Religious Groups Urge House to Combat Antisemitism and Racism

Published in the Woonsocket Call on June 10, 2019

For the second year in a row, the Rhode Island General Assembly’s Senate Judiciary Committee heard a resolution, introduced by State Senator Donna Nesselbush (Democrat, District 15, Pawtucket), calling on lawmakers to denounce and oppose white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups. The resolution was co-sponsored by Senators Samuel Bell (Democrat, District 5, Providence), Joshua Miller (Democrat, District 28, Cranston), Gayle Goldin (Democrat, District 3, Providence) and Ana Quezada (Democrat, District 2, Providence),

The initial resolution, introduced in 2017, urged state police to consider White Nationalists and Neo Nazi groups as terrorists. Because of First Amendment concerns expressed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island that resolution was held for further study, and the language was reworked this run so as not to run afoul of free speech concerns.

Senate Moves to Fight Antisemitism and Racial Intolerance Head On

At the May 30 hearing, Nesselbush (Democrat, District 15, Pawtucket) pushed for passage of S0829, a resolution calling on Rhode Island to “denounce and oppose and the totalitarian impulses, violent terrorism, xenophobic’ biases, and bigoted ideologies that are promoted by white nationalists and neo-Nazis.” She reminded the Senate panel that Rhode Island was founded on Roger William’s principles of religious tolerance, and the state should denounce any type of white supremacy or neo-Nazism and take a stand for religious freedom and tolerance.

Nesslebush’s Senate resolution unanimously passed in Senate Judiciary Committee and ultimately on the Senate Floor. With its passage, no further action is required and the resolution will be transmitted to the Secretary of State, who is charged in the resolution with transmitting certified copies of the resolution to President Donald J. Trump, the members of the Rhode Island Congressional delegation, and Governor Gina Raimondo.

When asked about a House companion resolution that denounces and opposes White Nationalists and Neo Nazi groups, Larry Berman, the House’s Director of Communication, says that Rep. Jean Philippe Barros (Democrat, District 59, Pawtucket) had planned to introduce one but “because it was getting late in the session” he was unable to get his bill introduced. It should be noted that Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio allowed Nesselbush to introduce her Senate resolution recognizing its merit and importance to the Jewish community.

Calls for the House to Confront the Boldness of Hate Groups

As the House is poised to release its anticipated state budget, religious groups and supporters of Nesselbush’s resolution, call for the lower chamber to take a strong stand to denounce and oppose White Nationalists and Neo Nazi groups.

As President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island, being active and serving as Rabbi at Temple Beth-El, Rabbi Sarah Mack, says it’s not too late for the to take a stand against antisemitism. “As Jews, we fight against bigotry and extremism because as a people we have experienced the danger of hate firsthand. While it is important to focus on extremism in all of its forms, we appreciate this resolution that calls attention to white supremacists, neo-Nazis and their hateful agenda. Because of this, I am so thankful to the Senate for passing this resolution, and I beseech our House leadership to do the same.”

Adds Adam Greenman, President and CEO of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, “we are committed to combating hatred in all forms. This resolution would give our state the opportunity to stand up against groups that promote anti-Semitism, white supremacy and other forms of toxic and dangerous rhetoric. We ask those in the House of Representatives to join us in supporting this resolution.”

Rev. Dr. Donnie Anderson, Executive Minister, of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, notes the importance for the House to support Nesslebush’s Senate resolution to fight hate. “In recent years hate speech has found a new platform in social media and is flourishing in the current political climate. This explosion of hate DEMANDS a response from our political leaders. Rhode Island is blessed with wonderful interfaith leaders who interact on a regular basis and have built an atmosphere of caring, respect and trust. This group consistently and often speaks against hate, but we need to hear from ALL of our political leaders. We urge passage of this timely and thoughtful resolution.”

Steve Ahlquist, a reporter at UpriseRI, a Rhode Island news web site covering progressive issues, testified in support of Nesselbush’s Senate resolution, gives his two cents about the importance of politicians combating hate groups. Ahlquist stressed, “Though this resolution is largely symbolic and does not have the force of law, it is important nonetheless that our elected officials ally themselves with Rhode Islanders most at risk of white supremacist violence. It has been documented by myself and others that these groups have twice come to our state to engage in violence, and have promised to return. Residents of Rhode Island need to know that our elected officials will have our backs when they are confronting these hate groups.”

“Our elected officials should be eager to repudiate white supremacy and neo-Nazism. There has been violence done and violence planned in Rhode Island by hate groups visiting our state. There has been and hate crimes at synagogues and mosques. The Senate passed a resolution with ease. It is truly the least we can expect from the House to follow suit,” says Ahlquist.

Rhode Island Religious Community Takes a Stand

For years, it has been reported that antisemitism is becoming firmly entrenched in the Ocean State. In 2017, the Providence Journal reported that the New England chapter of the Anti-Defamation League recorded 13 incidents of antisemitism in Rhode Island. Nazi swastikas were painted on a Providence building, at Broad Rock Middle School in North Kingstown, and even at a Pawtucket synagogue in Oakhill, just a five-minute walk from my house, reported Rhode Island’s largest daily.

When I testified for passage of Senate Resolution 0829, I told the Senators that I often wondered what I would have done if I stood on a street in Germany in 1938 seeing all those windows broken (during a two-day pogrom, referred to as Kristallnacht. Would I have the courage or the gumption to go up to somebody dressed in a brown shirt with a swastika armband and stop him from hitting an elderly Jew?
Hopefully yes, but who knows.

