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New Holyoke Soldiers' Home Bill Clears First Legislative Hurdle

A bond bill to provide funding for a new Holyoke Soldiers' Home unanimously passed the Massachusetts House Thursday.

The state-run facility was the site of a COVID-19 outbreak last year, where at least 76 veteran residents who tested positive died.

In a speech given remotely during Thursday's house session, state Rep. Joe Wagner of Chicopee said the tragedy exposed fault lines around the home, including staffing levels and leadership.

"The matter before us today is in relation to another of those fault lines: An outdated facility that was ill-equipped to defend against a fast moving and deadly virus," said Wagner, a member of the Democratic leadership in the House.

The issue of regional equity, and whether other parts of the state where in greater need of more veterans' services, came up during committee hearings on the legislation. In asking her colleagues to vote for the bill, freshman State Rep. Pat Duffy seemed to hint at the issue.

"We're investing in not just a regional priority, which it is, but a statewide asset that sits at the intersection of two major interstates," said Duffy, who was making her first speech on the House floor. "And we can take care of our veterans for years to come."

In a joint statement last week, House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka said they  "are committed to advancing reforms this session to modernize our service model, and the state's role in overseeing these services, to more effectively meet the needs of the changing veteran population while recognizing the need for regional equity."

The state is working to receive a federal grant to cover 65% of the cost of the $400 million project. Spilka said last week the Senate will take up the bill "in the coming weeks." 

Material from State House News Service was used in this report. 

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.
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