“First They Came for the Jews…”

Published in Woonsocket Call on April 29, 2018

On April 26, 2018, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Senate Resolution No. 2696, urging law enforcement officials to recognize white nationalists and neo-Nazi groups as terrorist organizations. The Senate Resolution would enable law enforcement to pursue such groups’ activities and whereabouts with the resources and attention devoted to domestic terrorist groups. It would be tragic for the Senate panel to not pass this resolution introduced by Senators Goldin, Miller, Nesselbush, Quezada, and Crowley. Representative J. Aaron Regunberg introduced the House companion measure (H.B. 8131).

In response to last year’s racially-charged violence in Charlottesville, state legislatures across the nation have considered similar legislation. Roger Williams, founder of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, was a staunch advocate for religious freedom and tolerance. With that commitment, it is important for Rhode Island lawmakers to not send Senate Resolution No. 2696 to legislative purgatory but to pass it to strongly denounce the white nationalist and neo-Nazi ideologies of racial, social and religious intolerance that terrorize the state’s racial, ethnic and religious minority communities.

Anti-Semitic Incidents Increasing in Rhode Island

Last month, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that the increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the Ocean State have nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017, with the number of reports jumping from 7 to 13. Let’s put a face on these incidents. According to the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, it was reported by media that just one day after an anti-Semitic act of vandalism in the City of Pawtucket, on May 23, 2016, Stebbins Stadium in Cranston was spray painted with graffiti, including swastika symbols as well as hate messages directed to Muslim and African American communities. Among the incidents reported in 2017 by the media: a swastika burned into a sign located on a bike path in Barrington, anti- Semitic graffiti spray painted on Warwick Vets High School and a swastika made from human waste found in RISD dorm bathroom.

But, white nationalists and neo-Nazi hate ideology is also increasing throughout the nation. The increase is reflected nationally with the ADL reporting a nearly 60 percent increase.

The jarring historical imagery of the torchlight procession of supporters of Adolf Hitler moving through the Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin on the evening of January 30, 1933 came to life to Rhode Islanders and to millions of Americans last year when hundreds of neo-Nazis, white nationalists, KKK, militia members and other right-wing groups gathered for a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. Carrying tiki torches, flags with swastikas and confederate flags, they came to the City’s Emancipation Park, chanting “Jews will not replace us”, “Blood and Soil” (a Nazi rallying cry), “White Lives Matter,” along with homophobic, racists and misogynistic slurs.

It’s Time for Rhode Island to Speak Out

While both GOP and Democrat Congressional lawmakers lambasted President Donald J. Trump’s choice of words for laying the blame of violence at the Charlottesville rally at the feet of both the far-right demonstrators and counter protestors, there were some who remained silent or defended his comments, saying his words were adequate.

With the increased public visibility of the neo-Nazis, white supremacist and other hate groups, and with President Trump failing to use his position and moral authority to strongly condemn the ideology of hate groups, the Rhode Island General Assembly is now positioned to take on this responsibility.

In response to the violent weekend in Charlottesville, Va., the Illinois Senate adopted a similar resolution, sponsored by Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, urging law officials to recognize white nationalists and neo-Nazi groups as terrorist organizations. As a state founded on the principle of religious freedom, Rhode Island can follow.

It is an appropriate time to remember the speech given by Martin Niemoller, a German Lutheran minister who opposed the Nazis and was sent to several concentration camps. He survived the war and explained:

“First, they came for the Jews. I was silent. I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists. I was silent. I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists. I was silent. I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me. There was no one left to speak for me.”

For Rhode Island lawmakers, it is time for you to speak out.

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Efforts to Revise State Alzheimer’s Plan are in Full Swing

Published in Woonsocket Call on February 25, 2018

By Herb Weiss

Lt. Governor Dan McKee is gearing up Rhode Island’s fight against the skyrocketing incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, called by some as one of the ‘biggest epidemics in medical history.’ Last Wednesday, he announced $30,000 in grants secured by his office and the Rhode Island chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association to hire a consultant to update the state’s five-year plan on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders. Tufts Health Plan Foundation and the Rhode Island Foundation each pledged $15,000 to support the rewriting of the initial State Plan.

Updating the State’s Alzheimer’s Plan

The updated State Plan, to be created by a collaborative effort of the Rhode Island chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, the Division of Elderly Affairs and the Office of the Lt. Governor, will provide state lawmakers with a road map for the state, municipalities and the health care system, to confront the continuing Alzheimer’s crisis. It will take a look at the current impact of Alzheimer’s disease on a growing number of Rhode Islanders and outlines what steps the state must take (legislatively and regulatory) to improve dementia-capable programs and services for people with Alzheimer’s and their family caregivers.

