading to stronger consumer spending. In fact, spending on discretionary purchases, including TVs, furniture, appliances, and motor vehicles, grew at an annual rate of 11.6%. The Massachusetts economy seems to have responded to the resolution of November’s elections and the ensuing budget battles and ‘fiscal cliff,’ but the UMass report noted that risks to the economy remain. Specifically, Massachusetts is particularly vulnerable to across-the-board sequestration cuts because the state receives billions annually in federal defense and research spending. The spending cuts, which took effect in March, have already led to slower hiring in many of the state’s key industries, including healthcare, higher education, and research and development.
Three Local Agencies Benefit from MMS Grants
WALTHAM — Three agencies in Western Mass. Are among 12 to receive grants from the Mass. Medical Society & Alliance Charitable Foundation as part of its 2013 allocations. The 12 grants total $160,000 and will help to support health and medical services that address vision care, healthy lifestyles, asthma reduction, prevention and screening services, and primary care for the uninsured. Eight agencies are receiving grants for the first time, while four have previously been awarded grants from the foundation. Community Health Programs of Great Barrington was awarded $35,000 to outfit a medical van with equipment to provide a mobile ophthalmic office that will offer patients of all ages comprehensive screening, diagnosis, and treatment for eye diseases. The van will focus care on populations that are disadvantaged due to mobility, health, or economic reasons. The agency serves people throughout Berkshire County. Amherst Survival Center Free Medical Clinic was awarded $15,000 to hire a part-time clinic manager to oversee expansion of the agency’s operation. The clinic serves more than 500 individuals in Hampshire and Franklin counties. This is the second grant to the agency from the foundation; it previously received $15,000 in 2011. Greater Westfield Free Health Services received $5,000 to support free health services for residents in the Westfield area who are uninsured or underinsured. Other recipients in Massachusetts include Heywood Hospital, Gardner, $20,000; UMass Memorial Medical Center, Worcester, $15,000; Girls Inc., Worcester, $10,000; Metro West Free Medical Program, Sudbury, $10,000; Children’s Health Care and Nutritional Goals through Education, Shrewsbury, $10,000; Restoring Sight International, West Roxbury, $15,000; the Family Van Program, Roxbury, $10,000; Upham’s Corner Health Center, Dorchester, $10,000; and the Sharewood Project, Malden, $5,000. The foundation is a supporting organization of the Mass. Medical Society, the statewide association of physicians, and the MMS Alliance is the organization of physicians’ spouses committed to promoting good health among the citizens of Massachusetts. The foundation’s mission is to support the charitable and educational activities of the society and alliance and address issues affecting the health, benefit, and welfare of the community.
Springfield Museums Receives Prestigious Accreditation
SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Museums recently announced that, after a two-year process, the nonprofit organization has received prestigious accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the highest national recognition for a museum or museum consortium. Of the nation’s estimated 17,500 museums, only about 1,000 (or 6%) are currently accredited. Accreditation places the Springfield Museums in the same class as institutions like the Smithsonian, the American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, and the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown. To be accredited signifies a museum meets or exceeds the standards and best practices of the museum field in all aspects of its operation — collections stewardship, community engagement, financial stability, governance, and security. Accreditation is often a prerequisite for, or integral to, loans of objects from other museums nationally and internationally, funding from many philanthropies and foundations, and support from local, municipal, and state government. Longtime private donors, elected officials, and museums staff and board members joined in a celebratory announcement at the Michele & Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts. According to Holly Smith-Bove, museums president, the museums draw a quarter-million visitors each year and add an estimated $28 million per year in tourism dollars into the region. The campus off State and Chestnut streets includes the Museum of Fine Arts, the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, the Springfield Science Museum, the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum, the Museum of Springfield History, and the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. Accredited museums encompass the breadth of America’s museums that celebrate and display all forms of art, history, historic sites, natural history, science and technology centers, public and botanic gardens, zoos, and aquariums.
Construction Industry Loses 6,000 Jobs in April
The U.S. construction industry lost 6,000 jobs in April, according to the May 3 employment report by the U.S. Department of Labor, but the unemployment rate decreased to 13.2%, down from 14.7% in March and 14.5% in April 2012. Year over year, the construction industry has added 154,000 jobs, or 1.7%. The decline in unemployment is likely due to seasonality rather than meaningful improvement in underlying construction labor market conditions. The non-residential building sector lost 4,800 jobs for the month, but has added 17,700, or 2.7%, over the last year. The residential building sector added 6,200 jobs in April and has added 14,400 jobs, or 2.5%, year over year. Non-residential specialty trade contractor employment fell by 11,100 jobs in April compared to March, but is still up by 39,000 jobs, or 1.9%, compared to the same time last year. Residential specialty trade contractors added 7,100 jobs for the month and have added 69,300 jobs, or 4.7%, since April 2012. Heavy and civil engineering construction employment slipped by 3,800 jobs in April, but is up by 13,400 jobs, or 1.5%, over the last 12 months. Across all industries, the nation added 165,000 jobs, with the private sector expanding by 176,000 jobs and the public sector shrinking by 11,000 jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ household survey, the national unemployment rate fell to 7.5% in April, down from 7.6% in March. “Today’s report highlights the fact that different forms of economic activity require different levels of confidence,” said ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “Leading the way in job creation in April were segments such as leisure/hospitality and retail trade. It doesn’t take that much confidence to take a short cruise or eat at a restaurant; however, it takes a considerable level of confidence to move forward with a significant construction project, and that level of confidence is still lacking. “The recent construction spending report issued by the U.S. Census Bureau showed that both public and private nonresidential construction were down for the month, indicating that sustained momentum continues to elude the industry.” Today’s employment report reinforces the notion that sustained recovery remains elusive,” Basu said. “While non-residential construction employment is up by nearly 56,700 jobs on a year-over-year basis, the segment shed 15,900 positions in April. Further declines are possible in the near term given weak construction spending dynamics and the anticipated impacts of sequestration on construction starts.”