But, on May 30, 2019, at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, I sat beside Sen. Nesselbush and Steve Ahlquist as we “took a stand,” calling on the Committee to pass S 082. Knowing the wisdom in denouncing and opposing the hateful philosophy of white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups that is becoming all too common in Rhode Island, the Senate took its stand.

After all, Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams on the principle of religious tolerance, and we’re the home of America’s oldest synagogue, the Touro Synagogue, in Newport. What does it say to the nation, and especially to the state’s Jewish, racial, ethnic, LGTBQ communities if the House does not take an opportunity to oppose and denounce hate in their own backyard?

Hopefully, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello will reconsider allowing a resolution, with no fiscal cost, to be introduced to give House lawmakers, like their Senate colleagues, an opportunity to oppose white nationalists and neo-Nazi groups. It is important for both chambers to take a legislative stand to combat the rising incidence of antisemitism and racist incidents. The resolution serves the purpose of sending the message, hate groups who are planning to come to Rhode Island to cause violence are not welcome here.

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General Assembly: It’s Time to Endorse State Alzheimer’s Plan

Published in the Woonsocket Call on May 12, 2019

Just days ago, the Alzheimer’s Association-Rhode Island Chapter, along with over 75 volunteers and supporters gathered for the group’s Advocacy Day, in the Governor’s statehouse at the Rhode Island State, warning state lawmakers about the increasing incidence in Alzheimer’s disease and its impending impact on state programs and services. According to the Alzheimer’s Association 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts & Figures report, there are now 23,000 people living with Alzheimer’s and 53,000 Alzheimer’s caregivers in Rhode Island. This number will skyrocket as Rhode Island’s population continues to age; they say.

During the two-hour rally, Alzheimer’s advocates pushed for the passage of H 5569, sponsored by Rep. Mia Ackerman (D-Cumberland), and S 310, Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne (D-Barrington), companion measures that would legislatively endorse the newly released State Alzheimer’s Plan.

House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi also joined in, calling for passage of H. 5189, his legislative proposal that would create a program under the Department of Health and an advisory council to oversee implementation of programming, requiring training for medical professionals, and establishing Alzheimer’s plans in medical facilities. the Senate companion measure is S 223.

Improving Supports for Those Afflicted with Alzheimer’s

Once the Rhode Island General Assembly passes the legislative proposals to endorses the State Alzheimer’s Plan, the state’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council’s executive board would seek legislative and regulatory changes to carry out its bold set of recommendations for improving supports to those afflicted by Alzheimer’s and other dementias. But this legislation is stalled.
Twenty-three town meetings,45 expert interviews, combined with a survey of 200 Rhode Islanders impacted by Alzheimer’s, enabled Columbia, Maryland-based Splaine Consulting, a nationally recognized health policy firm, to pull together the content for the State Alzheimer’s Plan. More than 30 recommendations are detailed in this 35-page plan to combat the devastating mental disorder which calls for the implementation of three main recommendations.

The updated State Plan provides Rhode Island with the framework to cooperatively address the full range of issues surrounding Alzheimer’s and other dementias. It will be the blueprint that allows us to take unified, targeted action against the disease, says Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee McKee, who serves as chair of the state’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council (LTCCC).

McKee’s LTCCC served as the organizational umbrella for a workgroup, including the Alzheimer’s Association– Rhode Island Chapter, the state’s Division of Elderly Affairs, researchers, advocates, clinicians and caregivers oversaw the development of the newly released State Plan.

“Our updated plan will also position the state, local small businesses and nonprofits to take advantage of federal and other funding opportunities aimed at fighting Alzheimer’s disease,” says McKee.

“Unless we move quickly to address this crisis and find better treatments for those who have it, these costs will grow swiftly in lock step with the numbers of those affected, and Alzheimer’s will increasingly overwhelm our health care system. We must decisively address this epidemic,” says Donna M. McGowan, Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association–Rhode Island Chapter, who came to the May 7 news conference on Smith Hill to put Alzheimer’s on the General Assembly’s policy radar screen.

Taking Bold Actions to Confront Alzheimer’s Epidemic

“State government must address the challenges the disease poses and take bold action to confront this crisis now. Alzheimer’s is a growing crisis for our families and the economy. That’s why we are unrelenting advocates for public policy that advances research and improves access to care and support services,” says McGowan.

“Alzheimer’s disease and its impact on society is not only a growing public health concern, it very well may be the next biggest public health emergency that we as policymakers need to address,” said Rep. Ackerman. “We’ve already begun crafting legislation that will establish a program in Rhode Island to address the disease,” she says.

Rep. Ackerman used the Alzheimer’s news conference as a bully pulpit, calling on hospitals, researchers, medical professionals, state agencies, and state law makers to act swiftly to address the looming public health crisis.

“There are many factors to be considered in the great work ahead of us,” Rep. Ackerman said. “From early detection and diagnosis, to building a workforce capable of handling the unique health care needs of Alzheimer’s patients. This is something that will take a lot of effort and a lot of time. Now is the time to get to work on this,” she notes.

Like Rep. Ackerman, Sen. Coyne called for the General Assembly to endorse the State Alzheimer’s Plan and also supported Shekarchi’s legislative proposal, too. She also promoted a bill that she put in the legislative hopper that would allow spouses to live with their partners in Alzheimer’s special care units. Allowing couples to live together would help maintain patients’ relationships, connections and personal dignity, she said.