Lt. Governor McKee and the Executive Board of the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders, a working group of comprised of distinguished researchers, advocates, clinicians and caregivers, are now beginning their efforts to meet their deadline by the end of 2018 of having a completed state plan to submit to the Rhode Island General Assembly.

With financial support provided by the Rhode Island Foundation and Tufts Health Plan Foundation, the Alzheimer’s Association, Rhode Island Chapter, as fiscal agent, can now hire a consultant to assist in updating the initial state-five-year plan approved by the Rhode Island General Assembly in 2013. Once the updated report is completed and approved by the Rhode Island General Assembly, the Executive Board can will seek legislative and regulatory changes to carry out its recommendations to ensure that it is more than just a document—that it comes to shape the state’s public policies on Alzheimer’s.

“Rhode Island has been a national leader in Alzheimer’s research. Each day, we make great strides in expanding clinical trials and innovating treatments. Over the last few years alone, the local landscape of prevention and treatment has changed dramatically and positively. The updated State Plan will be an invaluable tool for local leaders, researchers, physicians, advocates and families as we work together to build momentum in the fight against Alzheimer’s,” said Lt. Governor McKee.

“A Living Document”

“We face an emerging crisis with the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease projected to increase to as many as 27,000 Rhode Islanders by 2025. Alzheimer’s disease is a pivotal public health issue that Rhode Island’s policymakers cannot ignore. With the rapidly growing and changing extent of the Alzheimer’s crisis, it is essential that Rhode Island’s State Plan becomes a living document that stakeholders regularly consult and re-evaluate,” says Donna McGowan, Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association, Rhode Island Chapter.

“Communities have greater interest in age-friendly initiatives. There’s a growing understanding of the critical role older people play. They are an asset to community, and their voices and insights are invaluable to the public discourse on what communities need,” said Nora Moreno Cargie, vice president, corporate citizenship for Tufts Health Plan and president of its Foundation.

“A coordinated, strategic approach to Alzheimer’s will lead to better outcomes and healthier lives. Working with generous donors, we’re proud to partner with Tufts to fund this crucial work,” said Jenny Pereira, the Rhode Island Foundation’s vice president of grant programs.

Put Older Woman, Older Veterans on the Radar Screen

The updated state plan must address the growing needs of older woman and the state’s aging veterans population.

Maureen Maigret, Vice Chair of the Long Term Care Coordinating Council and Chair of its Aging in Community Subcommittee, suggests zero in on the special needs of older woman. “Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias is of special concern for older women as the they are more likely to suffer from the debilitating disease due to greater longevity, more likely to need long term care services and supports and are more often than men to be caregivers either unpaid or paid of persons with Alzheimer’s disease. The Aging in Community Subcommittee of the LTCCC has several pieces of legislation to strengthen support for caregivers and to enhance home and community based services,” says Maigret.

Last year, the USAgainstAlzheimer’s, (UsA2), released the issue brief, “Veterans and Alzheimer’s Meeting the Crisis Head on,” with data indicating that many older veterans will face a unique risk factor for Alzheimer’s as a direct result of their military career.

“Forty nine percent of those aging veterans age 65 ((WW2, Korea, Vietnam and even younger veterans, from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts in the coming decades), are at greater risk for Alzheimer’s compared to 15 percent of nonveterans over age 65,” say the authors of the issue brief.

UsA2’s issue brief pulled together research findings released by the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA). On study estimates that more than 750,000 older veterans have Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, another noting that the number of enrollee with Alzheimer’s grew 166 percent from roughly 145,000 in 2004 to 385,000 in 2014.

The minority communities are at even greater risk for Alzheimer’s and minority veterans are predicted to increase from 23.2 percent of the total veteran population in 2017 to 32.8 percent in 2037, says a cited VA study.

The issue brief also cited one study findings that indicated that older veterans who have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) are 60 percent are more likely to develop dementia, Twenty-two percent of all combat wounds in Afghanistan and Iraq were brain injuries, nearly double the rate seen during Vietnam – increasing these younger veterans’ lifetime Alzheimer’s risk.

The Rhode Island Foundation and the Tufts Health Plan Foundation grant funding was key to the Lt. Governor McKee being able to update its state’s plan to battle Alzheimer’s disease. It provides state policy makers with a roadmap o effectively utilize state resources and dollars to provide care for those afflicted with debilitating cognitive disorder. It is money well spent.

The Alzheimer’s Association will shortly issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) seeking a research consultant to assist in revising and updating e the State Plan. For details about the RFP of the State’s Alzheimer’s Plan, email Michelle La France at mlafrance@alz.org.

Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, healthcare and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.

Fifth Time a Charm for Direct Care Worker Raises?

Published in Woonsocket Call on November 6, 2016

When the Rhode Island General Assembly wraps up its session many times the stars are not in political alignment for passage of a particular legislative proposal or budget amendment, even if many lawmakers considered these to be worthy of passage. Sen. Louis P. DiPalma understands this very well.

During the past four legislative sessions he has unsuccessfully pushed to increase pay for direct care workers serving persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities by boosting the state’s budget funding for these workers.
DiPalma, a Middletown resident who as a senator has represented Little Compton, Middletown and Tiverton for over 8 years, has come back for a fifth time, hopefully the last, to see his efforts succeed in providing a living wage to these providers, enhancing the quality of life of their lives.

A Call for a ’15 in 5’ Pay Increase

At a news conference held on Friday, Oct. 28, at Warwick-based West Bay Residential Services, DiPalma along with fellow Senators, announced their support for his proposal: ’15 in 5’ pay increase for workers serving persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Democratic senator envisions annual, incremental increases in compensation to reach $15 an hour in five years, and tying the pay rate to inflation thereafter.

A 2015 survey by the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island paints a picture of Rhode Island’s direct care workers. The majority of these individuals are women of households. Many receive state assistance from programs geared towards low-income workers, such as SNAP benefits, WIC, heating assistance, day care assistance, and housing aid. More than 40 percent of the workers hold more than one job to financially survive.

At the 53-minute press conference, DiPalma urged Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo to include his funding proposal in her 2017 budget submission. He also plans to submit legislation in the 2017 session to address the compensation system for these direct care workers, providing annual increases so that the pay rate of direct care workers reaches $15 in five years, and tying future wage increases beyond five years to inflation.

“The minimum wage has increased by 30 percent since 2012, but the rate paid to these essential direct care providers has remained stagnant,” charged DiPalma, at the press event. “The pay is now barely more than minimum wage, which is having a detrimental effect on staff retention, training costs, and, as a result, quality of care [for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities],” he says.

DiPalma noted that the need for this pay increase is obvious. “The facts and data show that our direct care workers love their jobs and want to stay in the field. They genuinely care about the population they serve. Yet, 62 percent of respondents to a recent survey indicated that low salary was a factor that may make them leave their jobs. We need to act to address this urgent situation,” he said.

According to DiPalma, the average annual staff turnover rate in the private provider network is approximately 33 percent. “This is three times as high as the approximately 11 percent staff turnover rate for comparable positions with the state-run providers through the Rhode Island Community Living and Supports (RICLAS) at the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, according to providers and RICLAS,” he says.

The average private-sector direct care worker makes $10.82 per hour, or about $22,500 a year, says DiPalma, noting that entry level provider positions at state RICLAS pay $17.15 per hour. When considering longevity, the average wage for all RICLAS direct care workers is approximately $42,278. RICLAS workers also receive state employee benefits.

Jumping on the Band Wagon

Two days before DiPalma’s press conference, Secretary of Health and Human Services Elizabeth Roberts penned her endorsement of his wage increase proposal. In her Oct. 26 correspondence, she strongly endorsed his efforts to implement multiyear wage increases to Rhode Island’s direct service providers. “These workers are critically important to realizing the goals set forth in our clients’ person-centered plans,” she adds, noting that these workers provide services necessary for ensuring that persons with disabilities are integrated in Rhode Island communities.

At the press conference, S came to give DiPalma his blessings. “Increasing wages to private direct care workers addresses an important part of the wage inequity problem, and helps improve outcomes for the individuals they serve. At the same time, we need to continue to review the methodology for compensating all those direct care workers who serve our children, homebound elderly, and individuals with disabilities through other types of provider agencies,” says Da Ponte.

Like other speakers at the press conference, Donna Martin, executive director of Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, called initial salaries for direct service workers “woefully inadequate” for the work they perform. “They are working nights and holidays leaving their families behind to support individuals under their care.,” says Martin. “These individuals serve as mentor, friend, confident and even some serve in the role of family to their clients,” she adds.

Adds speaker Anthony Antosh, Director of the Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities: “The field of developmental disabilities has dramatically changed in the past two decades as have the responsibilities and expectations for direct support staff. The outcomes achieved by adults who have a developmental disability are directly connected to the quality and stability of direct support staff. Developing a career ladder built on quality training and fair wages will go a long way towards stabilizing the direct support workforce and improving quality of services.”

