FALL RIVER, Mass. — Where is the stimulus money going? Over the coming months, we will meet some of the people who have received some of the $9 billion promised to Massachusetts. In our first report, the story of how the federal funds helped rehire a laid-off firefighter in Fall River.
In Fire Chief Paul Ford’s office, the radio doesn’t stay quiet for long. His firehouses answer about 5,000 calls a year. But this time last year they were doing it with fewer firefighters because budget cuts had forced him to lay off 44 people.
“We were unfortunately the highest lay-off department in the state,” Ford says. Since then he’s “learned we were actually the third largest group of union firefighters in the entire United States to get laid off.”
Among those firefighters was Ray Schofield. The timing couldn’t have been worse for him personally. He and his wife had just bought a house.
“I just had closed two weeks before I got my pink slip, so it was a little financial strap down. It was just a reality check,” Schofield says. “Just lining things up to see what I needed to do in order to honestly pay that mortgage.”
Schofield used to be in the military and still looks the part with a close-shaved head and straight posture, hands behind his back. When he was laid off, he went on unemployment and also joined the military reserves. He was thinking about changing professions, but the union told him he might get his job back if the federal stimulus money trickled down to the fire department.
But “would it get to me?” he wondered.
Turned out the money did get to Schofield. He and 43 other firefighters were rehired after the Fall River Fire Department got $2.8 million in federal money.
Chief Paul Ford says that translates into money flowing into the community because: “firefighters buy cars, firefighters buy TVs and go on vacation — like everyone else. When you take 44 individuals and they no longer have a salary, that has to have a direct impact on area businesses.”
But for how long? The stimulus money is a one-time grant. Chief Ford calls it a band-aid. And the wound of getting laid off isn’t fully healed for firefighter Schofield.
“What happens in a year?” he says. “My city is still in a financial crisis right now and there’s talk about more layoffs. There’s no way for me to stimulate the economy; I need to stimulate my bank account more than anything.”
Schofield expects he will be laid off again when the federal grant runs out two weeks before Thanksgiving. So he questions whether or not the stimulus package, which gave him back his job for a year, is really helping to improve the economy over the long term.