Rose Amoros Jones, Director of the Division of Elderly Affairs(DEA), noted that the power to the Alzheimer’s Association – Rhode Island Chapter’s Advocacy Day creates connections to people that can influence policy and shine light on the supports and information that families need. “Connection is a core value at DEA – as is choice, she said.

Sharing personal stories, Melody Drnach, a caregiver residing in Jamestown, talked about the challenges of taking care of her father with dementia. From her personal caregiving experiences, she agrees with the updated plans assessment that Rhode Island is dramatically under-resourced to address today’s needs.

Marc Archambault of South Kingstown, who has been diagnosed with the disease, came, too, talking about his efforts to cope with the devastating disorder.

At press time, both Rep. Shekarchi and Rep. Ackerman’s Alzheimer’s proposals have been heard at the committee level and have been held for further study, some call legislative purgatory.

Alzheimer’s Impacts Almost Everyone

The devastating impact of Alzheimer’s may well touch everyone in Rhode Island, the nation’s smallest state. Everyone knows someone who either has Alzheimer’s or dementia or is a care giver to these individuals. It’s time for the Rhode Island General Assembly to endorse the State’s Alzheimer’s Plan especially with no fiscal cost. We need a battle plan now more than ever to effectively deploy the state’s resources to provide better programs and services to those in need and to support caregivers.

Call your state representatives and Senators and urge that H 5569 and S 310 are passed and sent to Governor Gina Raimondo to be signed. For contact information, call Eric Creamer, Director of Public Policy and Media Relations, Alzheimer’s Association – Rhode Island Chapter, (401) 859-2334. Or email ercreamer@alz.org.

Funding for Seniors in Raimondo’s FY 2020 Budget Blueprint

Published in the Woonsocket Call on January 27, 2019

By Herb Weiss

Almost two weeks ago, Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo formerly unveiled her $9.9 billion budget proposal to the Rhode Island General Assembly. The House and Senate Finance Committees then begin the task of holding hearings on budget plan, getting feedback from the administration and the public. Once the revised estimates of tax revenue and social-services spending is available in May, negotiations seriously begin between Raimondo, the House Speaker and Senate President to craft the House’s budget proposal. Lawmakers will hammer out and pass a final state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Local media coverage of Raimondo’s ambitious spending initiatives zeroed in on her call for expanding free tuition to Rhode Island College and adding some public pre-kindergarten, increasing minimum wage from $ 10.50 to $ 11.10 per hour, allowing mobile sports betting and legalizing recreational marijuana.

But, Raimondo’s budget proposal gives state lawmakers a road map for what programs and services are needed for a state with a graying population.

According to Meghan Connelly, DEA’s Spokesperson, a nearly 60 percent increase in the State’s population of residents aged 65 and older from the years 2016 to 2040 highlights the need for continued investments in programs servicing Rhode Island’s older adults and their family caregivers.

Connelly says Raimondo’s budget proposal, released on January 17, elevates Elderly Affairs from a division under the Department of Human Services to an Office within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. The governor shifts financing for the office and 31.0 FTE positions to EOHHS to accomplish this recommended action.

“The projected increase in the state’s senior population – from 174,000 in 2016 to 265,000 by 2040 – coupled with the proven impact of community-based supports and services, highlights the need for continuing to invest in helping our seniors remain home, connected to their families and networks. Support of aging-related health-promotion initiatives are essential to maintain a high quality of life for Rhode Island seniors while minimizing aging-related healthcare costs,” says Connelly

“We are focused on making it easier for older adults to live independent, fulfilling lives for as long as possible,” said Michelle Szylin, Acting Director of the Division of Elderly Affairs. “The Co-Pay expansion [in the governor’s proposed budget] enables additional older adults to age-in-place, remaining safely in their homes and engaging in their communities.”

The Co-Pay expansion enables additional older adults to age-in-place, remaining safely in their homes and engaging in their communities. The governor’s proposal to expand the state’s Co-Pay program [by $ 550,000] will allow more seniors to reside in their communities, staying connected to their family and network of friends and neighbors.

Providing access to the Co-Pay program to individuals earning up to 250% of the Federal Poverty Level will allow more seniors to age-in-place with a better quality of life and delay nursing home admission. The DEA Co-Pay program was established in 1986 as an option for elders who would otherwise be ineligible for subsidized home and community care assistance because they did not qualify for the Rhode Island Medical Assistance program.

Recognizing the importance of the state’s Elderly Transportation Program to keep older Rhode Islander’s independent, Raimondo’s budget proposal calls for additional funding of $1.8 million from general funds to support the State’s elderly transportation program. This program provides non-emergency transportation benefits to Rhode Islanders age 60 and over who do not have access to any means of transportation. The program provides transportation to and from medical appointments, adult day care, meal sites, dialysis/cancer treatment and the Insight Program.

Raimondo’s proposed budget also increases Health Facilities regulation staffing to increase the number of inspections to state-licensed health care facilities. The governor recommends a $327,383 increase in restricted receipt funds for 3.0 FTE positions. These positions will bolster existing staffing to increase the number of inspections to state-licensed healthcare facilities.

The Governor’s proposed FY 2020 budget also through the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority continues to subsidize the transit of elderly and disabled Rhode Islanders through the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority.

Raimondo’s proposed budget also continues the support for the Independent Provider model P model with almost $200,000 in general revenue funds budgeted (about $770,000 all funds) to cover implementation costs. The goal of this model is to increase workforce capacity and create a new option for delivery of direct support services for both seniors and people with developmental disabilities.

