April 2, 2023 Letter

Dear Neighbors:

The ongoing land war in Ukraine, near-start of a civil war in the State of Israel and indictment of our former President command more of our attention and concern than the ongoing discussions about our State’s future. While acknowledging that reality, this week’s letter will discuss our State’s commitment to children in need and the Senate District 3 legislative grant program.

1.     Our Commitment To Children In Need

a.     The 2021 “Down Payment” Emergency Aid Program

The State’s Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) is charged with the essential mission of providing a “safety net” to Rhode Island’s children and families in desperate need. Some of my earliest Finance Committee hearings in late 2021 featured harrowing accounts of children with urgent emotional issues having to wait for weeks and months in unstable conditions before receiving needed care, often resulting in long-lasting harm. 

Many of these gaps result from a lack of professionals due to inadequate State staffing levels and/or inadequate compensation to partner social service agencies. To prevent the situation from collapse, the General Assembly in early 2022 appropriated $113 million in federal pandemic funds as a “down payment” to stanch this social wound. As part of last year’s budget, the General Assembly also authorized a rate review process to determine adequate levels of reimbursement for partner agencies over time.

b.     Avoiding A Financial Cliff

At last Thursday’s hearing, the Finance Committee reviewed the proposals in the Governor’s budget to sustain our child welfare system past last year’s “down payment.” We learned that DCYF remains unable to fill the vacancies in its staff, reducing the services it can provide while also exposing the employees who remain to burnout. Also, the Governor’s DCYF budget discontinues the stopgap supplemental funding from last year’s federal emergency budget, creating a financial cliff when the current fiscal year ends on June 30. Because the rate review process will take another year to define adequate reimbursement rates, providers testified we need to provide another “patch” over the next year to prevent the return of the emergency conditions we saw in late 2021.

c.      Long Term Issues

While we can use federal pandemic relief funds to fill this gap for another year, we need to find a stable, long-term funding stream for this essential program. As a result, I believe we should be cautious before implementing any permanent tax cuts (such as the Governor’s proposed sales tax reduction) in this year’s budget, as imprudent decisions this year could produce the need to restore previous tax reductions (or new tax increases) in future budgets. 

2.     Legislative Grants

Each year, the Senate allows members to request legislative grants to local agencies that (1) are located and/or have a substantial presence within the member’s district, (2) are a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and (3) propose using the funds for a particular project of interest. Last year, I worked with a committee of Senate District 3 residents to prepare a list of recommended grants for approval by Senate leadership. From this process the following agencies received grants in the following amounts:

Beat the Streets New England — $2,500

Classical High School Community Association — $1,500

Fox Point Neighborhood Association — $2,000

Friends of India Point Park — $2,000

Friends of Rochambeau Branch — $2,800

Nathan Bishop Middle School PTO — $3,000

Providence Community Library (Fox Point) — $3,000

PVD Period — $3,000

Village Common of RI — $2,500

Vartan Gregorian Elementary School PTO — $2,500

Volunteer Services for Animals — $2,000

Please spread the word to interested and eligible agencies to send me an email with their proposals, along with the identification of a contact person (name, mailing address, email address and telephone number) for follow-up information. The deadline for submitting grant proposals is Friday, April 28. Also, I would appreciate the help of eight or nine volunteers from District 3 to review and evaluate the grant proposals so I can make a list to propose to Senate leadership for funding. If you are interested, please send me an email. Thank you for your consideration.  

Next week marks the arrival of Passover,Good Friday and Easter. I hope that all of you who observe these holidays find a rewarding and meaningful opportunity for reflection and renewal.