ProJo: Saunderstown post office to be named for Army captain who died in Iraq

ProJo: Saunderstown post office to be named for Army captain who died in Iraq

By Journal Staff

President Donald Trump has signed into law a bill to rename a post office in Saunderstown after U.S. Army Capt. Matthew J. August, who was killed in Iraq in 2004.

The announcement was made by Sen. Jack Reed, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill. Rep. Jim Langevin sponsored the House version; the legislation was co-sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. David Cicilline.

August was 28 when his he was killed on Jan. 27, 2004. He was leading the 1st Engineer Battalion, 1st Infantry Division attached to the 82nd Airborne on a mission outside Baghdad when his convoy was ambushed and hit by improvised explosive devices and small-arms fire from insurgents.

August grew up in North Kingstown. graduated from Bishop Hendricken High School in 1993, and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1997.

During his career, he earned the Army Commendation Medal; Army Achievement Medal – with two oak leaves; the National Defense Service Medal; and the Army Service and Overseas Service ribbons. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star; Purple Heart; Meritorious Service Medal; Iraqi Campaign and Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary medals; and Combat Action Badge.

A formal dedication ceremony for the Captain Matthew J. August Post Office, at 20 Ferry Rd., will be held at a date to be announced.

Westerly Sun: Connecticut, Rhode Island reaction to judge’s ruling on ACA

Westerly Sun: Connecticut, Rhode Island reaction to judge’s ruling on ACA

By the AP & Sun Staff

The head of Connecticut’s health insurance exchange tried to assure residents Saturday that a federal judge’s ruling will not affect their ability to sign up for and use 2019 plans offered through Access Health CT.

Chief Executive Officer James Michel’s comments came less than 24 hours after a North Texas judge ruled that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.

“Access Health CT is the official marketplace under the Affordable Care Act in Connecticut and we are committed to upholding the ACA and the support it provides to residents of our state,” he said in a written statement. “We will not let this news get in the way” of the organization’s efforts to reduce the number of uninsured in the state.

While the decision by the Republican-appointed judge in Texas was sweeping, it has little immediate practical impact because the Affordable Care Act remains in place while the legal battle continues, possibly to the Supreme Court.

Access Health CT also announced Saturday that it is extending its open enrollment period for another month.

The deadline to sign up for health insurance coverage beginning Jan. 1 was Saturday at midnight. However, the exchange announced Saturday afternoon that customers will now have until Jan. 15 to sign up for coverage that starts on Feb. 1. The extension was planned prior to the Texas court ruling.

Rhode Island officials reminded residents that their exchange, HealthSource RI, also remains open for business. Open enrollment is underway until Dec. 31, and individuals and families have until Dec. 23 to enroll for uninterrupted coverage starting Jan. 1, 2019.

In his decision, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, a 2007 appointee of President George W. Bush, asserted that the entire 2010 Affordable Care Act is “invalid” as a result of last year’s tax cut bill, which knocked the constitutional foundation from under the law by eliminating a penalty for not having coverage.

Before his appointment, O’Connor was a staff member of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and as a judge he has issued similar decisions seeking to undermine Obama-era policies. In 2016, he blocked a directive that required public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity. He also held that regulations issued pursuant to the ACA could have forced doctors to aid in abortion or gender transition procedures that did not conform with their religious beliefs or medical judgments.

In a tweet, President Donald Trump praised the judge’s decision. He told reporters Saturday that “on the assumption that the Supreme Court upholds, we will get great, great health care for our people.”

Democratic officials and lawmakers in Rhode Island and Connecticut criticized the ruling, with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. calling it a political stunt. Gov. Gina Raimondo said Saturday that “Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Rhode Island has one of the lowest uninsured rates in the country, and HealthSource RI offers among the lowest premiums in the country. I will continue to stand up for access to affordable, high-quality healthcare for all Rhode Islanders and will take all steps necessary to protect the ACA.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., said: “While Republicans tried to repeal the ACA over 60 times during the eight years they spent in control of Congress, the incoming Democratic majority will fight to protect the law and ensure that quality, affordable health care remains accessible for all.”

