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.

NextGov: DHS and Pentagon Memo Details Future Cyber Cooperation

NextGov: DHS and Pentagon Memo Details Future Cyber Cooperation

By Joseph Marks

The Pentagon and Homeland Security Department have established a memorandum of understanding that details how the departments will work together on cybersecurity in the future, a Homeland Security official confirmed Wednesday.

That agreement “reflects the commitment of both departments in collaborating to improve the protection and defense of the U.S. homeland from strategic cyber threats,” according to written testimony from Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Jeanette Manfra.

It also “clarifies roles and responsibilities between DOD and DHS to enhance U.S. government readiness to respond to cyber threats and establish coordinated lines of efforts to secure, protect, and defend the homeland,” according to the statement delivered to a joint hearing of the cyber panels of the House Homeland Security and Armed Services committees.

A Homeland Security official confirmed the agreement is completed but did not provide additional details.

Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., described the agreement in broad terms during the hearing. Richmond, who is the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security panel, said he has not read the memorandum yet.

The civilian-military agreement comes as the government is trying to ramp up civilian and military cooperation in cyberspace, especially when it comes to protecting election systems and other critical infrastructure such as banks, hospitals and airports.

In advance of last week’s midterm elections, 11 Pentagon cyber officials came over to Homeland Security’s cyber operations center as liaisons, Manfra told lawmakers during the hearing.

Those liaison officers were there to pave the way for their colleagues in case an election cyber threat popped up that state and local officials couldn’t handle on their own with Homeland Security’s support and the military needed to help out, Manfra said.

Though the departments were prepared, that threat didn’t materialize.

Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., the ranking member on the Armed Services panel, praised the Pentagon and Homeland Security for removing legal and bureaucratic barriers to cooperation in advance of the election.

In the future, it will be critical for the two departments to work together on cyber threats, he said.

“While Congress has been abundantly clear about DHS’ primacy in defending civilian networks in the United States, coordination, collaboration and information sharing with the DOD will be critical to the defense of the homeland,” [Rep. Langevin] said.
Congress officially authorized the Defense Department to send those detailees to Homeland Security in August in a pilot program included in the most recent version of the National Defense Authorization Act, an annual defense policy bill.

The mammoth policy bill also mandated other Defense Department efforts to help the civilian government and critical infrastructure providers, such as banks and hospitals, repel cyberattacks if called upon.

The bill also mandated a study on whether to create cyber components in the military reserves that could assist states during a cyber emergency.

Overall, in the months leading up to the election, Homeland Security, the Pentagon and FBI made more progress on sharing cyber threat information and developing a common cyber operations picture than in the prior decade, Manfra told lawmakers.

Cranston Herald: Ceremony shines spotlight on ‘unsung hero’ caregivers

Cranston Herald: Ceremony shines spotlight on ‘unsung hero’ caregivers

By Ethan Hartley

PROVIDENCE, R.I.– The Family Caregiver Alliance of Rhode Island, in partnership with the state Division of Elderly Affairs, held its annual caregiver awards from the State Room of the Rhode Island State House Thursday, honoring those who put themselves second to care for their aging, disabled or otherwise in-need loved ones.

Among the recipients were Warwick resident and facilitator for the Parent Information Network (RIPIN) Tara Townsend-Hayes for caregiver of the year and, fittingly enough, Tara’s mother, Mary Townsend, who introduced Tara and received her own award for her work as head coach of the Warwick Superstars, a unified athletics team affiliated through the Special Olympics of Rhode Island.

The ceremony came during early November, which the state has recognized as Family Caregivers Month through a declaration from Governor Gina Raimondo. State officials and family care advocates from various organizations were on hand to congratulate the caregivers and provide some contextual information into how truly valuable – in more ways than one – family caregivers are.

“There are many caregivers in the room today,” said Michelle Szylin, acting director of the Division of Elderly Affairs. “Through your selfless action, you provide loved ones with support and comfort as they age, combat illness or live with disabilities. Your extraordinary efforts not only allow your loved ones to remain independent and living at home, but also have a significant impact on the Rhode Island economy.”

Congressman Jim Langevin, a longtime advocate for the Caregiver Alliance, put in perspective just how valuable family caregivers are to the state and to the country, who he said provides approximately 80 percent of long-term care to the chronically ill or disabled.

“If we had to come up with money to pay for those caregivers, it would be a value of $470 billion annually. That was more than the total federal and state Medicaid spending was in 2013,” he said. “That’s just a sobering figure if you reflect on that.”

In Rhode Island alone, Langevin said, an estimated 148,000 caregivers provide the equivalent of $142 million in care for their loved ones. Most of the time, he said, these caregivers do so at their own expense despite having busy lives, even full-time jobs, as there is simply no other option to ensure their loved one is being properly taken care of.

“You’re unsung heroes and often go unrecognized for your extraordinary commitment to your loved ones,” Langevin said, recalling when he first became paralyzed after a tragic incident when he was 16 years old as a member of the Warwick Explorer’s police cadet program.

“This issue is very personal for me and I understand in a very real way what family caregivers go through,” he said. “Without my family’s care and support that I had at that time, and throughout my life, I certainly would not be where I am today. I know it was not always easy on them, as it is not always easy on you.”