Marie Carroll, a direct service provider employed by ARC of Blackstone valley, a
Pawtucket-based agency employing over 200 employees, sat in the audience to support DiPalma in his efforts to increase funding for direct care workers. She sees Rhode Island’s lower wages pulling her colleagues into Massachusetts for higher incomes.
Carroll hopes to see the Rhode Island General Assembly in the upcoming session value the work she and 3,500 direct care workers provide. “People who care for the state’s disabled should not be paid poverty wages. You can’t expect people to work in an emotional and sometimes physically demanding job for $11 per hour,” she said, stressing that low wages keep these workers from taking adequate care of their own families.

Boosting Wage Payments in Next Year’s Budget

At press time, DiPalma’s wage increase proposal has received a seal of approval from President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Da Ponte. Roberts, as Secretary of Health & Human Services, who oversees the state’s disability programs and services, gives her enthusiastic support for boosting funding of direct services workers in the upcoming 2018 budget. But, press secretary Larry Berman says that House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello is studying DiPalma’s proposal and has not yet taken a position on this issue.

Even with early political support of DiPalma’s ’15 in 5’ Pay Increase proposal, its ultimate passage lies with either Governor Raimondo boosting direct car worker wages in her FY 2018 budget proposal or in the state’s final budget crafted by the House with the sign off of the Senate. For DiPalma and those working with persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the Governor, House Speaker and President of the Senate must be on the same page to move DiPalma’s proposal forward. Hopefully, the “fifth time is the charm.”

Rhode Island Lawmakers Can Say Never Again

Published in the Woonsocket Call on May 22, 2016

On October 15, 2015, anti-Semitic and racist leaflets were distributed on Providence’s East-side. Just months ago a Brown student discovered anti-Semitic messages on the walls directly across from his dorm room, where he had a mezuzah on his door. And the Joint Distribution Committee’s International Centre for Community Development released a survey that reported that “two in five Jewish leaders across Europe believe the rise in anti-Semitism represents a “major threat” to the future of their communities.”

Rhode Island lawmakers are pushing legislation to use education as a way to stamp out future holocausts and genocide.

On May 5, 2016, the House passed House Bill 7488A, which requires all middle and high school students to receive instruction in holocaust and genocide studies. Following introductory remarks from Rep. Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63), the East Providence lawmaker’s measure passed the House unanimously with every member present seconding the motion for passage. Of note, the House approved the measure on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The passage of House Bill 7488A follows the Rhode Island General Assembly successful efforts in 2011 to enact a law entitled “Genocide Education in Secondary Schools” that emphasized a need to make genocide curriculum materials available including, but not limited to, the Holocaust of WWII, and the genocides in Armenia, Cambodia, Iraq, Rwanda, and Darfur. If the measure is passed by the Senate and signed into law by Governor Gina Raimondo, it would officially empower the Department of Education to require school districts of the state to teach about these important events in history. The requirement would commence with the school year beginning in September 2017.

According to The Genocide Education Project, eleven states require the teaching of the Armenian genocide. Many of these states also require education on the Holocaust as well as other inhumane atrocities.

Adds, Marty Cooper, Community Relations Director of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, when passed the legislation will make Rhode Island the first New England state to require Holocaust and Genocide education in its schools.

“The study of this issue will provide much needed lessons on humanity and civilization. Hopefully, students will learn why it is important for them to not allow genocide [or another Holocaust] to take place and to call for an end of all intentional actions and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious or national group,” says Cooper.

“Although these are not pleasant topics to learn about in school, these events must be studied by our children in order to prevent further similar atrocities from happening in the future, says Kazarian, a fourth-generation Armenian-American. She said, “We should never allow the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide nor any form ethnic cleansing to be repeated.”

Rep. Kazarian noted that her great grandparents had survived the Armenian Genocide that took place between 1915 and 1923. According to the Armenian National Institute in Washington D.C., the genocide resulted in the death of 1.5 million Armenians. It is estimated that close to 2 million Armenians were living in the Ottoman Empire just prior to World War I when the Turkish government subjected its Armenian population to deportation, expropriation, abduction, torture, massacre and starvation.

“My family’s own history involving the Armenian Genocide has shown me that these events in history should never be forgotten and it is important that our children recognize and understand how such terrible events can occur in society, and more importantly, how to stop them from happening,” added Kazarian.

In the other chamber, Senator Gayle Goldin (D-District 03) of Providence has introduced a companion measure in the Rhode Island State Senate. The Senate Committee on Education heard testimony on March 30th and has held the bill for further study.