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., accused “anti-health care zealots in the Republican Party” of “intentionally ripping health care away from the working poor” and increasing costs for seniors and people with pre-existing medical conditions.
GoLocalProv: RIDOT to Expand Pell Bridge Project Following $20 Million Grant

GoLocalProv: RIDOT to Expand Pell Bridge Project Following $20 Million Grant

SOURCE: GoLocalProv News Team

The RIDOT has announced that they are expanding the Pell Bridge ramp project following a $20 million grant secured by Senator Jack Reed.

“We thank Senator Reed and the entire Rhode Island Congressional delegation [including Congressman Jim Langevin], U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and U.S. DOT for their efforts in providing additional funds for this project. It will allow us to do more work, and do it faster, and provide an improved roadway network for both Newport’s North End gateway and Pell Bridge gateway,” said RIDOT Director Peter Alviti Jr.

Governor Gina Raimondo added, “This federal grant will make a big impact on our efforts to increase the safety and efficiency of the Pell Bridge while opening up land for development. By reconfiguring the Pell ramps, we are creating space for new investment in science, technology, and innovation.”

Pell Bridge Project

The Pell Bridge Ramps Project will reconfigure the Pell Bridge ramps to provide quicker access to Newport town center and to relieve traffic backups on the bridge.

It also proposes a complete removal of the viaduct infrastructure over Admiral Kalbfus Road which will free up significant acreage of land for economic development in Newport.

With the new funds, the RIDOT is able to include a reconstruction of segments of J.T. Connell Highway in Newport and Coddington Highway in Newport and Middletown, which together serve as one of the main thoroughfares through Newport’s North End, and gateway to downtown Newport and the Naval Station Newport.

The total project area is approximately 50 acres, much of which is located in the Newport Resilience Innovation District.

The entire project is estimated to cost $66.1 million.

MeriTalk: New Bipartisan Bill to Authorize $10 Million for Cyber Education

MeriTalk: New Bipartisan Bill to Authorize $10 Million for Cyber Education

SOURCE: MeriTalk

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Tuesday, Representatives Jim Langevin, D-R.I., and Glenn Thompson, R-Penn., introduced the Cybersecurity Education Integration Act, a bill that would establish a grant program to develop career and technical education (CTE) classes that include cybersecurity fundamentals.

“Whether in our hospitals or our power grid, vital systems are increasingly being connected to the Internet,” said Langevin. “We need to offer better training for the workers who deal with these systems on a day-to-day basis, particularly in safety critical industries where lives can be put in jeopardy by malicious cyber actors.”

The bill includes $10 million to establish a competitive grant program run by the Department of Education to provide grants up to $500,000 to partnerships of educational institutions and employers that commit to include cybersecurity in career and technical education. Applicants would need to describe which sector of critical infrastructure their program plans to train for, the workforce needs of that sector, the work-based learning opportunities available to program participants, and how the program would lead to a recognized postsecondary credential, among other criteria.

“We must ensure we’re protecting sensitive data and critical infrastructure from bad actors, and this bill is one step in the right direction,” said Thompson. “By enabling our next generation of learners to have the most sophisticated and comprehensive educational programs out there, we will be better prepared to protect our most critical systems and assets.”

The bill also requires the Department of Education to consult with the Department of Homeland Security and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to find the most pressing workforce needs in critical infrastructure.

The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce for further consideration.

Federal News Network: Top House Armed Services Democrat wants oversight of new DoD cyber strategy

Federal News Network: Top House Armed Services Democrat wants oversight of new DoD cyber strategy

By Scott Maucione

With the Democrats taking control of the House starting in January, the likely-incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee is whittling down his priorities for the panel in the next legislative session. The top areas he wants to cover have a common thread that should come as no surprise: cyber.

Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) was just reelected to his tenth term in Congress, and is poised to take the gavel from current chairman, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.).

