McKee to Unveil Updated State Alzheimer’s Plan

Published in Woonsocket Call on February 10, 2019

Seven months ago with the hiring of Michael Splaine and Kate Gordon of Splaine Consulting, a nationally recognized health policy firm that has provided content matter expertise to over two dozen state Alzheimer’s plans, Lt. Governor Daniel J. McKee, who serves as chair of the state’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council, rolled up his sleeves to begin his legislative charge to update the 2013 state Alzheimer’s plan.

The hiring of the Columbia, Maryland-based consultants was made possible by two grants totaling $30,000 given by the Tufts Health Plan Foundation and Rhode Island Foundation. When announcing the successful fundraising effort to raise those monies, McKee observed, “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 plan will be an invaluable tool for local leaders, researchers, physicians, advocates and families as we work together to build the momentum in the fight against Alzheimer’s,” says McKee, noting that it is one of the most challenging public health issues facing Rhode Island today. “With the number of affected Rhode Islanders projected to rise to 27,000 by 2025, elected leaders, advocates, caregivers, clinicians and researchers must come together to take unified, targeted action,” he says.

The compilation of the plan is the result of collaboration between McKee, the Alzheimer’s Association Rhode Island Chapter and the state’s Division of Elderly Affairs (DEA). In 2012, the General Assembly directed the Long-Term Care Coordinating Council to serve as the organizational umbrella for a work group that would oversee the development of the plan. In 2013, the state’s five-year Alzheimer’s plan was published. Last year, efforts to update it began.

Last July under the leadership of McKee, Splaine and Gordon worked closely with the Alzheimer’s Association Rhode Island Chapter, DEA, researchers, advocates, clinicians and caregivers sitting on the Lieutenant Governor’s Executive Board on Alzheimer’s,to develop a community-focused strategy for the 2019 State Plan on Alzheimer’s disease and Related Disorders. Over a six-week period, that group held 23 town hall meetings, conducted 45 expert interviews and surveyed (in both England and Spanish) more than Rhode Islanders impacted by Alzheimer’s.

The Official Release…

On Feb. 26 at a press conference in the State Library at 3:30 p.m., McKee will join Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne (D-Barrington) to officially unveil the plan, Rhode Island’s official roadmap to combat the growing Alzheimer’s epidemic. Coyne will announce the introduction of a Senate resolution on behalf of McKee to officially adopt the plan. (House staff are still reviewing the updated plan. There is no House sponsor at this time)

Coyne’s resolution follows her introduction of legislation to create a Rhode Island program to address Alzheimer’s disease within the Department of Health (DOH). The bill would also create an advisory panel to review and make recommendations to improve the state policies, research and care.

Once the Rhode Island General Assembly approves the plan, the Long-Term Care Coordinating Council’s executive board will 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. More than 30 recommendations are detailed in the 35-page plan, which calls for the implementation of three main recommendations.
In order to keep the plan from sitting on a dusty bureaucrat’s bookshelf, the first recommendation calls for the creation of one director-level position within DOH to assist in the coordination of its recommendations. The second urges promoting Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia research opportunities of all types, including federal opportunities to a broad group of Ocean State researchers. Finally, the third calls for the inclusion of brain health in existing publicly-funded promotion and chronic disease management activities.
Many of the recommendation can be easily implemented without additional state funding or legislative approval, says McKee. But, for those that may require state funding, he plans to make it a priority to lobby for those monies.

Taking a Close Look

Maureen Maigret, co-chair, state’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council, says, “It is terrific to have the plan update completed as it provides direction to our state government leaders and other persons in key positions to proceed with implementation of the recommendations, which can have such far-reaching impacts on the many thousands of individuals with neuro-cognitive conditions and their dedicated caregivers, both those who are unpaid and those in the paid work force.”

Maigret notes that the updated plan’s recommendations also call for assisting family caregivers who provide the vast majority of care for persons with Alzheimer’s and related dementias, expanding subsidies for home and community care services offered by the state’s Division of Elderly Affairs, and making family caregiver support services part of the Medicaid program.

According to Maigret, one issue not mentioned in the updated plan is the need for increasing state funding for the DEA’s respite care program, which has a waiting list. “This is an important program that gives caregivers small subsidies to purchase ‘care breaks.’ Our Aging in Community Subcommittee and the AARP and Senior Agenda Coalition will all be advocating to restore state funds to this program (in the upcoming legislative session),” she says.

“The Alzheimer’s State Plan is a thorough blueprint to address the growing Alzheimer’s crisis by creating an infrastructure and accountability that will help build dementia-capable programs,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “We applaud the work that has gone into the report and the continuing efforts to address Rhode Island’s growing needs. We are especially encouraged to see that the plan supports community education about caregiver health and caregiver rights under the CARE Act, which is legislation that AARP championed in the General Assembly. AARP also encourages and supports age-friendly communities, which includes dementia-friendly awareness and resources so that people of all abilities can thrive as they age.”

Sen. Coyne added, “Alzheimer’s impacts tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders, and we need a coordinated strategy to improve education among the public and training for providers, and to promote research opportunities. This plan provides a strategic framework for moving forward to bring positive policy change where it is needed.”

See you at the press conference.

For details about the press conference and the Alzheimer’s State Plan, contact Andrea Palagi, Communications Director, Office of Lt. governor Daniel J. Mckee at
Andrea.Palagi@ltgov.ri.gov.

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David Barber Dies at 60. the Face of “Straight from the Gavel”

 

Published in Woonsocket Call on July 12, 2015

David Barber, an award-winning broadcaster veteran with extensive experience in talk radio programming, radio and TV sales management, television programming and commercial production and ad agency and public relations expertise, died on July 4, 2015.  He was 60.