“As we look across the globe at atrocities committed in Syria and many other regions, and closer to home, where anti-Semitic graffiti appeared at Brown University as recently as March, it is clear how important it is to ensure students can place these actions into a historical context,” says Goldin. “We want to ensure that themes about genocide and the Holocaust are taught in more than an ad hoc manner, but included as part of a comprehensive curriculum. These important historical lessons should be woven into studies in ways that ensure students are gaining the appropriate perspective so that we learn from the past and never again stand idle witness to genocide or the hate and fear that lead to it,” she says.

Goldin continued, “When I was approached by the coalition to introduce this bill, it resonated with me personally. I’m named after my paternal great aunt and uncle, who perished in the Holocaust, along with the majority of my ancestors who died as a result of the pogroms leading up to and during the Holocaust. Those atrocities shaped my family’s identity. As a child, I was taught never to forget. This legislation ensures that children will continue to learn about impact of the Holocaust and genocides in general on our society.”

The lessons of the Holocaust are more relevant than ever before. Today, we see a rise in antisemitism worldwide, including in the lands where the Holocaust happened. Genocide continues to occur even in the wake of the promise of ‘Never Again.'” Bringing this history’s lessons to students is critical as their generation will be tomorrow’s leaders in confronting these challenges,” says Andy Hollinger, Director, communications, of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Hollinger adds, “The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum offers many free, online resources to educators seeking to bring Holocaust education to their students. (www.ushmm.org/educators) We also offer on-site training programs for educators and encourage Rhode Island educators to utilize these resources.”

As June approaches, Goldin’s companion measure is held for further study, this sometimes being legislative code for “bill will not see the light of day for a vote.” With the increasing incidents of anti-Semitic incidents and hate crimes in Rhode Island, throughout the nation and the world, Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed must send a strong signal to all– “Rhode Island says Never Again.” Hatred can proactively be stamped out by education. That’s exactly the intent of Kazarian and Goldin’s legislation.

Prime organizations managing the research and drafting of the legislation the Armenian community, Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, the Rhode Island Council of Churches, the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island and the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center.

New Uniform Act Good News for Rhode Island Caregivers

Published in Woonsocket Call on November 29, 2015

With the quick stroke of her pen, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo signed guardianship legislation into law during the 2015 legislative session that would help Rhode Islanders avoid costly and time-consuming red tape when exercising health care, financial and other legal responsibilities for their out-of-state, elderly loved ones. It takes effect on January 1, 2016.

Like motherhood and apple pie, the changes made to the State’s guardianship law had broad bipartisan support in the Rhode Island General Assembly. The House bill and a similar Senate companion measure (entitled the “Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act”) passed overwhelming by votes of 72-2 and 37 to 1, respectively.

Representative Robert E. Craven (D-North Kingstown) who Chairs the House Committee on Municipal Government, says his legislation (introduced with Representative Michael A. Morin (D-Woonsocket) simply helps to protect those who are unable to protect themselves.  “When appointing guardians and instituting protective orders for adults, the law must be clear and concise to ensure someone’s rights are not violated while also keeping them safe,” he says, noting that the new law makes the rules and procedures very clear for this process and it will offer both the protected persons and petitioning guardians the legal causes and safeguards that are needed in such complex situation,” he said.

Fixes Jurisdictional Issues over Guardianship

According to Division of Elderly Affairs Director Charles J. Fogarty, the new law “provides consistency, reciprocity, and procedural efficiency in the best interest of seniors, creating a hospitable and healthy Rhode Island for our elders.”

Fogarty says that the new law would benefit caregivers in many way.  It clarifies state jurisdiction issues and even facilitates the transfer of guardianship from one state or another.  It also would enhance interstate recognition and enforcement of guardianship orders and simplifies communication and cooperation between courts.

Fogarty notes that Rhode Island’s new guardianship law is a law that 37 other states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have already enacted, allowing for cooperation on and simplification of inter-state issues.  “It will be easier for out-of-state caregivers to focus on supporting their loved ones as opposed to becoming mired in current laws.  This legislation ensures that seniors and caregivers don’t waste time and resources in cases involving simultaneous and conflicting jurisdiction,” he says.

“We are very pleased that our staff, our terrific State House advocacy volunteers and a strong network of partners worked hard together to ensure that Rhode Island became the 42nd jurisdiction to enact the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act,” said AARP State Director Kathleen Connell. “Now, Rhode Island joins the national effort that focuses on care, not courts, by removing the barriers that prevent caregivers from providing for their loved ones, regardless of where they live.”

According to the AARP Public Policy Institute’s recent report “Valuing the Invaluable: 2015 Update,” the number of caregivers in our state is 134,000. Their work has an economic value of $1.78 million. That, Connell said, is why AARP Rhode Island strongly supported the legislation and was joined by judges, lawyers and families throughout Rhode Island.