In an interview with Federal News Network, Langevin said cybersecurity, election security and keeping a watchful eye over the Trump administration’s new defense cyber policy are some of the most important topics the subcommittee will face in the coming year.

“We want to make sure they are held accountable and we are properly implementing these new strategies,” Langevin said.

DoD’s new cyber strategy, which was released in September, is much more “forward leaning” than strategies of the past, Langevin said. The strategy focuses on great power competition and also allows DoD to more readily conduct cyber operations in defense of the nation outside of its own networks.

What’s concerning is “the unintended consequences,” Langevin said. “If we are going to be more proactive in cyberspace, I think that can be a good thing, but working with allies and having international coordination is essential.”

To that point, Langevin criticized the administration’s decision to eliminate the cybersecurity coordinator at the State Department and the cybersecurity coordinator role on the National Security Council.

The Trump administration said it got rid of the roles in the NSC and State Department as part of an effort to cut back bureaucracy and streamline decision making.

“Big mistake,” Langevin said. “Cybersecurity is not just a U.S. problem or challenge; it’s an international problem and challenge that we need to work on together. Having an international focus and having someone at the State Department is going to help coordinate those cyber strategies and responses.”

While Langevin thinks international cooperation is imperative to the nation’s cybersecurity, he also thinks the government and private sector need to ramp up their communication about cyber threats.

“We are going to continue to track the implementation of the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015,” Langevin said. “It has not lived up to its potential or what I certainly hoped we would accomplish in terms of sharing robust threat information, threat signatures and network speed. That has not happened at all to the level it needs to happen.”

Currently, only six companies are sharing cyber threat information with the government and about 200 are taking the information the government is offering, Langevin said.

“That just seems incomprehensible to that the numbers would be low, but that’s the reality and we have to do better,” Langevin said. He added that it is unclear why the companies are not signing up for the program.

“We need to get our arms around why and how we can incentivize more robust information sharing,” Langevin said. “The only way we are going to really effectively protect ourselves and the government is to properly inoculate ourselves when we know of a threat signature that could pose harm.”

Langevin is also planning on keeping a close eye on the delegation of authorities given to U.S. Cyber Command as it grows in its role as a full combatant command.

The congressman also stressed the need for a law that governs how quickly data breaches need to be reported. Currently each state has its own law about how quickly breaches need to be reported, Langevin wants a federal standard of 30 days.

Numbers around the 2020 Defense budget are already beginning to fly. Langevin said he agreed with Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), who will likely chair the House Armed Services Committee, that the United States needs to specialize in certain areas and leave some slack for allies to pick up. That could have an effect on how big the Defense budget ends up.

Smith said Democrats will look at how they can, within a reasonable budget, manage risk while also prioritizing other factors that make a country “safe, secure and prosperous” like paying down debt and fixing infrastructure.

“The biggest problem I feel that we’ve had is, because we get this ‘Oh my God we have to cover everything [mindset],’ we wind up covering nothing well and that leaves the men and women who serve us in a position where they are not properly trained, properly equipped to meet all the missions we want them to meet,” he said. “It’s a complete impossibility to meet all the missions that we dream up.”

Langevin stated the sequestration caps for both defense and nondefense need to be lifted.

Cranston Herald: Food insecurity up 45% from 2008

Cranston Herald: Food insecurity up 45% from 2008

By Ethan Hartley

CRANSTON, R.I. – During a time of the year characterized by excessive consumption of food, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank’s recently released 2018 status report on hunger paints an unfortunate picture as to the state of food insecurity in the state.

The problem of people going hungry in the land of plenty, the report indicates, is getting significantly worse in Rhode Island – not better, even amidst what many perceive to be an improving economic picture overall.

“The economy in Rhode Island is thriving,” said Andrew Schiff, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, on Monday during a press conference releasing their findings. “Unemployment is 3.8 percent, which is remarkably low, and because we have low unemployment, that’s putting pressure on wages and wages are improving – that’s all good.”

“The problem is that wages have not kept pace with the high cost of living,” he continued.