On a trip to Flint Michigan to attend a friend’s wedding, Mr. Barber died, Saturday, July 4, from a stroke and heart attack he had on Thursday, June 25, says his brother Larry Barber.  The family is planning to hold a memorial service in Rhode Island and will announce the specifics shortly, he says.

He grew up in Flint, Michigan, graduated from Mount Morris High School  and received his bachelor’s degree in business from Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.

A Watch Dog for the Public

The Flint Michigan native, a seasoned award-winning radio broadcaster on WTRX-AM (1130), WTAC (600), and WFDF (910) radio stations, became the watch dog for his listeners in his hometown and the surrounding area, using his microphone to protect the public interest.  Known as an outspoken and controversial and opinionated talk show host, Mr. Barber’s listeners regularly tuned into to see him taking on some of the biggest political heavy weights and corrupt elected officials in Michigan.

In 2006, recognizing the need to move up in his radio career, Mr. Barber took a professional risk relocating to Providence, Rhode Island radio market, taking the helm of  WPRO’s daily talk radio show, from 9:00 a.m. to Noon, the time slot formerly held by Steve Kass.  After a year, even after getting an excellent rating on his first job performance review, Mr. Barber was suddenly let go, when John DePetro, a former WHJJ radio host left his job in Boston and was hired by the station.   During his brief hiatus for WPRO, as a talk radio host he brought his liberal blue-collar views to New York-abased Air America Radio Network , specializing in progressive talk programming.

Mr. Barber made Talker’s Magazine’s Heavy 100, listing of the nation’s talk show hosts, getting this prestigious designation three times. His show was selected along with the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Don Imus, Dr. Laura Schlessinger and others.

Bringing the General Assembly to the People

Ultimately, when hired by the Rhode Island General Assembly’s Capitol Television in 2008, Mr. Barber traded in his WPRO radio mic for a hand-held mic on a state cable channel. .

As Capitol Television host, as the only on-air person, Mr. Barber interviewed the state’s elected and government officials and even cultural icons.  With experience gleaned from being a talk show host in the Flint/Twin Cities radio market, at WEYI Television NBC, he easily brought the mysteries of political sausage making (that is the political process) to the tens of thousands of viewers who tuned into “Straight from the Gave,” a half hour sit down segment with state legislators.  He was never happier being in a job surrounded by politics 24/7.

According to Capitol Television, considered Rhode Island’s C Span, it is estimated that Mr. Barber hosted 390 episodes of “Straight from the Gavel, and about 600 Capitol Spotlights, a five-minute stand-up segment with members of the state’s General Assembly.

As a Trustee of Slater Mill, Mr. Barber, considered by many to be a marketing wiz with his skills honed at Davison, Michigan-based Parr Media Advertising, brought the nuts and bolts of media and public affairs to America’s most historic mill.  Mr. Barber also served on the Board of Directors of the Salvation Army in Pawtucket and did charitable work for the Boys and Girls Club of Pawtucket.  Before relocating to the Ocean State from Michigan, he served on the Board of Directors of the American Lung Association and hosted television telethon’s for the Easter Seals Society, the American Diabetes Association, United Way and Big Brothers and Sister, among a few.

An entertainer at heart, Mr. Barber, an avid Frank Sinatra fan, would take any opportunity to sing the songs of  Sinatra, one of the nation’s best selling musical artist of all time.  On many occasions, he sang at Millonzi’s Bar and Grille in West Warwick and other local lounges, even taking the opportunity to sing with the legendary Cowsills, in Pawtucket’s Slater Memorial Park during the Pawtucket Arts Festival.

Work hard, play hard might have even been Mr. Barber’s mantra. After a long- work week, on weekends you might just see him, very tanned and immaculately dress,  puttering around South County on his creamed-colored Vespa to view “the majestic Narragansett surf” at Bonnet Shores Beach Club (he was a member), even enjoying an occasional ride over the iconic Newport Bridge.  Or may be you might have seen the Warwick resident leisurely reading a New York Times at his favorite East Greenwich breakfast joint, the Main Street Café.

Making a Home in Rhode Island

It was not easy for Mr. Barber to leave his family and friends to relocate to a new state where nobody knows who you are.  “The move was far more difficult than I expected,” he says in a 2010 blog, posted by Rich Frost with What The Hell…

“I did not know a single person and to be honest with you, I don’t know if I would have made a move if I knew what I know now,” noted Mr. Barber in his interview.

Television Director Jason Golditch, who directed many of Mr. Barber’s programs at Capitol Television, Television Director, noted that Capitol TV’s new host ultimately adapted well to his new state.  “Over time he truly grew to love this state,” Golditch says, noting that his colleague would often say, “It doesn’t get much better than this, can you believe it.”

According to Golditch, when a film shoot took place, the Capitol Television’s only on air person would just start talking to people and they got along so well they began swapping stories. “He would find so much joy in meeting new people and talking with them on any subject,” he says.

Adds, Editor Carlos Diaz, at Capitol Television, Mr.Barber was a “real friend,” to him and hundreds of others who could count on his help at any time of the day or night.  “He helped who ever he could, even those he did not know,” he says.

“There were postings on Face Book from people all over the nation, from all walks of life, friends he made throughout his 60 years of living,” says Diaz, all praying for his recovery. “That was amazing,”

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

 

Study Shows Meal Deliveries Positively Benefit Seniors

Published in Woonsocket Call on March 22, 2015

In 2013, Dr. Kali Thomas, an assistant professor at Brown University’s Center for Gerontology and Healthcare Research, published a study that found home delivered meals can keep persons age 60 and older at home, allowing them to age in place.  The study’s data also indicated that some states would experience cost savings if they expanded meals on wheels because that could delay a Medicaid recipient’s entry into costly nursing home care.