Finally, the governor’s FY 2020 budget also allocates funding to an array of programs and services for seniors. Here’s a sampling: $800,000 to support the state’s senior centers through a grant process (the amount was doubled last year); $ 530,000 to support Meals on Wheels; $ 85,000 to implement security measures in elderly housing complexes; $ 169,000 for the long-term care ombudsman through the Alliance for Better Long Term Care, which advocates on behalf of residents of nursing homes, assisted living residences and certain other facilities, as well as recipients of home care services; and $ 500,000 funds the state’s Home Modifications program at Governor’s Commission on Disabilities.

Nursing Facility Provides Take a Hit

Raimondo’s proposed budget plan seeks to freeze the state’s Medicaid payment rates to hospitals, slashing funding by an estimated $15 million overall for the year, and to limit the rate increase for nursing homes to 1%, costing them nursing home providers about $4 million.
“We are beginning the budget process with a 1 percent increase in the COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment), says Scott Fraser, President and CEO of Rhode Island Health Care Association (RIHCA), warning that “this is not enough.”

“Since 2012, nursing facility costs have risen 21.6 percent while Medicaid payment rates have only gone up by 9.6 percent, adds Fraser, noting that by statute, rates are supposed to be adjusted annually for inflation. “We will be advocating for additional funding for nursing facilities throughout the remainder of the budget process,” he warns.

Jim Nyberg, Director LeadingAge RI, an organization representing not-for-profit providers of aging services, joins with RIHCA in calling on Rhode Island lawmakers to restore the full inflation adjustment. “Ongoing increases in minimum wage (up 42 percent since 2012) make it harder for publicly funded providers to compete for skilled workers,” says Nyberg, noting that most of his nonprofit nursing homes have 60 percent to 70 percent of their residents on Medicaid. “A rate increase is needed help nursing homes recruit and retain the direct care workers that are so critical to providing quality care,” he says.

“Since 2016, our nursing homes and consumers have been severely disrupted by UHIP, financially and operationally. The ongoing problems with Medicaid application approvals and payments has resulted in significant increases in staff workload just to maintain operations, let alone the impact on cash flow and financial stability, adds Nybrg.

Nyberg’s group is also advocating to expand the CoPay program for individuals under the age of 65 with dementia. “This has been proposed in the past but not included in this budget. We think that such an expansion will help this at-risk population for whom no publicly-funded programs and services currently exist,” he says.

Lawmakers, AARP Rhode Island Gives Comments

AARP Rhode Island is encouraged to see that the Governor placed an increase in the State Budget for the Department of Elderly Affairs home healthcare Co-Pay program,” said AARP Rhode Island Advocacy Director John DiTomasso. “By increasing the income eligibility from 200% of the poverty level to 250%, more older Rhode Islanders will be able to obtain home care services at reduced hourly rates,” he added. “This will help large numbers of people to extend the time they can age in place in their home and in their community rather than in more costly state-paid long-term care facilities,” says DiTomasso.

Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio says, “Upon a first look at the budget, I am very pleased that some of the Senate’s top priorities are incorporated. The Governor had to close a significant deficit, and difficult choices had to be made. However, the budget is a statement of priorities, and initiatives like the no-fare bus pass program for low-income seniors and disabled Rhode Islanders are a priority for us in the Senate. I am very pleased to see this program funded in the budget, along with many other services for seniors, and I look forward to deeper analysis of all aspects of the budget in the months ahead.”

AddsD House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, “The House Finance Committee will soon begin holding public hearings and reviewing every aspect of the Governor’s budget proposal. We will make certain that the level of care and services to older adults will be maintained and hopefully enhanced. We are facing significant budget challenges this year, but we will always keep the needs of our seniors at the forefront of the discussions.”

Older Rhode Islanders and aging groups must continue to push the House to at a minimal maintain the governor’s senior agenda. Hopefully, as Mattiello said, senior programs and services can be enhanced.

For a Senate Fiscal Analysis of Raimondo’s FY 2020 budget, go to http://www.rilegislature.gov/sfiscal/Budget%20Analyses/FY2020%20SFO%20Governor’s%20Budget%20-%20First%20Look.pdf.

Fogarty Retiring as Elderly Affairs Director

Published in Woonsocket Call on January 28, 2018

Just days ago, Director of Rhode Island’s Division of Elderly Affairs (RIDEA), Charles J. Fogarty, announced his retirement to take place at the end of June, after 4 decades of public service. There have been nine directors since the establishment of DEA, including Fogarty.

Fogarty’s plans to retire at the end of the current legislative session. When this occurs, Governor Gina Raimondo will make an appointment to the RIDEA director position. The position requires advice and consent of the RI Senate.

Fogarty began his career in public service in 1978 as a junior policy advisor for Governor J. Joseph Garrahy. He served as lieutenant governor, from 1999 to 2007, having the distinction of being the last lieutenant governor to preside over the State Senate. From 2011 to 2015, Fogarty served as the director of the Department of Labor and Training, ending up his career as the Director of RIDEA.

During his years of public service, Fogarty, 62, has been focused on long term care and home- and community-based services and supports for older Rhode Islanders. He played a key role in steering and expanding the work of the Long-Term Care Coordinating Council during his tenure as Lieutenant Governor for two terms. Under his leadership at the Department of Labor and Training, he reformed the unemployment insurance process. During his stewardship as Director at Elderly Affairs (since January 2015), he has led a division providing services and advocacy for over 166,500 older adults living in Rhode Island.