According to food bank data, the number of Rhode Island houses reporting very low food security increased from 16,800 households between 2005 and 2007 to 24,500 households between 2015 and 2017 – which constitutes a 45 percent increase in those experiencing a high degree of food insecurity in the state. The USDA recently reported that one in eight households in the United States are unable to afford adequate food, according to Schiff.

“Over the past 10 years the prevalence of hunger has increased significantly in Rhode Island,” Schiff said. The report indicates that the food bank, through its network of 158 member agencies, serves 53,000 people each month in 2018, as compared to 37,000 each month in 2008, an increase of 43 percent.

A major contributor to the problem has been the rising cost of food, which the food bank assessed through a study of the prices of 71 ingredients needed to adequately feed a family of four breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week. Prices were logged during the summers of 2016, 2017 and 2018, and showed that 45 out of the 71 items increased in cost. In total, the shopping list saw a 15-percent increase in price.

Schiff said that people fortunate enough to make decent money probably haven’t even realized the increase. However, for low-income individuals and families, the rise in food costs has far surpassed average wage growth in the country, which the U.S. Department of Labor calculated to be just 5 percent in average weekly earnings for nonsupervisory employees in the country between July 2016 and July 2018.

Combined with the high price of housing and the increased cost of things like utilities – gas prices, for example, were 60 cents cheaper on average two years ago than today – Schiff said it creates a powerful combination that leaves many families faced with a terrible situation.

“Most families can absorb a 15 percent increase in food costs – many people don’t even notice that kind of increase in food costs,” he said. “But for low-income families, people working at low wages, senior adults at low, fixed incomes, there is no way to absorb this increase in costs. Instead, they run out of money for food and they run out of food.”

SNAP on the chopping block

Compounding the Food Bank’s concerns about low-income families’ access to food is the potential for Congress to cut $18.8 billion in funding over the next 10 years for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in negotiations of the next Farm Bill, which provides funding for the program. Schiff said the Food Bank sharply opposed those cuts and called on congressional representatives to do the same.

Schiff talked about how the report showed that the SNAP program is already falling short of providing enough food for those most in need. SNAP benefits are based on the USDA’s “Thrifty Food Plan,” which estimates the weekly cost of food for a family of four to be $148.20, however, the average household in the U.S. spends 1.5 times that amount. There are 159,000 Rhode Islanders enrolled in SNAP benefits.

“This is also a missed opportunity, from our point of view,” Schiff continued. “We think this was an opportunity to actually improve and strengthen SNAP benefits. You see from the report that SNAP benefits are falling short. The Farm Bill could be a place where we make sure that SNAP benefit levels reflect the real cost of food and keep up with rising food costs.”

Congressman Jim Langevin said he was in total opposition of cuts to SNAP through an email exchange on Tuesday.

“No one in our state should go hungry. The fact that the Rhode Island Community Food Bank serves nearly five percent of our state population each month shows how far we still need to go to provide food security to every Rhode Islander,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress have proposed deep cuts to [SNAP] that would pull the rug out from under families working to make ends meet. I strongly oppose slashing SNAP funding, and I will continue to fight to increase wages for working families so they can keep food on their table.”

Langevin also said he supported efforts like those seen from the Center for EcoTechnology in Massachusetts, which strives to reduce food waste.

“Almost 40 percent of food produced in the United States is wasted, and we must do better in getting that to people in need,” Langevin wrote.

A call for more funding

During the press conference, Schiff made a plea to the state to provide more funding so it may better meet the needs of low-income, food-insecure Rhode Islanders. Out of their $15.8 million budget, only $175,000 of that comes from the state, amounting to just over 1 percent. Another two percent comes from the federal government, only in the form of grants and incentive programs rather than outright dollars.

To help make the argument that they deserve additional funding, Schiff brought up Sherie Griffin, Executive Director of Community Access for Farm Fresh RI, to explain the benefits of programming offered by the Food Bank and its network affiliates.