The “More Than a Meal” pilot research study, conducted by Thomas, was released on March 2, 2015 the Alexandria, Virginia-based Meals on Wheels America, the oldest and largest national group representing over 5,000 community-based senior nutrition programs. The gerontologist found benefits far beyond basic nutrition identified by her earlier 2013 study — health and psychological benefits, too, particularly for those seniors who live alone.

Details of Groundbreaking Research Study

Thomas, contracted by Meals on Wheels America with funding provided by AARP Foundation, designed and executed the 15-week pilot study, involving over 600 older participants, in eight sites around the country, including the Ocean State.  Study participants either received personally delivered fresh meals daily, or weekly bulk deliveries of frozen meals, or just simply remained on a waiting list.

The Brown University researcher found those living alone who received meals showed statistically significant reductions in feelings of isolation, an effect that was greater if they received meals daily rather than weekly.  They also felt significantly less lonely, were less worried about staying in their homes, and said they felt safer. Those also receiving meals experienced fewer falls and hospitalizations.

Thomas said that based on her personal experience as a driver for Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island and as the family member of a meals recipient (her 98-year old grandmother), she was not at all surprised to see the positive benefits she observed anecdotally emerge as significant in a rigorous research study.

Elle Hollander, President and CEO on Wheels America, notes that her members have “faced tough choices forced by limited funding, rising costs, unprecedented demand and need, and increasingly for-profit competition.”  Hollander says, “We now have the research-backed evidence that confirms what we’ve all know for decades anecdotally through personal experience: that Meals on Wheels does in fact deliver so much more than just a meal.”

AARP State Director Kathleen Connell agrees.  “It really has been no secret that home-delivered meals are a critical for the older population, as well as the disabled. With  Kali Thomas’s earlier Brown data released in 2012 in our award-winning senior hunger documentary Hungry in the West End, the newest research reinforces what Thomas said in film: the nutritional benefits and relief from food preparation allows people to live in their homes longer and to stay healthier. And so, there are long term healthcare benefits as well as savings to the state if the investment in home-delivered meals delays someone’s transition from independence or home-based care into a Medicaid-supported nursing facility.”

A Call for More State Funding

Heather Amaral, Executive Director of Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island agrees with the benefits of visiting volunteers to the recipients, but stressing that the volunteer benefits, too, from the bond that develops. “There are many studies that show volunteering is good for your health and spirit, she says.

Amaral expresses pride that Rhode Island was selected as one of eight pilot sites in the study.  “This study proves what we’ve observed through the years—Meals on Wheels deliveries keeps people out of nursing homes and in their own homes longer,” she says.

According to Amaral, in 2014 Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island’s Home Delivered Meals program provided 316,524 meals to 2,298 individuals.  Over the years she has seen federal funding remain stagnant, while state funding has declined.  Last year’s budget allocated $200,000 to Meals on Wheels, down from $530,000 that was allocated by the General Assembly in 2006.   But, Governor Raimondo’s submitted budget does reinstate $ 330,000 more in funding, if approved by the Rhode Island General Assembly, she says.

Clearly, Governor Gina Raimondo recognizes the importance of Meals on Wheels as she begins to reshape Rhode Island’s long-term care continuum.  The Governor states, “Programs like Meals on Wheels are important investments. These programs are one of the strategies in our toolbox to keep people healthy and in their own homes. Particularly as we work to reinvent Medicaid to support better health outcomes and provide better value to taxpayers, we will continue to support programs like Meals on Wheels that help our most vulnerable seniors stay in their homes and in the community.”

The Rhode Island General Assembly must not be penny-wise and pound foolish.  Support the Governor’s budget to ratchet up funding for Meals on Wheels.  It is a sound policy move to put the breaks to spiraling Medicaid costs, by making the system more efficient and rooting out fraud and waste.   We must balance the State’s limited budget funds to keep older Rhode Islanders at home as long as possible.  But, if nursing home care is need, the Rhode Island General Assembly must allocate the necessary Medicaid funding to provide efficiently delivered quality of care.

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

 

Financial Exploitation of Elderly Must Be Addressed

Published in Pawtucket Times, February 7, 2015

 Professor Philip Marshall, Coordinator of the Historic Preservation Program at Roger Williams University in Bristol, entered Room 562 in the Dirkson Senate Building not to testify on historic preservation policy, as he often did, but to share a family tragedy.  Marshall’s testimony detailed how his grandmother, New York philanthropist Brooke Astor, was financially exploited in her later years by his father.

Brooke Astor, a philanthropist, socialite and writer, was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in 1998, for her generous giving of millions of dollars to social and cultural cause.  Marshall, one of four witnesses who came before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging this past Wednesday, would say, that his 105 year old grandmother, who died on August 13, 2007, was considered to be “New York’s First Lady,” and a “humanist aristocrat with a generous heart.”

Marshall, a resident of South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, told the panel his mother would never have wanted to be known as “one of America’s most famous cases of elder abuse.”

“Nor did she, while in the throes of dementia, choose to be victimized to be deprived, manipulated and robbed – all as a calculated ‘scheme to defraud,’ as later characterized by the Manhattan District Attorney,” said Dr. Marshall.

Astor’s financial exploitation “may be her greatest, most lasting legacy,” says  Marshall.

