Alum Shapes Policy Through Public Health Lens at State House.
Alum Shapes Policy Through Public Health Lens at State House
Morgan Simko works as the legislative director for Massachusetts State Senator John Keenan, for whom she oversees policy priorities, a budget, and legislation in the Joint Committee on Housing.
Once Morgan Simko (SPH’20) learned more about the intersection of policy and health through her core courses at the School of Public Health, there was no turning back.
“Policies play an integral role in every aspect of our lives, from housing and transportation to access to healthy foods,” says Simko, who received her MPH in health policy and law. “Starting a career in policy and having the opportunity to directly support health was really exciting to me. It is tough work, but this is exactly where I knew I wanted to be.”
Now, Simko works as the legislative director for Massachusetts State Senator John Keenan, where she oversees his policy priorities, budget, and legislation in the Joint Committee on Housing, which Keenan chairs and she serves as staff lead for.
Much of her work centers around meeting and speaking with community members and advocates who are impacted by the different bills being discussed throughout the legislative cycle. The end goal of these conversations, she says, is to use the stories and lived experiences that she hears to help adopt or draft legislation that supports the needs of the community.
“As policy makers, we cannot physically be everywhere that the advocates are,” says Simko. “We really prioritize listening to and learning from the folks who are closest to these issues. It is one of the most critical parts of my job.”
Through her work on the Joint Committee on Housing, Simko says that these conversations with people on the ground have become even more important as the state continues to navigate how they will allocate the federal funding they received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which are funds specifically for aiding communities in rebuilding and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As the Housing Committee chair, Senator Keenan wants to make sure we are hearing the voices of those who have historically been left out of these larger conversations,” she says. “I meet with housing advocates at least once a week to discuss how we can potentially spend this ARPA money to better support our communities. To think we might allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on housing is pretty incredible, but we want to make sure it is serving those in the Commonwealth who need it most.”
During her time at SPH, Simko served on the Student Senate in various roles, advocating for part-time students, like herself, working to fill gaps in communication between the Student Senate and Faculty Senate, and developing programming through a diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice lens. She served on the Student Senate for three years, and says she learned a lot from the experience that she has carried with her as she continues her work at the State House.
“Student Senate was a great lesson in learning how to work within a larger system to advocate for the changes other students and I wanted to see,” she says. “I’ve learned that these skills are easily transferrable, whether within academia, government, or any other space.”
Inside of the classroom at SPH, Simko says one of the most important things she learned is that nothing in public health happens in silos, everyone and everything is connected in some way. She has kept this lesson at the forefront of her mind, keeping public health at the center of all of her policy work.
“If we do not consider the climate crisis when we are talking about housing or if we don’t think about housing when we are working with folks who use substances,” she says, “we are missing so much of people’s experiences. It is essential to keep this public health lens in all that we do so that we can create comprehensive policies that serve not only the most vulnerable but also everyone in the Commonwealth.”
At the State House and beyond, Simko says that the community and support she has received from other SPH alumni has been invaluable in helping her navigate the first stages of her career.
“The SPH network is so strong, and I have prided myself in helping to keep it that way,” she says. “We are all coming from a great school with the goal of making the world a better place for all, and I think there is a lot of potential for what we can do in Boston, in Massachusetts, throughout the country, and even across the world.”
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