She explained how families can get more out of their SNAP dollars by participating in the Healthy Habits program, which is a nutrition education program that teaches participants to stretch limited funds by preparing nutritious, vegetarian meals.

This can be achieved in part by participating in the other SNAP-related program, Bonus Bucks, which began in 2009 as a pilot program where those on SNAP could earn 40 cents back on every dollar spent on locally grown fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets. Now, those on SNAP earn an entire dollar for every dollar spent on local fruits and veggies at any of the 29 markets across the state.

Griffin said that the amount of people on SNAP utilizing Bonus Bucks increased by 41 percent from last year, and the number of people using SNAP benefits at farmers’ markets overall increased by 37 percent from last year – indicative that more people are aware of the benefits and looking to incorporate healthier choices into their diets as well.

In total, the food bank distributed over $150,000 on incentive-based food aid so far this year. Of the 143 farms and food businesses that participate in the Bonus Bucks program, the total amounts to around $250,000 spent on local produce. Of those participants, 70 percent of the Bonus Bucks and SNAP funding that was used in just the Providence, Pawtucket and Woonsocket markets went to urban farmers owned by women, people of color and immigrants.

“Not only is this food assistance really impacting low-income shoppers who are buying there, it is also impacting the sellers,” Griffin said. “This is a community feeding a community with the assistance of this program. Not only are we working to end hunger, but we’re working really to build the local economy.”

“It’s now time for the state to get involved too,” Schiff said. “This is a win-win. You have a program that is helping low-income families stretch their SNAP benefits, and at the same time, you’re helping Rhode Island farmers. This seems like the perfect project for the state to get behind.”

Multiple state representatives responded to an inquiry about possible increasing the funding towards the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.

“I strongly support increasing support for all of our community food banks in this time of increased food insecurity for Rhode Island families,” said Rep. Joseph McNamara. “If we really want to eliminated the disparities that exist in education, we must ensure that the basic needs of Rhode Island children are met. That includes adequate food and shelter.”

Rep. Evan Shanley said he would support re-allocating additional funds from the legislative grant program towards the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.

House majority leader K. Joseph Shekarchi said he was supportive of increasing the funding in general, but would take a judicious approach to their request the same as he would any other request for funding – and there’s always a lot of groups looking for increases to their funding, he mentioned.

“No one should be hungry today in 2018,” he said. “I don’t mind funding social service programs, I just want to make sure the money goes to what it is supposed to be going towards.”

Whether or not the state will wind up providing additional funding, the heart and soul of community food banks will always primarily be the members of the communities they serve, as Nicki Tysca, executive director of the East Bay Food Pantry pointed out.

“We have 158 food pantries [in the state],” she said. “I encourage everyone to find that food pantry that is in your neighborhood – it’s there, it’s in your community – find them and help however you can. Whether it’s a small monetary donation, going out and volunteering, starting food drives in your neighborhood or in your child’s school, we really, really depend on the generosity of the community.”

WLNE (ABC 6): US Senate approves legislation to name Saunderstown Post Office after fallen soldier

WLNE (ABC 6): US Senate approves legislation to name Saunderstown Post Office after fallen soldier

By Amanda Pitts

Legislation is working its way through Washington that would name the Saunderstown Post Office in the soldier’s honor.

“Matthew was born and raised here in Rhode Island, went to local schools, attended Bishop Hendricken, graduated from there and went on to the United State Military Academy and graduated in 1997,” said Richard August, Matthew’s dad.

August was deployed to Iraq, and in January of 2004, when leading a mission outside of Baghdad, his unit was ambushed. Matthew and three others were killed.

“You don’t ever expect it to happen to someone in your own family, but yet you know what the risks are when they’re taking the oath.”

Richard August, an army veteran himself, serves on Congressman Langevin‘s military advisory committee. He mentioned that next year marks the 15th anniversary of his son’s death.

That set everything into motion. Both Langevin and Senator Jack Reed introduced the legislation that would name the post office the “Captain Matthew J. August Post Office.”

The Senate approved it on Thursday, now it goes to the House. The President then will sign it into law.