As a Glocester resident he was elected to the Glocester Town Council in 1984 and in 1990 was elected as a state senator, where he served for eight years. While a state senator, he served as both majority whip and Senate President Pro Tempore.

Fogarty Reflects on RIDEA Tenure

“Throughout my career, I have felt drawn to serve the people of Rhode Island. I look back fondly and feel fortunate to be a part of the forward progress Rhode Island is experiencing–particularly working with Governor Raimondo to empower seniors and help them to remain independent and living in the community,” said Fogarty.

According to Fogarty, under his helm, RIDEA has continued to process of supporting community-and home-based services for seniors and caregivers, but more needs to be done in order to really rebalance Rhode Island’ long-term care system. Aging in the community- in our own homes- is what many Rhode Islanders want for ourselves and our loved ones, he says.

“We’ve restored funding for Meals on Wheels, provided additional funding for respite services, and this year are proposing to double the amount the state invests in senior centers. Senior centers are primary gateways in the community that connect older adults and caregivers to services that can have profound impacts upon their ability to remain healthy and independent,” notes Fogarty.

Fogarty says, “If the general assembly follows Governor Raimondo’s lead and doubles the funding for senior centers, Rhode Island will be taking a huge step in the right direction of providing the appropriate support to these essential senior services.”

“We need to prepare for the shift in demographics that is occurring, and accept that the old model of providing long term care services isn’t working for the large number of Boomers who are marching towards retirement and old-age. RIDEA and other key partners are engaging in the Age-Friendly Rhode Island initiative, and we all need to work together to provide more choices and options for Rhode Islanders as they age, empowering them, and helping them to remain independent and healthy,” adds Fogarty.

Tributes to Fogarty

“Charlie has dedicated his entire professional life to Rhode Island and we thank him for his decades of service to our state,” said Governor Gina M. Raimondo, in a statement, recognizing the key role he played as DEA Director in expanding Meals on Wheels and in repealing the tax that seniors pay on their Social Security.

“As sitting Lt. Governor, I appreciate Charlie being a resource to me on issues important to our state’s seniors. Under his leadership, the Division of Elderly Affairs has been a hands-on partner in executing the initiatives of the Long Term Care Coordinating Council and the Alzheimer’s Executive Board,, says Lt. Governor Dan McKee.

“We are especially grateful for Charlie’s support in launching our Age Friendly RI Report in 2016. In a few weeks, we will be announcing an exciting development in Rhode Island’s Alzheimer’s State Plan that would not be possible without Charlie’s participation. I have enjoyed working with Charlie and I wish him all the best as he begins this exciting new chapter,” adds McKee.

Maureen Maigret, Vice Chair Long Term Care Coordinating Council, sees Fogarty’s experience as oversight as Lt. Governor of the state’s Long-Term Coordinating Council, gave him the insight ad understanding of long term care issues and the needs of older Rhode Islanders.

Maigret says that professionals in the aging network will remember Fogarty for his strong support for and educating the community about need to expand services that help older persons to stay at home and live independently for as long as possible and to pay attention to caregiver support needs.

Adds AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell, “I have known Charlie for many years and know him to be a worthy heir of his uncle, the late-great RI Congressman, who was a leading champion of legislation and policy benefiting older Americans.”

“At Elderly Affairs, he utilized many skills and resourcefulness acquired through his time as a legislator, Lt. Governor and Labor & Training director — not to mention his personal interest in the health and wellbeing of all Rhode Islanders. His leadership has been an enormous asset at the Division of Elderly Affairs,” says Connell.

After his retirement from four decades of state service, he will continue to serve on the faculty at Johnson & Wales University, as Adjunct Professor of Leadership Studies. He also plans to volunteer with Meals on Wheels, having seen the significant impact the home-delivery meal program has on combatting senior isolation. He will also continue to be involved at his church.

On a personal level, Fogarty plans to “learn to cook,” by enrolling in cooking classes, travel and perhaps learn to speak Spanish.

 

Housing Report Supports Push to Approve Question 7

Published in Woonsocket Call on October 30, 2016

Earlier this year, Rhode Island Housing (RIH) released a 44 -page report detailing the Ocean State’s current and future housing needs. One thing was clear to those attending this event: over the next decade the state will need more affordable housing for its residents.

Over the last 7 months, RIH’s Executive Director Barbara Fields has crisscrossed the Ocean State calling for increased housing opportunities for working Rhode Islanders. During this period of time she has presented the study’s findings to more than a dozen civic and government groups, including AARP Rhode Island, the Providence City Council and United Way.

During the last legislative session Rhode Island housing advocates were successful in their push for the enactment of a bond initiative that would make a significant state investment in affordable housing. As part of the omnibus statewide budget package, a $50 million Housing Opportunity Bond initiative for housing programs was passed by the House and Senate chambers, ultimately to be signed into law by Governor Gina Raimondo (D) and put to voter approval on the November ballot.

With the November election fast approaching, Fields has not let her report, compiled by HousingWorks RI, a research program at Rogers Williams University, sit on a dusty shelf but is using it to push for passage of the housing bond initiatives.

RIH Releases its Comprehensive Housing Study

On April 6, Fields gathered with state housing advocacy groups at the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation to unveil RIH’s landmark housing study, Projecting Future Housing Needs. Fields warned that the state’s economic comeback must be tied to new and existing housing that stays within the financial reach of Rhode Islanders. “Today in Rhode Island, the demand for housing is high while the supply is much too low. This imbalance simply makes the cost of housing too expensive for what our residents earn. This report provides critical insight into what the future needs of Rhode Islanders will be and that information will allow us to develop a plan to address those needs,” she said.

