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By Herb Weiss, contributing writer on aging issues
Over a month ago, Gov. Dan McKee penned a Providence Journal op-ed calling for the General Assembly to release the $1.1 billion (at least 10%) in federal COVID-19 aid to address the state’s immediate needs, including shoring up minority and women owned small businesses and specific sectors – tourism, travel and events, and child care. The federal funds should also target worker training programs and increase the state’s affordable housing units.
On Oct. 15, Gov. McKee and Lt. Gov. Matos rolled out “Rhode Island 2030”, a working paper containing preliminary recommendations to begin public debate on how the American Rescue Plan Act’s State Fiscal Recovery Fund should be spent. Beginning Oct. 26, public hearings will be held on the McKee-Matos working paper, “Rhode Island 2030: Charting a Course for the Future of the Ocean State”.
The 55-page working draft provides summaries of what the administration heard during the Facebook live Rhode Island 2030 Community Conversations. The document also highlights current state agency initiatives in the relevant topic areas, suggests broad goals for 2030, and recommends short-term and long-term actions the state should take to reach those goals.
With the working paper’s release last week, debate has intensified as to how the McKee-Matos Administration should spend the state’s $1.1 billion allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act’s State Fiscal Recovery Fund. On Oct. 19, the Rhode Island Foundation added its own wish list in a report, “Make It Happen: Investing for Rhode Island’s Future”, which studied and analyzed options for spending the federal COVID-19 recovery funding over the next three years.
The public input included approximately 400 ideas submitted by the public via email, stakeholder conversations with more than 140 people, five focus groups with Rhode Islanders from communities hardest hit by COVID, and 11 nonprofit-led, community visioning sessions throughout the state. The 56-page report’s recommendations, shared with Mckee-Matos and the Rhode Island General Assembly, recommends investing in six key areas: housing, behavioral health, workforce development, small business, neighborhood trusts, and immediate relief.
Senior Advocates Weigh In
In an Oct. 18 email, Maureen Maigret, policy consultant and chair of the Aging in Community Subcommittee of the Rhode Island’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council, emailed her thoughts about the working paper to the aging network.
Here are a few of Maigret’s observations:
The working paper does not consider seniors to be an integral part of families, says Maigret, noting that “older couples are a family, some families are multi-generational with older adults being provided care by family members or helping with childcare and sharing household and family responsibilities. “While the plan recognized the pandemic caused many parents to leave the labor force, it does not mention that it also caused some employed family caregivers to leave their jobs as the caregiver workforce shortage intensified with COVID-19, leaving many caregivers without service,” she said.
Maigret called on state funded provider reimbursement to be at a level to provide competitive and living wages to all Direct Care staff and to support reasonable administrative costs.
While the working paper makes only an indirect mention of seniors about workforce development and postsecondary education, child care workers, nursing home staff and tipped workers are severely underpaid, notes Maigret. “There must be a target focus for these workforce fields, especially in lieu of the recent trends of workers leaving their jobs,” she says.
“There is no mention of any particular effort to strengthen programs that were in the labor force before the pandemic,” says Maigret.
As to workforce shortages, Maigret notes that the draft “fails to address the need for nursing home transformation and Covid’s significant impact on deaths and hospitalizations of nursing home residents, as mostly their physical structures are outdated with residents sharing rooms and bathrooms which makes infection control difficult, and contributes to high infection rates.”
Maigret noted that the working draft highlighted the need to expand broadband for Ocean State residents and businesses. “It did not include any specific facts on broadband accessibility for older adults or mention transit needs of older adults,” she said.
Giving Seniors a Brighter Tomorrow
AARP Rhode Island joins Maigret, calling on McKee-Matos to not forget Rhode Island’s seniors.
“The governor’s “Rhode Island 2030” framework includes the top two priorities that AARP Rhode Island has identified as critical,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Catherine Taylor in an Oct. 19 statement. “Investing in the future of health care and housing in Rhode Island is vital to ensuring that citizens – of all ages – have a brighter tomorrow. We look forward to working with state leaders to advance these two priorities as decisions are made on spending ARPA funds.”
AARP Rhode Island especially agrees with the governor’s plan that municipal barriers for Accessory Dwelling Units need to be removed in order to create more affordable and accessible housing in our town and cities.
Like Maigret, AARP Rhode Island expressed concern about a lack of inclusion for older Rhode Islanders in many sections of the McKee-Matos working plan.
Considering that the vast majority of Rhode Islanders want to live independently in their homes and communities, the plan needs to include protecting the HCBS workforce employed by many small businesses, safeguarding the financial stability of HCBS providers, and accelerating meaningful reform of long-term services and supports.
To support healthy and accessible housing, AARP Rhode Island calls for increased funding for property owners to make improvements to existing housing, including weatherization, lead abatement, and disability access. In their July letter to the governor and state leaders, AARP Rhode Island recommended expanding the funding of the Livable Home Modification Program in order to increase the state’s accessible housing stock. Demand for this program continues to rise, often resulting in a waitlist by mid-fiscal year.
AARP Rhode Island advocates strongly for investing in transportation to help create livable communities where residents of any age are able to connect with the services and amenities they want and need. Creating communities that are accommodating to people of all ages and all modes of transportation is vital to allowing people to age in their own homes, within their own communities.
“AARP Rhode Island is committed to working with state leaders to make certain that ARPA funds are invested in a way that ensures that Rhode Islanders of all ages and abilities can recover and thrive,” said Taylor.”
A Call for Your Comments
“There are obviously significant objectives & responsibilities that must be developed and pursued to strengthen Rhode Island’s recovery from the pandemic – including the well-being of our aging community and how we can become an “Age-Friendly State” (currently, 8 states in the AARP network).
This community conversation must become a statewide collaboration – engaging families, older adults, grandparents, etc. Such a strategic effort would greatly enhance the recently released working document: “Rhode Island 2030: Charting a Course for RI’s Future,” says Vincent Marzullo, former federal civil rights and social justice Director in Rhode Island for the Corporation for National & Community Services.
Public input sessions on the McKee-Matos working paper begins Tuesday, Oct. 26 at 6 p.m. at Harry Kizirian Elementary School (60 Camden Avenue, Providence). Additional public input sessions will be held at 5 p.m. on the following dates:
You can also submit your feedback, online, at www.RI2030.com
For a copy of the McKee-Matos working paper, go to https://ri2030.com/_files/public/RI%202030_final.pdf.
For a copy of Rhode Island’s American Rescue Plan Report, go to https://assets.rifoundation.org/documents/RIF_MakeItHappen_DIGITAL_vF.pdf
Now is the time for creative ideas and reactions to these plans – please take the time to be an advocate for seniors in Rhode Island – and for other causes and issues that are important to you.
To read all Herb Weiss’ articles for RINewsToday, go to: https://rinewstoday.com/herb-weiss/
Herb Weiss, LRI’12 is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly and its sequel, Taking Charge: Vol 2 MORE Stories on Aging Boldly, go to herbweiss.com.