Many Benefits, No Cost to Rhode Island Taxpayers

Connell notes that when the uniform guardianship jurisdiction becomes law, it will carry no cost to taxpayers and makes no changes in the state’s substantive guardianship procedures. However, Rhode Islanders will benefit as it will save them time and money. In addition, they will be safeguarding the health and financial well-being of their loved ones.

“It may seem very technical,” Connell continued. “But the bottom line is easy to understand:  We all recognize that we are a mobile society, and with that we need laws pertaining to caregivers and their families to reflect that reality. AARP strongly supports legislation that removes barriers that prevent guardians in Rhode Island from providing for their loved ones, regardless of where they live. “For Rhode Islanders, the uniform guardianship act is a step in the right direction to help protect the interests of vulnerable incapacitated adults who need guardians,” Connell said. “With this law, our guardianship system will function more efficiently, fairly, and cost-effectively.”

Court-appointed guardians step into the shoes of at-risk adults who can no longer make their own decisions, and make judgments about property, medical care, living arrangements, lifestyle and potentially all personal and financial issues. As a judicial proceeding, guardianship can be expensive, time-consuming and combative. It can remove fundamental individual rights. It can prevent or redress elder abuse – or can create an opportunity for exploitation or abuse of vulnerable adults.

This new uniform act addresses initial jurisdiction regarding a guardianship case; recognition of one state’s guardianship orders by another; and interstate transfers of guardianship cases when such transfers would benefit the incapacitated person.

Another key reason AARP strongly supported enactment stems from concern over elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. It will reduce the enticement of a vulnerable person to another state ― to gain control over assets. The law now will permit a court to consider which jurisdiction can best protect a person subject to abuse, and facilitate communication between courts in different jurisdictions about allegations of abuse.

Partners included the Uniform Law Commission. The Commission provides states with non-partisan, well-conceived, and well drafted legislation that brings clarity and stability to critical areas of state statutory law. In addition, the Act has a broad range of support from organizations including the National College of Probate Judges, National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, National Guardianship Association, Conference of Chief Justices and the Alzheimer’s Association.

With the graying of Rhode Island’s population commonsense laws like the “Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act” need to be enacted.  Last session, state lawmakers worked together to pass this legislation that makes guardianship system more efficient, less time-consuming and costly for Rhode Island caregivers.  At no cost to Ocean State taxpayers.  Hopefully, best policy practices from across the nation can be brought to the Rhode General Assembly for full consideration.  If it happened once it might just happen again.

 

Rhode Island Lawmakers Poised to Give Retirees Financial Tax Relief

Published in Woonsocket Call on May 31, 2015

During the 2014 legislation session, Rep. Robert E. Craven, (District 32) introduced and successfully pushed for passage in the General Assembly. This legislative proposal would ultimately being signed into law by the Governor. Little did the North Kingston law maker realize that door knocking to get reelected in last November’s election would give him an issue to tackle on Smith Hill this year.

At hundreds of homes, he heard the same issue from his older constituents. One such comment was etched sharply in Craven’s memory: “You’re a nice guy, buy I am not going to vote for you because I am leaving the state, the older voter told him. The puzzled lawmaker asked “why?” The response, “We decided the state is so expensive to live in because of taxes we’re going to sell our house and move to Florida. Wanting the specifics, Craven asked, what specific tax bothers you? “We are only of a few states that tax social security benefits, that’s the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said the older voter.

Craven’s legislative proposal, H 5000, was heard Wednesday night before the House Finance Committee. Strongly supported by House leadership, he says, the legislation would ease the tax burdens on Rhode Island retirees by exempting them from paying state income tax all Social Security benefits as well as income received from federal, state and local government retirement plans, disability benefits, military pensions and private pension plans and deferred-compensation plans.

Among its more than 40 co-sponsors are Rep. Stephen M. Casey (D-Dist. 50, Woonsocket), Rep. Michael A. Morin (D-Dist. 49, Woonsocket), Rep. Samuel A. Azzinaro (D-Dist. 37, Westerly) and Rep. Cale P. Keable (D-Dist. 47, Burrillville, Glocester).

If enacted, Rhode Island would join 27 other states – including Massachusetts and Maine – and the District of Columbia that specifically exempt Social Security income from taxation. (Although Rhode Island does not specifically tax Social Security benefits, that income is identified on federal tax returns. Since Rhode Island’s income tax is based on the federal adjusted gross income of federal tax form filers, the end result is that Rhode Island generates a portion of its income tax collections from Social Security benefits.)