While there are several memorials across the state honoring the decorated soldier, August said this one is special.

“The fact that there’s gonna be a Post Office that’ll bear his name is, I think, a fitting recognition for someone who served the way he did and accomplished what he did.”
URI Today: Kingston Fire District, federal, state, URI officials celebrate $204,000 in grants

URI Today: Kingston Fire District, federal, state, URI officials celebrate $204,000 in grants

SOURCE: URI Today

KINGSTON, R.I. — The Kingston Fire District is bolstering its efforts to attract more University of Rhode Island students to its ranks and provide new firefighters with protective pants and coats thanks to $204,100 in grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The district, which operates the Kingston Volunteer Fire Department, celebrated the grant awards recently with U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, Congressman Jim Langevin, FEMA officials, various state elected officials, fire district and department leaders and URI administrators. The University is in the Kingston Fire Department’s jurisdiction and works closely with district officials to ensure that the department has the critical equipment necessary to protect the Kingston Campus’ 1,200 acres and 222 buildings.

Last year, the district was awarded a four-year, $168,100 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant to attract more University students to the volunteer force. The first year of the grant resulted in an increase from two to six recruits. The grant provides up to $5,000 a year per firefighter for tuition and other educational expenses reimbursement. Students who become members of the fire department are also provided a room at the firehouse at no cost.

Ina Sciabarrasi, vice president of the Kingston Fire Department Board of Wardens and Chief Nate Barrington present a plaque to J. Vernon Wyman, URI assistant vice president for business services for his decades of work with the department to ensure that it is well equipped. The department presented the award as Wyman prepares to retire from the University after 40 years of service. URI photo by Randy Osga.

The newest funding, from a $36,000 Assistance to Firefighters Grant, will enable the district to purchase turnout gear, coats and pants with thermal protection for new firefighters. The protective coats and hats are among the most expensive pieces of equipment for an individual firefighter. The grant amount includes a $2,000 match from the district.

Reed thanked Kingston Fire Chief Nate Barrington, the Kingston Fire District, and all of its members and their supportive families. “Protecting the community, fighting fires, doing what they do, is not only about great individual firefighters but also their families,” Reed said.

He thanked the Kingston Fire District Board of Wardens, FEMA and URI representatives for their critical roles in helping the Kingston Fire Department stay equipped with cutting edge apparatus and gear. At the event, he praised Dave Parr, a regional fire program specialist for FEMA and Lance Harbour, regional fire program specialist, for their hard work in helping fire departments across Rhode Island secure grants for equipment and training.

While addressing the grant for the turnout gear, Reed said, “The chief will tell you how critical specialized gear is. You cannot send firefighters into a hazardous condition without this gear. You have to have it, but it’s very expensive.”

“Again, let me commend the department, because these are competitive grants. This department has done especially well under Chief Barrington,” Reed said.

He said all of Rhode Island has benefited strongly from the FEMA program, and that “during its 16 years, our departments in Rhode Island have received almost $90 million.”

Langevin said he was especially proud to be with the firefighters who do the job day in and day out. “This is very dangerous work. Jack had it right when he said we all go home at night and rest easy, knowing that there are first responders who when the call comes, they are going to be there to answer it. Thank you for that.”

[Langevin] said the grants will go a long way to keeping the URI community safe. “The equipment you see behind me is absolutely vital for the firefighters safety and effectiveness.”

“This was a great celebration for the district, our wardens and firefighters, and our partners from Congress, the University, FEMA, state government and our families and friends,” Barrington said. “We are grateful to everyone who participated in the event for their commitment to keeping the Kingston Fire Department a top-flight emergency responder. Knowing that so many people support our mission boosts the morale of our firefighters, and it reminds them of our connections to the community. Thank you to everyone.”

The speaking program ended with the presentation of a plaque from the fire district to J. Vernon Wyman, assistant vice president for business services at URI, who is retiring after 40 years of service to the University. Over the decades, he has worked closely with the fire district to help it secure funding for essential equipment.