In his testimony, Marshall told the attending Senators that after a three-month battle for guardianship to protect his grandmother’s assets, a settlement was reached five days before the court date.  A criminal investigation launched by the Manhattan District Attorney after a potential forgery was referred to his Elder Abuse Unit, would later lead to the indictment in 2007 of his father and a lawyer, says Marshall.

Two years later, after a six-month criminal trial the jury would find Marshall’s father guilty on 13 of 14 counts against him.  All, but one, were held up on appeal.

“While my grandmother’s stolen assets were reclaimed, many elders never reclaim their money – or their lives,” observes Marshall.  “Here, for financial transactions, enhanced detection, mandatory reporting, and greater reporting of suspicious activity will help,” he says.

A Growing Epidemic

 In her opening statement, Senator Susan M. Collins, (R-Maine) who chaired, the Senate Aging Panel’s hearing, “Broken Trust: Combating Financial Exploitation Targeting Vulnerable Seniors,” warns that a growing epidemic of financial exploitation is happening – one that she estimates to cost seniors an estimated $2.9 billion in 2010, according to the Government Accounting Office.

Financial exploitation is a growing problem in Rhode Island, too, notes Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a member of the Senate Aging Panel. “Sadly, this number likely underestimates the cost to victims because older adults often do not report abuse, particularly when it involves a family member.”

Senator Whitehouse noted that this week’s Special Committee on Aging hearing examined the challenges to identifying and prosecuting fraud schemes and highlighted strategies to prevent the financial exploitation of seniors. “There are steps we can take to address this problem, and I strongly support the Older Americans Act, which recently advanced out of the HELP Committee and addresses financial exploitation and other forms of elder abuse,” he added.

“Over the past several years the Rhode Island State Police has experienced a steady increase in the number of complaints of elderly exploitation and larceny from individuals over sixty-five-years, says Colonel Steven O’Donnell, who oversees the Rhode Island State Police.  During the past six years his Agency has investigated 40 complaints amounting to a total loss to victims of over $1,000,000.00.

According to O’Donnell, in 2010, State Police investigated four complaints related to elderly exploitation and/or larceny.  Four years later, 14 complaints were investigated. “These increases may be attributed to the increased computer literacy of willing perpetrators and the increased accessibility to bank accounts online, which provides perpetrators the opportunity to conduct their criminal activity behind closed doors,” he says.

Combating Financial Exploitation

To ratchet up the protection of older Rhode Islanders against financial exploitation, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a bill last year that extends the statute of limitations for elder exploitation from three years to ten years. Kilmartin says the new law, sponsored by retired Representative Elaine A. Coderre (D-District 60, Pawtucket) and Senator Paul V. Jabour (D- District 5, Providence), gives law enforcement officials the necessary time to build a proper case for charging and subsequent prosecution, bringing it in line with other financial crimes.

“The law about financial exploitation is on the books—let’s enforce it,” says, Kathleen Heren, State Long Term Care Ombudsman, at the Warwick-based Alliance for Better Long Term Care. “What a sad world we are in where a senior or a disabled person loses everything they have scrimped and saved for to a greedy individual who, in the majority of cases, is a family member,” she adds.  Over the years she has also seen financial exploitation involving clergy, lawyers, bank tellers, brokers, and “people who you would never suspect would steal from a frail elder.”

“Many people who hear “elder abuse and neglect” [or financial exploitation] think about older people living in nursing homes or about elderly relatives who live all alone and never have visitors. But elder abuse and financial exploitation are not just problems of older people we never see. It is right in our midst, and as Attorney General, I am committed to doing all I can to protect all of the citizens of our state,” says Kilmartin.

“Many elders rely on others for assistance, but oftentimes think they can easily trust these helpers to handle their financial affairs, only to be robbed of their hard earned money,” says Kilmartin, noting that in some cases the perpetrator leaves the victim penniless.

Kilmartin notes that financial exploitation of elders is one of the most challenging crimes to investigate, charge and prosecute.  By the time law enforcement becomes aware of the abuse and investigates the matter, the statute of limitations has often expired.  “The statute of limitations needs to be more reasonable so these complicated cases can be prosecuted appropriately,” states Rhode Island’s Attorney General. “Seniors, especially those who must rely on others for care, were unnecessarily made more vulnerable by the previous short statute of limitations,” he says.

According to Kilmartin, The Office of Attorney General has a specialized unit of prosecutors and investigators that handle elder abuse cases.  Several years ago, the Elder Abuse Unit was created because of the large percentage of Rhode Islanders who were age 60 and over. The special needs of the older victims and the fact that elder abuse, neglect and exploitation crosses all racial, socio-economic, gender and geographic lines made the need for a special unit apparent.  Coupled with this fact that this age group is the State’s fastest growing demographic, crimes against older persons often times go unreported, presenting high temptation and low risk for prosecution.

In Rhode Island, there is a mandatory duty of all citizens to report a suspicion of elder abuse and/or elder financial exploitation. To report elder physical abuse and/or elder financial abuse, contact your local police, Rhode Island State Police or the Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs at (401) 462-3000 or dea.ri.gov.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com or at 401 742-4372.

 

Olon Reeder’s Fix for the State’s Ailing Economy

Published in Pawtucket Times, July 11, 2014

As the 2014 General Assembly session ended, CNBC released its annual Top States for Business rankings. It was not good news for the Ocean State. According to the report’s findings, Rhode Island finished last among the 50 states for the third time in the last four years. States were ranked in these 10 categories: cost of doing business, economy, infrastructure, workforce, quality of life, technology and innovation, business friendliness, education, cost of living and access to capital.