At this event, Rhode Island Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor tied adequate housing for working Rhode Islanders as key to bringing businesses to the Ocean State. “Companies looking to expand or relocate consider how well they will be able to retain and attract their workforce, and a key part of doing so is ensuring that employees of all income levels have high quality housing opportunities,” said Pryor. “It’s vital to our state’s economic success and our quality of life that we preserve and produce high quality housing options for our residents,” he added.

The RIH report’s findings indicate that Rhode Island’s population is projected to grow between 3 and 5 percent from 2015 to 2025. Researchers warn that new housing demand will outpace population growth, and anticipate a 12 to 13 percent increase in the number of households, driven by a growing population and simultaneous decline in household size tied to both lower birth rates and an aging population. Researchers also predict housing demand will be driven by a large population growth in two demographic groups that tend to have lower incomes – namely aging baby boomers and seniors and young millennials.

According to the RIH report, cost burden problems of paying rent do not just impact older Rhode Islanders and Millennials, but have become more mainstream issues over the last ten years and now affect all income brackets. The findings found that Rhode Islanders already pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs, and that more than half of the increase in cost burden from 2000 to 2012 impacted households earning more than $57,700.

From 2000 to 2014, the researchers found that the state’s total population grew marginally at 0.11 percent, but the number of households grew by 0.28 percent. Rhode Island’s smaller household sizes are due, in part, to a larger proportion of older persons and a smaller proportion of persons of color when compared to national rates. Younger households are likely to have more people than those headed by people aged 65 and older, primarily because they are more likely to be family households with children. As this demographic shift continues, the future population will need more housing units to meet the increased household need caused by smaller household sizes typical of older householders.

Pushing for Passage of Question 7

Like Fields, Chris Hunter, campaign manager for the Yes On 7 Campaign, sees the RIH report’s findings as crucial information that voters need to know about the impending housing crisis. “As Rhode Island Housing’s recent report shows, we’re simply not creating enough new housing to meet projected population growth. At the same time we’re facing an affordability crunch as our young workers just starting their careers, families, veterans, and seniors are having a difficult time paying for housing while also making ends meet,” says Hunter.

“That’s why Question 7 and the $50 million Housing Opportunity bond is such a smart investment in housing and Rhode Island’s economy,” says Hunter, stressing that if approved by the voters the $50 million bond initiative will leverage an additional $160 million in federal and private investments.

According to Hunter, if approved, $40 million of the bond dollars will be allocated to the construction of affordable homes and apartments across Rhode Island, while the remaining $10 million will be used to help cities and towns revitalize blighted and foreclosed properties. The bond will also fund the construction of 800 affordable homes and apartments across Rhode Island and create 1,700 good paying local construction jobs.

Over 60 percent of Rhode Island voters passed housing bond initiatives in put on the ballot in 2006 ($50 million) and 2012 ($25 million), says Hunter. “Funding from these last two affordable housing bonds created 1,943 affordable units in 30 communities around the state, and leveraged more than $300 million in federal and private investment in these projects,” he says.

RIH‘s housing report has sounded the alarm, giving a stark warning to local and state officials that a housing crisis exists and will only get worse with the shifting of the state’s demographics. With the election looming, RIH’s Fields continues to push for passage on Question 7. Hunter works to mobilize his housing advocates and supporters of Question 7 to get the word out to every voter in Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns that this bond initiative must be passed. Hopefully, their message will get across to Rhode Island voters. We’ll see when the votes are counted.

For more details on Question 7, visit http://www.yeson7ri.com.

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

Aging Report is “Rhode Map” for Change

Published on June 27, 2016 in Pawtucket Times

Next year look for the policy debate in the Rhode Island General Assembly to heat with Governor Dan McKee’s Aging in Community Subcommittee of the Long Term Care Coordinating Council (LTCCC) release of a sixty page report in June documenting the sky rocketing growth of the state’s older population and identifying strategies to allow these individuals to age in place and stay in their communities.

The Aging in Community Subcommittee was mandated by the enactment of the Aging in Community Act of 2014, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Mary Ellen Goodwin and Representatives Christopher Blazejewski and Eileen Naughton. The Subcommittee, chaired by Maureen Maigret, Vice Chair of the Long Term Care Coordinating Council, and former Director of the Division of Elderly Affairs, staff from Rhode Island College, Brown University and the University of Rhode Island, representatives from state agencies, members of the senior community, and senior service providers.

According to Maigret, it has taken almost 18 months to gather data, host focus groups and to write the “Aging in Community” report. The report provides demographic data snapshot on the state’s older population and also inventories current services and resources. It also identifies challenges faced by older Rhode Islanders and recommends strategies to promote successful aging in community in these nine issue areas.

Maigret believes that this report may take the most comprehensive look at what aging programs and services are available to assist older Rhode Islanders age in place in their communities and it identifies what programs and services are lacking. “The State Plan on Aging does have some data and actions planned but does not comprehensively cover all the domains covered in the “Aging in Community” report,” she says.

A Demographic Snap Shot

In 2010, the report notes that over 152,000 Rhode Islanders were age 65, predicting that this number will sky rocket to 247,000 in 2030. By 2025, Rhode Island will be considered to be a “Super Aging” state where 20 percent of its population will be over age 65. The report noted that two years ago the population of New Shoreham, Little Compton, North Smithfield, North Providence and Tiverton had already reached “Super Aging” status.

