By Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown)
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit hardest the areas and populations that were already struggling, since they had the fewest resources for adaptation and safety. We’ve seen the outsized effects on the poor and on minorities. Another group that it has been disproportionately hurt is adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD).
Here in Rhode Island, adults with I/DD have not been provided adequate resources for many years. In recent days, a federal judge issued an order requiring the state to quickly craft a plan to address 16 barriers that are preventing decent services, after years of failure to meet the terms of a previous consent decree to improve. The pandemic has made a bad situation far worse, shutting down most day programs and employment opportunities, leaving this very vulnerable population without critical supports. Residents and underpaid staff at group homes have been at risk for illness, and those living at home face isolation and a reduction or loss of in-home support services. Agencies that serve them, which have mostly operated on the financial brink for years, are in danger of going under permanently.
The challenges of the pandemic and recovery from it threaten the already sub-par progress the state has made toward fixing this system. A Senate task force led by my colleague and fellow Aquidneck Islander, Sen. Louis DiPalma, has been shedding light on the obstacles, which include a fee-for-service structure that discourages innovation and integration.
Rhode Island must do better for its residents with I/DD. Every individual served is a deserving person whose needs include meaningful activities that support their personal goals and a valued role in their communities.
I urge my colleagues in the House to get on board with the Senate, where Sen. DiPalma has long worked to call attention to the need for better funding and a more workable system of supports for adults with I/DD. We need to join him in fully recognizing and supporting the importance of the work that must be done to provide enriching and effective services to Rhode Islanders with I/DD. We may be deeply ashamed of our state’s history – from the not so distant past – of “dumping” people with I/DD at the notorious Ladd School, but have we really come very far if we are not providing them with the means they need to have a fulfilling life in the community?
Chief Judge John J. McConnell Jr. of the U.S. District Court has issued an order requiring drastic changes. We must break out of the old way of funding services based on congregate care. Undoubtedly, it will initially take additional support to make the changes in the short term. But it may save money in the long term, enabling more people to leave congregate care settings and lead meaningful, productive lives within their community.
I look forward to ensuring that this need is given the attention it deserves in the House.
Rep. Terri Cortvriend is a Democrat who represents District 72 in Portsmouth and Middletown.
By Sen. Dawn Euer and Rep. Jason Knight
Rhode Island is on the precipice of a cataclysmic housing disaster stemming from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. But swift, decisive action would avert this crisis.
On Monday, the courts will open and landlords may begin filing for evictions, although in some situations renters may have protections until July. With over 230,000 new unemployment claims since March 9, and a record 17-percent unemployment rate, vast numbers of Rhode Islanders are likely on the verge of losing their housing. When Virginia reopened its courts two weeks ago, it had over 800 eviction proceedings already scheduled. Rhode Island, with the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the nation, is likely to experience a similar avalanche.
Renters are more likely than homeowners to live paycheck to paycheck, at risk of financial ruin if their income stops. While the moratorium has protected them up to now, if they’ve been unable to pay rent for several months, it’s unlikely they can pay those months of back rent to avoid eviction.
Rhode Island can use a portion of its $1.25 billion federal COVID-19 response funding for emergency rent assistance. Quickly establishing an Eviction Diversion Court – really, just a special District Court calendar to handle evictions – would create a means to provide tenants legal counsel, require mediation and provide the financial assistance necessary to prevent eviction.
We appreciate the courts’ and the administration’s efforts in this arena so far, and urge them to act swiftly to save tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of Rhode Islanders from homelessness.
Sen. Dawn Euer (D-13) represents Newport and Jamestown, and Rep. Jason Knight (D-67) represents Barrington and Warren
By Rep. June S. Speakman, Rep. Susan R. Donovan, Rep. Liana Cassar, Rep. Terri Cortvriend and Rep. Lauren Carson
In virtually all the predictions of what will be hot in the 2020 General Assembly session, there has been little mention of environmental policy. It is imperative that we make progress in 2020 on several fronts including plastics pollution, sea level rise, renewable energy, sustaining a clean water supply and waste management.
The foundation of Rhode Island’s economy —tourism, small business, boating, fisheries — depends on its policymakers looking beyond the current budget cycle and providing a reliable funding stream for these efforts. We also have the opportunity to recognize the innovation, growth and job creation that will come to our state when we embrace these priorities.
Our coastlines are being threatened by sea level rise. The Coastal Resources Management Council provides Rhode Island with maps predicting a changed shoreline in every coastal community. We must improve the capacity of local communities to respond to these changes by offering education, technical assistance and funding to support resilience and adaption. There is no need to spend any more time questioning the probability of sea level rise. It’s happening.
Off the coast of Rhode Island is a sustainable resource that is becoming a driver of economic growth: wind power. Policymakers must seize the opportunity to ensure that this green industry has the support it needs to grow in a way that respects the needs of those who use the waters for fishing and boating. Governor Raimondo’s mention of this in her State of the State address is a good sign, as is her commitment to 100% renewable electricity by 2030.