After the release of the scathing report, CNBC senior correspondent Scott Cohn caught up with Governor Chafee in Chicago, attending a regional Democratic Governors Association conference, who gave his thoughts to the report’s outcome. Rhode Island was on an upswing with the state putting funding into education, infrastructure and workforce development.

Reviving Up the State’s Economic Engine

Yes, as Chafee noted, a Rhode Island Senate staffer says that economic development was a priority on Smith Hill this year.

Gregg Parė, the chamber’s Director of Communication, says state lawmakers agreed with Chafee’s positive assessment of the progress made to make the state more competitive. “Many important components of the Senate’s Rhode to Work action plan to improve the skills of the existing workforce as well as the workforce of tomorrow were passed by the Assembly,” he noted.

Paré notes a centerpiece of the Road to Work plan was placing responsibility for coordination of workforce development with the Governor’s Workforce Board. Legislation was passed to accomplish this, ensuring that Rhode Islanders can access the training programs they need in a timely and effective way, he said.

“Additionally, the Jobs Development Fund was exempted from “indirect cost recovery,” which had directed a portion of the employer funded program for workforce development to the state. This provides an additional $1.2 million for worker training programs,” adds Paré.

Paré detailed some educational reforms that were addressed by lawmakers this year. The Board of Education was directed to seek lower cost but equally effective high school equivalency tests to the GED, and to reinstate a hardship waiver of fees for low-income test takers. This removes a potential barrier for obtaining an equivalency which can open doors to employment opportunities,” he says. Enacted legislation also provided more time for those receiving cash assistance to undergo training programs, and to provide professional development for high school counselors to ensure they are helping students as they enter today’s workforce. Passed legislation also helps communities transition to full-day kindergarten, a proven, effective way to better prepare students for success in school.

Paré says the newly enacted budget invests in initiatives the Senate has worked on for years which will have long-term benefits for the economy. “The Senate’s 2013 Moving the Needle report recommended reducing the corporate tax, which the 2015 budget reduces from 9 percent to 7 percent. At the same time, it shifts the method of corporate tax assessment to a single sales factor, which removes a disincentive for investing in jobs and property in Rhode Island. The budget also eliminates the cliff on the estate tax, and increases the exemption to $1.5 million.”

Summing up the legislative session, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed said: “The budget invests in Rhode Island’s future. The reduction of the corporate tax rate and increase in the estate tax threshold help to make Rhode Island more competitive. The transportation infrastructure fund invests in the state’s roads and bridges. Our many initiatives in the area of job training will help the state’s economy continue to move in the right direction. I’m very confident that those initiatives will help students coming out of schools seeking employment as well as the state’s older workforce which is seeking employment.”

We Have More Work to Do

But, while it may have been a banner your for economic development reforms, Olon Reeder, President of Reeder Associates, a Southern New England based independent public relations and multi-media communications practice, calls on Rhode Island’s lawmakers to continue their focus on economic reform in next year’s session. More needs to be done, says the small businessperson, former public official and former award-winning media personality.

With the State of Rhode Island coming up with a new comprehensive economic policy early next year, the North Providence resident recently released his suggested economic development action agenda, as how to improve the state’s long term quality of life, through investing in people, communities and small businesses.

“We are at a critical crossroads where we must overcome our negative self attitudes and start taking actions ourselves if we all want our state and our lives to become successful,” says Reeder.

In his economic platform, Reeder calls for tying lifelong education to economic growth. “Brain power is a key element driving worldwide demands and economic activity today, through the convergence of non stop knowledge, creative economy, enterprise and innovation, art-design connections, which all start with lifelong learning,” he says.

Reeder says personal empowerment creates the environment for change “Empowerment encourages, and develops the skills for, self-sufficiency, giving people the abilities and knowledge that will allow them to overcome obstacles in life or work environment and ultimately, help them develop within themselves or in the society,” he says.

Reeder observes that companies are constantly replacing full-time employees and now relying upon independent contractors, where people who once counted on a steady pay check are now being left to fend for themselves in a hyper-competitive self employed market.

Based on 2011 figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in Rhode Island, there re over 73 thousand self-employed contributing over $3 billion annually to the state’s economy. Most self-employed are hired out of necessity, are done so locally and through word of mouth. Because freelancers depend so much on self promotion to get their jobs, they must focus on the local markets, along with showcasing their diverse personal talents, marketing their skills to business owners in their community, along trying to compete with others for opportunities.

Reeder recognizes the importance of valuing our places, spaces and communities. “More than ever, people must be connected to where we live, work, play, stay and travel. People expect places and spaces they interact with daily to be vibrant, active, socially appealing, culturally stimulating and help them in improving their quality of life, especially with their physical and mental health,” he says.

Reeder notes active living communities provide opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to engage in routine daily physical activity, he says, like pedestrian and bicycle friendly design, access to intermodal transportation, mixed use development, ample recreation, walkable neighborhoods, access to fresh and healthy foods and commerce centers.

“Our economic revitalization is relevant to healthy and sustainable communities because active living communities encourage individuals to be more physically active, improving health by lowering citizens’ risk for health conditions, adds Reeder. “Active living communities create enhance quality of life, attract business and knowledge workers, and contribute to ongoing economic development,” he says.

Reeder noted that technology is a must, as people are now “required” to have 24/7 365 access to the Internet and must now communicate through social media to live, work, and transact personal activity, he calls for providing everyone with free online access “as a necessity of our 21st century lifestyles.”