The report added that 42 percent of over age 65 household incomes amounted to less than $30,000. Only 49 percent of the retirees have non Social Security retirement income. Fifty two percent of the older renters and 39 percent of the home owners were financially burdened with covering housing costs. Poverty levels for older Rhode Islander vary, from 7 percent in Bristol County to 18 percent in Providence County.

The LTCCC report notes that even with lower incomes older Rhode Islanders have a major impact on the state’s economy. They bring in over $2.9 billion dollars from Social Security pensions and $281 million in taxes into the state’s economy. Older workers account for 33,750 jobs throughout all job sectors.

Rhode Island’s retirees provide an estimated $ 149 million by volunteering and an estimated $ 2 billion in providing caregiving services to family and friends.

A Spotlight on Priority Recommendations

The Subcommittee’s findings were the result of interviews held with aging service providers, an examination of age-friendly best practices in other states and ten focus groups conducted with older Rhode Islander from across the state.

The focus groups attendees gave the Subcommittee valuable information. They stressed that Senior Centers were “highly valued.” Many expressed financial concerns for their current situation and into the future. Attendees were very concerned about the lack of transportation and lack of affordable housing. State customer service employees were viewed by many as “unfriendly.”

Dozens of strategies were listed in the LTCCC report for state policy makers to consider to better assist older Rhode Islanders to successfully age in their community in these nine issue areas: Information and Communication, Community Engagement, Transportation, Economic Security, Food Security and Nutrition, Housing, Supports at Home, Healthcare Access and Open Spaces/Public Buildings

The LTCCC report identifies priority strategies including the restoring of senior center funding based on a population-based formula and continuing RIPTA’s no-fare bus pass program for low income seniors and persons with disabilities. It also calls for increase payments for homecare and for restoring state funding for Elder Respite.

Maigret says that creating a coalition of aging groups to “build an age-friendly Rhode Island” is the next step to take. Businesses can also become “age friendly” and better understand the economic value of older Rhode Islanders bring to the state and its educational institutions, she says.

Political Will Required to Implement LTCCC Report Strategies

There must be a political will to implement the strategies of the LTCCC report, says Maigret, starting with the state’s top elected official. “Governor Raimondo’s proposed budget had added $600,000 in funding for senior centers but the Rhode Island General Assembly removed it,” she said, noting that the decrease in funding got caught up in the negativity surrounding Community Service grants. “We were fortunate the 2017 budget will still have $400,000 in funding for senior centers,” she says.

“Rhode Island’s older adult population contributes a great deal socially, economically, and intellectually to our communities. Ensuring that those Rhode Islanders who desire to age-in-place are able to do so only enriches our society,” said Governor Raimondo. “I’m pleased that Director Fogarty, and members of his senior staff, serve and work with the Long Term Care Coordinating Council and the Subcommittee on Aging in Community. The insight they gain from service with these committees helps to shape State policy and programs related to services for seniors.

“I applaud the members of the Subcommittee for their dedication to creating a clear, comprehensive report on aging that can be a catalyst for change in our state. Their work recognizes that Rhode Island’s older population is growing dramatically and that we must direct public policy to help them remain active and in their homes,” said Lt. Governor McKee. I look forward to supporting the strategies detailed in the Subcommittee’s report to help build stronger, healthier communities for all Rhode Islanders.”

Finally, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, also says that the Subcommittee report’s recommendations will also be studied closely next legislative session. “I will be reviewing the findings of the report in greater detail and I will confer with Representatives Chris Blazejewski and Eileen Naughton, who sponsored and advocated for the Aging in Community Act of 2014. Our older population in Rhode Island is a growing one and it is important that we continue to listen to their needs and be responsive. I commend the work of the subcommittee, as well as all those who participated in the focus groups. I would anticipate that any policy and financial recommendations will be fully analyzed by the members of the General Assembly in the 2017 session.”

The LTCCC’s “Aging in Community” report gives our policy makers a road map in reconfiguring the state’s fragmented aging programs and services. With the Governor, House Speaker and Senate President on board, we might just see legislative changes in the next years that might just be what we need to keep people at home and active in their community. Lawmakers must not act penny-wise and pound foolish when considering legislative fixes.

Both the executive summary and the full Subcommittee “Aging in Community” report are available on the Lieutenant Governor’s website at: http://www.ltgov.ri.gov and the general assembly website at: http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/Pages/Reports.aspx.

Retirement Survey Bleak for Ocean State

Published in Pawtucket Times on February 1, 2016

Here we go again. This month, America’s tiniest state gets outed as being the most unfavorable state to live out your retirement years. According to a new WalletHub study, “2016’s Best & Worse States to Retire,” when compared to all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, Rhode Island came in dead last when compared against 24 metrics falling in one of these three categories (Affordability, Quality of Life and Health Care).

WalletHub, an internet site that calls itself “a personal finance Web site, taps Florida as being the top state to live your retirement years, followed by Wyoming, South Dakota, South Carolina and Colorado. The in-depth analysis, geared to identifying the most retirement-friendly states, gives the Ocean States the distinct of being the worst place to live in your later years, followed by the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Connecticut and Vermont.