According to Craven, his legislative proposal would financially benefit Rhode Island seniors who receive retirement benefits. ”After paying into the Social Security system their entire working lives, or putting a little money away into private pension plans, or working at jobs that provide them with a pension, it doesn’t seem right that retirees are having taxes eat away at benefits they depend on for their very livelihood,” he says.

“Retirees living on a fixed income are probably more severely impacted by taxes and tax increases than other population groups,” observes Craven. “If we are committed to helping retirees have a safe and secure life in their later years, and if we want to help seniors afford to stay in Rhode Island rather than moving to more tax-friendly locations, we need to ease their financial burdens. Exempting retirement income from the state income tax is one step we should take,” he adds.

Tax Exemption in House Budget

Weaving its way through the legislative process Craven ultimately expects his legislative proposal to be modified to not give older tax payers a complete exemption on paying taxes for their social security income. Specifically, the revised language would say, “If your house hold income is under $100,000 or less than your Social Security is tax exempt from state income taxation.”

While a Senate companion measure has been introduced by Senator Walter S. Felag, Jr., representing Bristol, Tiverton and Warren, an amended H 5000 will be placed in the House Budget because of its cost, says Craven.

The price tag could be between $30 and $35 million, Craven says, noting that better than expected revenues enable it to be funded. “It’s a priority to the state’s economic recovery, he says.

Older retirees, making from $35,000 to $100,000, from Social security and their pensions, will just put their dollars in the local economy, adds Craven. “It’s a good investment and we owe it to them. These retirees have been here all their lives, he says, noting that they ask very little for benefits from municipalities. “They have a lot of time on their hands to volunteer [in their communities] and are very philanthropically included in offering money and services to charities.”

Says House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, “Representative Craven’s bill to exempt the state tax on Social Security will be included as part of the budget that the House Finance Committee will be considering within the next few weeks. Governor Raimondo included this exemption for low-wage earners in her original budget proposal, but the House will be broadening it to assist the middle-class retirees as well. The House budget exempts retirees, age 65 and over, who have income thresholds of up to $80,000 for individuals and $100,000 for joint tax filers.”

“We believe that by incorporating Rep. Craven’s bill into the budget, this will begin to stop the exodus of retirees leaving Rhode Island for many other states where there is no state tax on Social Security benefits,” adds Mattiello.

Gov. Gina M. Raimondo sees Social Security is a key source of income for older Rhode Islanders, noting that her submitted March budget proposal eliminates state taxes on Social Security benefits for low and middle income seniors “to help them make ends meet and stimulate our economy.”
With Rhode Island unions hit hard by the state’s recent pension reform, Craven’s proposal has received thumbs up from some.

James Parisi, field representative and lobbyist for the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, says his union supports Craven’s legislative proposal. “Unlike some other tax cut proposals introduced this session, his bill includes state and local government pension benefits. About half of the state’s teachers were never eligible to participate in social security so any tax cut proposal that is limited exclusively to social security benefits would be unfair to thousands of retired public school teachers,” he says.

Jim Cenerini, a lobbyist for Council 94, AFSCME also says his union is squarely behind H 5000. “Council 94 believes that legislation deserves careful consideration and support because: many other states provide some type of income tax exemption to retirement benefits/Social Security; in 2014 Kiplinger ranked Rhode Island as one the least tax friendly states for retirees; and since a significant majority of public employees remain in Rhode Island, and contribute to our local economy by spending on goods and services, it’s important to provide an incentive to remain in-state.”

A Final Note…
Other legislation proposals have also been thrown into the legislative hopper this session to protect older taxpayers. H 5446, introduced by Woonsocket law maker Rep. Stephen M. Casey, would protect the pocket books of retired teachers who are receiving a pension from Massachusetts. “These retirees, whose pension are overseen by Massachusetts Teachers Retirement System, are essentially double taxed because of the state’s tax code,” he says.

On Friday, May 29, the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC) issued a report noting that the state may have significantly more funds available in fiscal 2015 and 2016 than anticipated when Gov. Raimondo submitted her budget in March. Specifically, state revenues are expected to be up by $106.8 million this year and $36.6 million next year, with additional funds available from expenditure reductions.

For this writer, its sound public policy to use some of the anticipated surplus identified in RIPEC’s report to enact H 5000 and H 5446 to lessen the tax burdens of Rhode Island’s retirees. As mentioned earlier, older taxpayers pull less resources from their cities and towns. But, most important, these retirees have greatly contributed to the quality of life in their communities throughout their working years.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Making Genocide and Holocaust Education Mandatory

Published in Woonsocket Call on April 26, 2015

By Herb Weiss

With newspapers reporting an increase of religious and cultural intolerance and hate crimes, it is refreshing to see the Rhode Island General Assembly pass resolutions condemning the systematic and barbarous murder of Armenians and Jews.