Finally, Reeder thinks “Demand Driven Experiences” are necessary for not only reinventing our state’s manufacturing, but in changing our self attitudes about how Rhode Islanders see themselves, ultimately affecting expectations others may have about the perception of Rhode Island as the worst place for business.

“Because people no longer buy things for their personal benefit, they want enhancements to fulfill missing elements of their lives,” adds Reeder, noting that experiences are crucial for businesses and locations as a branding and marketing tool, especially with efforts in Rhode Island attracting people to live and travel here for our entertainment, food and lifestyles.”

“Using our experiences to effectively promote market and give an iconic brand, we must also stay true to the “real Rhode Island,” to our proud independent and working class heritage, the ethnic and cultural diversity in our state, and preserving our unique natural resources,” he says.

State lawmakers must be commended for their successful efforts to slash regulation and enact laws to make Rhode Island a more business-friendly place to operate. At press time, Reeder, a Rhode Island native, whose family has been very prominent in Southern New England for over four generations in small business, real estate, building contracting and public service, continues his efforts to get his voice heard by General Assembly leadership, state policy makers, business groups, even gubernatorial candidates.

Hopefully, they will choose to closely listen to Reeder and others who may well hold the keys to fixing Rhode Island’s sluggish economy.

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

 

Fund the Historic Tax Credit Program

Published in Pawtucket Times, June 13, 2014

With November’s election cycle looming, state lawmakers are moving quickly to finish the people’s business. Once the session ends they will begin their political campaigns to garner votes to retain their seats. .Yesterday evening the House began its floor debate on the House Finance Committee’s $8.7 billion 2015 budget proposal. At press time, this columnist has no knowledge of the outcome. But, when the dust settles late Thursday evening, if a budget amendment to fund the HTC program is defeated or even if supporters are successful in getting one passed, the Senate chamber becomes the next battle ground to fund the tax credit program.

Last week, the House Finance Committee declined to recommend funding for this program, despite Governor Chafee’s inclusion of $52 million for the Historic Tax Credit (HTC) program in his FY 2015 Budget proposal. As a result, Grow Smart Executive Director Scott Wolf and his fellow Historic Tax Credit advocates are running a full court press to push House and Senate leadership to include funding for the popular economic-development and neighborhood-revitalization program in the 2015 Budget.

In the lobbying blitz, Wolf is telling lawmakers and everyone who will listen that the HTC program has successfully transform older cities and towns in the Ocean State, by spurring reinvestment, revitalization, and job generation. These programs provide an incentive in the form of a tax credit, to property owners to renovate old historic buildings. These state credits can be and often are paired with the federal historic preservation tax credit to renovate commercial properties.

Historic Tax Credit – Great Economic Development Tool

It’s a success in the Ocean State, too, notes Wolfe. Rhode Island’s HTC program has stimulated more than $1.6 billion of investment in more than 250 projects within less than 7 years. For every dollar the state invests, there is a more than five dollar return in economic activity based on a study Wolf’s organization, Grow Smart Rhode Island, commissioned several years ago.

Wolf adds, “The evidence that the historic tax credit makes a real positive difference can be seen on the ground in communities throughout the state – in bustling commercial properties like Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket and along Westminster Street in Providence, in new apartments for urban workers and new affordable housing units. It can be seen in increased property tax revenues from rehabbed buildings. It can be seen in neighborhoods that have been rescued from the blight of vacant, derelict buildings.”

According to a media release issued jointly by Grow Smart Rhode Island and Preserve Rhode Island, $52 million in bond authorization remains in reserve from the total bond authorization approved in 2008 by the General Assembly for the original HTC program, which was discontinued in 2008 for any new projects but maintained for many other projects already under way at that time.

The General Assembly in 2013 reinstated the program, using $34.5 million in unclaimed tax credits from the prior program and, Wolf says, “The new program has ignited 26 new projects that will pump nearly $180 million into the Rhode Island economy, but 27 additional projects are waitlisted and in jeopardy if additional funding is not provided to sustain the program. By not including an extension of historic tax credit funding in the upcoming budget, the state risks forgoing up to $160 million in construction activity alone. Significant sales and employment taxes also will be lost.”

Preserve Rhode Island Executive Director Valerie Talmage says, “Our Historic Tax Credit program has an outstanding track record. From 2002 to 2008, it generated $1.3 billion in new private investment in Rhode Island’s real-estate economy, which resulted in 22,000 construction jobs, 6,000 permanent jobs, and total wages of more than $800 million. Our state cannot afford to shut this program down.”

Wolf added that suspending the HTC program again would be harmful because “We’d be ceding the competitive advantage provided by our world-renowned collection of distinctive historic buildings and neighborhoods to nearby states such as Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, and New York, each of which has ongoing and robust state historic tax credit programs.”

Finally, Wolf emphasized that another HTC program suspension would “Send a bad signal to investors and entrepreneurs about Rhode Island’s business climate and economic development credibility.”

Wolf and Talmage, together with their organization members, partners, and fellow advocates are calling on the General Assembly to “Continue the Historic Tax Credit program because it is a sound and critical investment in Rhode Island’s cities and towns and a proven job-generator and revenue producer, which our state sorely needs.”

In their lobbying Wolf, Talmage and their network of approximately 90 organizations who support the HTC program are quick to identify its positive impact. State officials will see higher state revenues through construction and other jobs generated by the HTC projects. In addition, job creation and increased employment taxes are derived years in advance of any outlay of state funding because Historic Tax Credits are not released for any enrolled project until the project is completed. Sales-tax revenues result from construction materials and other goods purchased for HTC projects also benefit the state in advance of any outlay.