As to affordability, WalletHub looked at the adjusted cost of living, tax friendliness of a state, it’s taxation on pensions and Social Security income, and annual cost of in-home services. Rhode Island was ranked 51 (the worst) in affordability for retirees. In zeroing in on this specific variable, the state came in 41st in adjusted cost of living; 45th in annual cost of in-home services and 48th in taxpayer rankings.

For a state’s quality of life, WallettHub zeroed in on an array of variables including the number of theatres, museums, music venues, golf courses. The researchers also checked out crime rates, weather, the number people age 65 and older and whether the state’s labor is elderly friendly. A sampling of Rhode Island specific rankings for this variable include a ranking of 35th for Museums per Capita; 42nd for Theaters per Capita; and 48th for the number of golf courses per Capita; and 32nd in having employed residents age 65 and over.

As for health care, the study examined the number of family physicians, dentists, nurses, and health-care facilities per 100,000 residents, the ranking of the state’s public hospitals, the resident’s life expectancy and emotional health, even taking a look at the death rate for people age 65 and older. Rhode Island ranks 49th in number of family physicians per 100,000 Residents.

WallettHub analyst, Jill Gonzalez, says that for Rhode Island to become a mecca for retirees, state lawmakers must reconsider how they tax Social Security and pensions. The state’s current tax policy “is not at “all friendly toward retirees,” she adds.

According to Gonzalez, the state’s cost of living index is also high at 122 while the national index is 100. This means that if the cost of goods and services nationwide is $100, the Rhode Island retirees will pay $122. Annual costs to pay for home care are nearly $54,000 per year in Rhode Island and state policy makers must find a way to reduce this key community-based service.
Statewide Reactions to Web site Survey

These surveys aggregate data that does not encourage retirement here,” observes AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “They do not fully measure quality of life or how the proximity to Boston and New York City make Rhode Island attractive to many retirees. But you often hear people talk about retiring in states where lower taxes and deflated housings prices suggest that retirement income will go dramatically farther.

“The tax issue is a reality driven by the state’s so-called ‘structural deficits’ that have resulted in cities and towns raising property and excise taxes. Meanwhile, hikes in fees and new surcharges have added to the tax burden. Legislative leaders face a great challenge in reversing this trend.

“Many people in their 40s and 50s who want to retire in Rhode Island can save more wisely for retirement and find a way to make it work. Anyone entering retirement now with little savings and expecting to rely primarily on Social Security is faced with difficult decisions.

“So, clearly the survey means different things to different people. Few would disagree that Rhode Island is a great place to retire – maybe one of the best places in the nation. If you can afford it.”

Edward Mazze, Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration, says, “I cannot disagree with the quantitative findings in the study. Behind the numbers are two critical factors that have an impact on retiring in Rhode Island – first, the Rhode Island economy has barely grown in the last eight years – second, the negative reputation of the state with government leaders going to jail, high property taxes, poor school systems and unfunded public pension and health programs.”

Mazze calls on the Rhode Island General Assembly to raise the state estate tax level to the same level as the federal estate tax level and exempt social security benefits from state taxes no matter what the income level. “The legislature has to reduce sales taxes and fees, be more transparent in its operations so that individuals trust government actions and fund the social services that retirees need,” he says.

But even with these negative findings retirees should Rhode Island as place to live because of its strategic location, transportation facilities and cultural and recreational activities. However, he acknowledges that “with the high cost of living in Rhode Island and fewer part-time job opportunities for retirees it is difficult to promote the state as a place to retire.”

Ernie Almonte, Rhode Island’s former auditor and partner at RSM US, LLP, a company that performs audit, tax and consulting services, says the changes in how the state taxes Social Security made by lawmakers last year was a good first step. But the former candidate for State Treasurer urges Governor Gina Raimondo and House and Senate Leadership to take a look at the state’s estate tax in the upcoming session. “I believe last year’s changes made by lawmakers was a move in the right direction but we cannot forget the legislative change to the estate cliff effect. “This certainly is a deciding factor for retirees looking to a place to settle down in their retirement years,” he adds.

Almonte also encourages state lawmakers to sit down with the Rhode Island Society of CPA’s to discuss tax policy. “Having a robust discussion on the role of tax policy to pay for necessary services and investments balanced by the ability to pay and the need to pay would be quite helpful to the long run,” he says.
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello sees the business climate and economic outlook improving as he works to make the state’s tax structure more competitive with neighboring states. He says that the WallettHub survey did not take into account the repeal of state income tax for most Social Security recipients. The State offers retirees “a great quality of life with easy access to our beaches and we have excellent cultural attractions, restaurants, hospitals and universities, he says.

As she has said over her first year, Governor Gina Raimondo is “laser focused” on improving the quality of life for all Rhode Islanders, says deputy press secretary Katie O’Hanlon. “We’ve made a lot of progress over the past year, including eliminating state taxes on Social Security benefits for low and middle-income seniors and increasing funding for Meals on Wheels. However, we can always find ways to improve, says O’Hanlon.

It’s time for the Rhode Island General Assembly to get serious with enacting legislative proposals to attract retirees, more important to keep them from leaving for other retirement havens. Why not do a thorough review of tax policies of WalletHub’s best five places to retire and seek out best tax practices of other states? In the upcoming legislative session, Governor Raimondo and House and Senate leadership might consider reaching out to AARP Rhode Island and aging groups, along with the Rhode Island Society of CPAs, to organize a tax summit, seeking creative ways to tweak the state’s tax code to retain and attract retirees.

This WebHub study can be found at  http://www.wallethub.com/edu/best-and-worst-states-to-retire/18592/.