On Friday, April 24, Armenians across the nation stopped to remember the Ottoman authorities eight-year brutal campaign taking place 100 years ago to eliminate their ethnic group from its homeland in what is now Turkey. Both chambers of the Rhode Island General Assembly passed resolutions calling this day, “Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day” and urging President Obama and Congress to officially recognize the genocide which resulted in the estimated death of 1.5 million Armenians and to make restitution for the loss of lives, confiscated properties, those who endured slavery, starvation, torture, and unlawful deportations.

Taking Responsibility for Your Actions

On April 6, it was a personal and professional triumph for Rep. Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence), a fourth-generation Armenian-American, to take the lead in sponsoring Rhode Island’s House resolution to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. In the afternoon before the vote, the East Providence lawmaker unveiled her resolution at a ceremony in the State House State Room attended by elected state officials and fellow lawmakers.

“The only thing worse than trying to eliminate an entire generation and culture is to deny that such a genocide ever took place,” said Kazarian. “For the past 100 years, the government of Turkey has continually refused to acknowledge their part in the ethnic cleansing of the Armenian people, “she said. Until the Armenian genocide that happened 100 years ago on her ethnic group is recognized by the government of Turkey, Kazarian promised to return to the State House every year to keep the issue alive.

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin says, “On this 100th anniversary, it is more important than ever to remember the horror and tragedy that the Armenian people went through, and it is long overdue that as a nation, we recognize the Armenian Genocide. Hopefully, through recognition, vigilance and education, this type of history will cease to repeat itself.”

“From my first days as a legislator to today as Attorney General, I have always advocated for recognition of the Armenian Genocide, and more recently filed an amicus brief in support of the Armenian fight to seek the return of stolen Armenian Genocide era assets through the United States Courts,” says Kilmartin.

“There are many parallels between the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust carried out by Adolf Hitler, which ultimately killed six million Jews,” says the Attorney General, stressing that the Armenian Genocide served as an example for Hitler, who used the lack of consequences for the perpetrators of the Genocide as encouragement for the Nazis in planning the Holocaust.

“When giving a speech to Nazi leaders one week before the invasion of Poland, which effectively began World War II, Hitler reportedly noted, ‘who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?,’ notes Kilmartin, saying that “some historians have even suggested that if more had been done to thwart the Ottomans’ massacre of Armenians, perhaps the Holocaust could have been prevented.”

Eradicating Religious and Cultural Bigotry

Marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, Rep. Mia Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln) submitted a resolution commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Ha’Shoah). The resolution was passed by the House of Representatives.

“The citizens of Rhode Island have a rich tradition of fighting those who would trample individual liberty and human dignity,” said Representative Ackerman. “We must never allow anyone to forget the time when a handful of evil people tried to turn the earth into a graveyard by systematically exterminating an entire race of people.”

The resolution, which was passed by both the House and Senate, also applauded the courageous efforts of those who took part in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943, stating “the brave actions in April and May of 1943 stand as testimony to a rare and indomitable human spirit and extraordinary courage exhibited in the darkest hours of man’s inhumanity.”

According to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, by 2020 there will be only 67,000 Holocaust survivors left, 57 percent who will be at least 85 years old. How can the story of the horrific holocaust be told to the younger generation when the eye witnesses are dying off?

Andy Hollinger, Director of Communications for the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, makes an obvious comment. “No one who did not live through the Holocaust can experience its horrors, he says, noting that “Holocaust survivors are our best teachers.”

Today, about 80 Holocaust survivors are still telling their stories and working to educate new generations about this history at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“When they are no longer here we will rely on the collections — artifacts, documents, photographs, films, and other materials to tell this story,” says Hollinger, noting that the Museum is “racing to collect the evidence of the Holocaust.”

“We’re working in 50 countries on six continents to ensure this proof [witness testimonies, artifacts, and documents] is secured, preserved and made available through exhibitions and, increasingly, digitally, adds Hollinger.

Marty Cooper, Community Relations Director, Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode, believes it is “vitally important that the next generations learn about the holocaust and other genocides and atrocities that have taken place and continue to take place.” He calls for genocide education to be mandatory and part of the middle and high school curriculum.

One of the great lessons we can learn from the Holocaust and Armenian genocide is that hatred cannot go unchallenged. It must be immediately confronted wherever it emerges, by governments, religious leaders, nonprofit and business organizations, more important by each and every one of us. We must avow that these horrendous atrocities will never happen again to future generations.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.