Wolf and others also note that The Budget Office forecasts no fiscal impact to the state budget from the proposed $52 Million in debt service until FY ’19 because bonds won’t need to be issued until the projects have been completed and the tax credits have been claimed.

In an Op Ed in the Providence Journal, Pawtucket’s Mayor Donald R. Grebien and Central Fall’s Mayor James Diossa, support Wolf’s assessment of its impact in the state’s cities and towns. The Mayors say that their fiscally stressed communities benefit from Historic Tax Credits through increased property assessments.

Developing an Old Mill in Pawtucket

Antique Dealer and entrepreneur Scott Davis knows a good program when he sees one. The Eastside resident is planning to develop his old Fuller manufacturing mill on Exchange Street into a combination of commercial and residential space, but any state backpedaling of funding the HTC program will make it difficult to get his project off the ground.

An inquiry by Davis to Chairman Raymond Gallison of the House Committee on Finance, about the suspending of funding for HTC program resulted in an email explaining the decision. The chairman noted that a primary reason for rejecting Governor Chafee’s proposed additional $52 million HTC funding was based on the assertion that there were already sufficient funds in place in the existing program to meet current demand.

Davis disagrees. “My project, which is a rare and historically significant wooden mill built in a prominent Pawtucket city location alongside the Blackstone River is Number 65 in the queue,” he says, noting that he believes that none of the current funds in place will ever be allocated to his project.

“Financial assistance is essentially the only way that my mill project will ever be able to developed, says Davis, who notes that the cost to restore the historic structure versus the prevailing rental rate for space in Pawtucket simply doesn’t work out.

Chairman Gallison also noted that issues with tax credit brokers are a stumbling block for the program,” says Davis. “It is unimaginable that the resulting (legislative) decision] would be akin to ‘throwing out the baby with the bathwater”. If there is a problem with the brokers, Davis calls on lawmakers to fix it, but threatening so many important buildings, jobs, and resulting tax revenues in the process just doesn’t make sense to him.

Davis says that previous HTC funds have made 8 major Pawtucket projects possible. According to the Pawtucket Foundation, the tax incentives were the catalyst for $150 million in local investments that increased property values by 728 % and increased Pawtucket tax revenues by over $1 million annually.

“Keeping these historic buildings intact while awaiting funding assistance is extremely expensive and no doubt we will lose many of them if we can’t save them promptly,” predicts Davis. “ I can tell you from personal experience that just keeping my small 26,000 sq. ft. mill ‘on hold’ costs me several thousand dollars per month just for taxes, insurance, utilities, fire safety, security and basic upkeep,” he says.

HTC is No 38 Studios

Some speculate that recent headlines about 38 Studios and tax credits in general may have spooked House and Senate Leadership to back away from funding the HTC program. Ultimately, the ball is in the court of Senate leadership who must respond to the budget proposal submitted by the House. How can lawmakers fear another 38 Studio debacle when the Historic Tax Credits are only issued upon completion of the project? In other words, after construction workers have laid the last brick – only after new residential and office space is actually available.

But, Gregg Paré, the Rhode Island’s Director of Communication, says don’t expect any action in the Senate to fund the state’s HTC program this year if the House fails to act. “The Senate is in agreement on the budget with the House,” he says, noting that Senate leadership usually iron out any differences before the budget reaches the House floor.

Paré says that the Senate has only once modified the House budget proposal in decades. But, now it’s time for this legislative action to happen again this year especially if the House budget does not include funding for the HTC program.

To Wolf, Talmage, and Davis, and to municipal leaders in a number of Rhode Island’s cities and towns, it is obvious that the program works and serves as an important tool for community revitalization and economic development.

For this columnist, funding the HTC program is just the right thing to do, for the economy and most importantly, for the tax payer.
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Herb Weiss is a writer covering health care, aging, medical issues and the economy. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Raising Minimum Wage Reveals Partisan Divide

Published in Pawtucket Times, January 31, 2014

On January 28, 2014, President Barack Obama gave his 2014 State of the Union (SOTU) a whopping  6,778 word speech, calling on both Chambers of Congress to either work with him to move the country forward or forcing him to use his presidential powers to enact  policy.

“America does not stand still, — and neither will I,” the President told a jam packed Chamber.  If Congressional gridlock continues, the President warned, “So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”   This would be accomplished by using executive orders, presidential memorandums to enact policies if lawmakers choose not to act on.

Congress to Debate Merits of Minimum Wage

            In a little over an hour, Obama rattled off dozens of policy initiatives for Congress to consider this session, including immigration, emergency unemployment, manufacturing, trade, environment, education, closing Guantanamo Bay, closing tax loop holes, job training, family policies, and retirement savings.  But the President also called for an increase in the nation’s minimum wage to provide America’s worker’s a living wage.  With Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates gearing up their campaigns to take the Ocean State’s top General Officer seat, look for ratcheting up the state’s minimum wage to hotly debated throughout the nine month political campaign.

             While Obama’s push to raise the minimum wage was derailed last year by the GOP House and its Tea Party Faction, the Democratic president noted that five states have already passed laws to raise theirs (including Rhode Island).

             With corporate profits and stock prices climbing, average wages “have barely budged,” observed the President.  “Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled.  The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by – let alone get ahead.  And too many still aren’t working at all,” he said.

             The President used his speech as a very visible bully pulpit to call on States to not wait for Congressional action to raise the nation’s minimum wage, to give people a living wage.