Rhode Island’s water supply needs long-term planning and policymakers’ attention. From the reservoirs close to the beach in Newport County, to the cross-bay pipeline that serves the East Bay, to the PFAS-polluted wells in Burrillville, our drinking water faces continued risk. The General Assembly must join with the governor to study these risks and provide stable, long-term funding to address them.
As we all know, Rhode Island faces a grave waste-management problem. The Central Landfill is nearing capacity; the town of Johnston cannot be expected to bear the burden of significant expansion. There is an easy mid-term solution here: produce less waste. At relatively low cost, the state can lead the nation in cutting our waste significantly by limiting the distribution of single-use plastic bags, straws and Styrofoam. We can also establish an aggressive statewide composting program to divert food waste and yard waste from the landfill to our renewed small-farming sector and our own home gardens.
All these issues require our policymakers’ immediate attention, stable funding and focused planning. If we are to protect our precious resources and secure a sustainable, healthy future for our beautiful state, the time to act is now.
Rep. June S. Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol), Rep. Susan R. Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth), Rep. Liana Cassar (D-Dist. 66, Barrington, East Providence), Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown) and Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport) all represent coastal communities and share deep concern for the environment.
Ocean State must face reality of rising shores
By Rep. Lauren H. Carson and Rep. Terri Cortvriend
You may have heard about the Charlestown man who is suing the town of South Kingstown and one of its police officers over his arrest in June on a trespassing charge while he was collecting seaweed along a beach.
The charge was dismissed, but the act itself was, in part, intended to call attention to unresolved questions about shoreline access here in Rhode Island, a right enshrined in our state constitution. A 1982 Supreme Court ruling attempted to clarify the issue by saying the public’s right ends at the mean high-tide line, but since that line is a calculation of averages over an 18.6 year cycle, there’s no way for a beachgoer to identify it.
Further complicating matters is that the line will continually move inland as sea level rises, most of the time gradually, but at times heaving large chunks off dunes and other coastal features. With sea rise, property owners and members of the public whose shoreline access is constitutionally guaranteed will continue losing ground.
After Hurricane Sandy destroyed properties along the coasts of New York and New Jersey, there was an uptick in discussion about whether some particularly at-risk coastal properties should even be rebuilt. Many were, in fact, abandoned there, because increasingly violent weather events and rising seas have rendered them too much of a risk for repeated loss.
As much as we value the right of landowners, there may well be properties in our state, too, that are similarly unjustifiable risks for flooding, destruction and even loss of life.
As the Ocean State, we should be much more proactive when it comes to resiliency along our shores. We should be exploring the actual risk to each coastal community and each property using up-to-date technology that models expected risks. We must continue to train our municipal planning and zoning boards on the risks of sea rise so they have the tools they need to make sound decisions that do not jeopardize property investments and keep the shoreline open to the pubic under their constitutional rights.
There’s little doubt that in general, homeowners are less than ideally prepared for flood risks, particularly the increasing risks associated with rising seas in the coming decades. Only about 15,000 Rhode Island properties in the flood zones carry flood insurance, and only those with mortgages are actually required to have it. Those with enough cash to purchase a beach home without a mortgage aren’t. While they may have the means to risk property destruction in the event of a major disaster, are they putting public assets and people’s lives at risk?
The risk isn’t limited to private property. Doubtlessly, many state and municipal assets are also located in areas that are already prone to flooding, or whose risk is increasing. Stewards of public resources have a responsibility to understand and defend those assets from potential damage, and must face the reality that the most prudent step might be to move them elsewhere.
Our state needs a more robust action plan for protecting public and private properties from the ever-increasing risk of coastal flooding, and that plan must include an accounting of where the high-tide line is, and how it is projected to move.
The creation of this plan should include an audit of properties to determine what the real risks are, and it should also bring in real estate professionals, insurers and lenders, because they help determine the price of ownership of such properties, and should be sure that those prices accurately reflect the real cost of ownership, including potential destruction.
The Ocean State must face the fact that the more of our state is, indeed, becoming part of the ocean with each passing year. Leaders and property owners must take much more concrete steps to predict the encroachment and protect our assets from it.
Rep. Lauren H. Carson is a Democrat who represents District 75 in Newport. Rep. Terri Cortvriend is a Democrat who represents District 72 in Portsmouth and Middletown.
There will be an Emergency Preparedness Fair on Saturday, Nov 9 from 9am-noon at the Gaudet Middle School in Middletown with displays and representatives from local and state agencies to help answer questions and help plan for the unexpected. There will be emergency vehicles on hand for the kids, and representatives from all three island communities (including local emergency management organizations that are always seeking volunteers!)
Click image to embiggen.