              Until Congress acts, it is up to businesses to voluntary give their employees a living wage or State legislators to mandate an increase.  Obama urged the nation’s business leaders to follow the lead of John Soranno, the owner of Minneapolis-based Punch Pizza, who has given his employees a raise to $10 an hour.  Large national corporations, should join profitable companies like Costco, the President urged, that “see higher wages as a smart way to boost productivity and reduce employee turnover,” he said,

             Through an executive order the President announced in his SOTU address last Tuesday evening that he would ratchet up the minimum wage of federal contractors to $10.10 per hour, “because if you cook for our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty.”  

             “Today, the federal minimum wage is worth about twenty percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here,” the President quipped, noting that legislation to increase the nation’s minimum wage to $10.10 has been introduced by Senator Tom Harkin,  a Iowa Democrat who is retiring after serving almost 40 years in Congress, and Democratic Congressman George Miller, from California, also leaving office after 20 terms.

 Two Sides of the Coin          

            Although creating jobs will be one of the top campaign issues that must be addressed by the State’s gubernatorial candidates (Clay Pell was not available for comment by press time), look for the minimum wage issue to pop up for political discussion with the Democratic and Republican views being like two sides of a coin.

            When he announced his bid for governor, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras he told his supporters that increasing the minimum wage is a step in building an economy that supports higher paying jobs, puts people back to work and gives Rhode Island families the opportunity for a better life. There was a time when his mother worked at the minimum wage to support three children so he knows firsthand how much raising it can help a family, he stated. He is also pushing for statewide universal pre-kindergarten.

            Tarveras quoted from a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute that indicated that increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would increase the wages of 65,000 Rhode Island workers and indirectly benefit an additional 26,000 more, totaling nearly 20 percent of the work force.  He cited another study that found that moving to a higher wage would boost the national economy by as much as $22.1 billion, creating as many as 85,000 new jobs.”

            “I’m a Democrat who believes in raising the minimum wage and indexing it with regular cost of living adjustments,” noted Treasurer Gina Raimondo, in her announcement to run for Governor at Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket.

            According to Eric Hyer’s, Gina Raimondo’s Campaign Manager, “Gina strongly believes that we need to increase the minimum wage and she was pleased to see President Obama call for increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour during the State of the Union this week.  No one who works full time should live in poverty.  As the President said, it is time to give America a raise.”

             “But let’s not wait for a dysfunctional Congress to act; we can take action right here in Rhode Island,” states Hyer.

            “Gina is calling for us to take action on this now and raise the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2015 and then index it to the cost of living so that politicians can’t play games with people’s lives. Two-thirds of minimum wage earners are women so a raise would immediately help women across Rhode Island and their families, adds Hyer, noting that people are really struggling and there is an urgency to help out working families.

             But, the Rhode Island’s GOP candidates, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Businessman Ken Block, are not buying the Democratic candidate’s solution that minimum wage is the way to go.

             “Democrats continue to recycle bad ideas. It’s time we consider some new ones so people have the opportunity to succeed and thrive, and not rely on government coercion to dictate wages. Increasing the minimum wage will result in higher unemployment, reduced job opportunities, reduced customer spending, and will reduce net job growth because of the effect on expanding companies,” says Mayor Fung

             Mayor Fung states “At a time when we are tied for the highest unemployment in the country, we cannot put more hurdles in front of the companies we have here in Rhode Island; we need to remove them. Further, Obama Care is already hurting workers because employers are transitioning employees to part time work because they cannot afford the healthcare premiums. An increase in the minimum wage would only increase the burden on small business owners who are already working on thin margins.”

             “The real issue in Rhode Island is unemployment and getting our workforce prepared with the necessary skill set for the ever changing workforce. It is quite evident that raising the minimum wage would not solve these problems,” adds Fung.

            Gubernatorial candidate Ken Block agrees with Fung, noting in a recent statement, “”As I said the other day when it was announced that Rhode Island has the worst unemployment in the country, raising the minimum wage is a job killer.”

            Block adds, “President Obama seems to believe that government can just order the economy to improve. Republicans and Independents know that government has a critically important, but limited role in the growth of jobs. Government’s role is to regulate fairly and only where necessary, and to control its spending so people and businesses are not taxed to death. President Obama continues on the wrong track to fix lagging employment, just as the Democratic leaders of our General Assembly continue on the wrong track to fix Rhode Island.”

            But Edward M. Mazze, Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration, at the University of Rhode Island, has entered the policy debate, too.

            On the one hand, “Raising the minimum wage does not create jobs and can reduce the number of hours worked for existing workers and the number of jobs for part-time workers. There could also be an impact on the number of internships offered to high school and college students.  And, just as important, raising the minimum wage will also raise the price of products and services, observes Mazze.

             “The minimum wage is not the entry point to middle class, it is the jobs that pay over $20 an hour and have a “career” future, says Mazze, noting that Rhode Island recently increased the minimum wage.

             But, Mazze believes that the state’s minimum wage should be adjusted every number of years to keep up with inflation and other economic events.  “The best way to create living wages in Rhode Island is to prepare workers for jobs for the future, have an economic development strategy that creates jobs and attracts businesses, and have affordable housing and a fair sales, property and personal income tax program,” he notes.

             With the Rhode Island General Assembly geared up to pass legislation to make the Ocean State an easier place to do business, lawmakers should not forget their constituents who cannot pay their mortgage, utility bills, or even put food on their tables.  Until the State’s tax and regulatory system primes the economic pump to create more jobs, giving a little bit more money, say $10.10 per hour, will go a long way for tens of thousands of poor or working poor Rhode Islanders who struggle to survive.

            How can Rhode Islander’s currently making a weekly paycheck of $320 (minus taxes), receiving a minimum wage, support their families?  This is not the American Dream they were brought up to believe in.

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