Langevin spoke about helping to author and champion both the original bill and the reauthorization of the Lifespan and Respite Care Act, which provides grant funding through the federal government to states in order to provide respite services to caregivers – essentially giving them resources to be able to better take care of their loved ones while also being able to maintain their own health.

Langevin was happy to report that the Respite Act funding had achieved its highest level of funding yet, with $1.1 million in grants to be made available in 2019. He also mentioned a separate bill, the VA Mission Act, which in addition to expanding benefits to veterans also makes additional services available to caregivers of disabled veterans from pre- and post-9/11 wars.

“We all know that caring for a loved one certainly can be personally rewarding – that’s what family is all about,” said Langevin. “We also know it can be emotionally, physically and financially draining and taxing. So, we thank you and salute the ones who provide this type of care.”

Local residents honored

Tara Townsend-Hayes was nominated for caregiver of the year for her work with RIPIN and her role in caring for her own son, Andrew, who was born with a rare congenital neuromuscular disorder that medical experts thought would take his life within days of being born.

“They told us he may not live three days,” said Mary Townsend in her speech introducing her daughter. “So, we’re here to say that faith, hope and perseverance are a part of everyone’s journey because Andrew is now 10 years old and in the fifth grade.”

Tara welled up with tears as she embraced with her mother and the large audience burst into applause. Although Tara has been the primary caregiver to Andrew his entire life, and will continue to do so throughout the entirety of his life, Tara considers every day with her family a gift – and has extended her benevolence to work with other parents in need of assistance with their own challenges.

“She [her mother] did teach me from a young age that people have different abilities and those that are able to help others need to be there for the others when they are facing difficulties and challenges,” she said. “Every day I am thankful for all that God has brought to me and I can only hope that I will leave a legacy that my family and community will be proud of. I know we’ve come a long way but we’ve got far to go as well. We just have to keep the faith.”

Also receiving an award for caregiving organization of the year was Mary Townsend, receiving on behalf of the Warwick Superstars unified athletics team.

The Superstars are separate from the Warwick public school system and compete in the Special Olympics in bowling and track and field. Still, they are composed of about 15 staff members from Warwick Public Schools that volunteer to help coach 60 athletes at this time and are provided outdoor and indoor space at Lippitt Elementary School to practice, according to Mary Townsend, who is the current head coach and has been involved with the group for about 30 years.

The Superstars practice each fall at Meadowbrook Lanes on a weekly basis, and then get into running shape through track and field activities in the spring. Townsend said it has been incredibly rewarding to work with the team, alongside longtime fellow volunteers and coaches.

“It’s a joy. Our older athletes are in their 20s now and Steve [Deloreto] and I started out with them when they were really little. It’s so special to see how far they’ve come,” she said.

Although Townsend was nominated for the award, she deflected credit onto others who help her with the Superstars, including Deloreto, Melissa Sicco, Christine Paquin, Kaitlyn Rachiele, Peg Alexander, Ann Pendergast – the Superstar’s longest participating coach – Shirlee Allenson, Paul Swanton and Laurie Maroney.

“We’re really a family,” Townsend said. “We grow together, the parents and the athletes. We all work together like a family.”

Both Tara and her mother Mary were nominated by Cristina Amedeo, Managing Director of the Rhode Island United Way 2-1-1 program, whose son has been an athlete on the Superstars for 10 years and, according to an emotional Amedeo, has gone from being totally nonverbal to making real progress thanks to being part of the team.

“They have become such an important part of our family,” she said. “When I think back to when he first started, he has grown so much and met so many friends…Nicholas really looks forward to every spring and every fall when he gets to compete. When I asked him what he liked the most about the Special Olympics, he said participating and having fun. That’s what it’s all about.”

Brown Daily Herald: R.I. elected officials talk future of Dem. Party

Brown Daily Herald: R.I. elected officials talk future of Dem. Party

By Alex Reice

PROVIDENCE, R.I.– After the midterm elections turned the House of Representatives blue, Rhode Island’s Democratic Congressmen say they are hopeful that their party is positioned for success in 2020. Recently re-elected officials Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse D-R.I., Rep. David Cicilline ’83 D-R.I. and Rep. Jim Langevin D-R.I. in addition to Sen. Jack Reed D-R.I., who was not up for re-election Nov. 6, spoke to The Herald about their hopes for the future of the country and the Democratic Party.

“We had extraordinary candidates running for Congress all across the country, and I think Democrats, including me, ran on a very specific agenda that really focused on the issues that are important to the American people,” Cicilline said.

Among the most pressing issues for Rhode Island’s elected officials is affordable healthcare. Whitehouse plans to prioritize healthcare by changing the industry’s incentives — rewarding doctors for having healthy patients rather than for the number of procedures they perform, he said. 

The congressmen also said they are ramping up efforts to improve economic conditions for middle-class families in the state. Cicilline hopes Congress takes action “on a number of proposals to help raise incomes and really address the economic consolidation in this country,” he said. “People need to earn a living wage,” and “nobody should be working 40 hours a week and living below the poverty level,” Langevin added.

Rhode Island representatives and senators alike expressed the importance of bipartisanship in addressing the issues most important to them. With the Senate and the presidency still in Republican hands, the only way to pass legislation in Congress is to work together “wherever possible,” Langevin said, adding that there is potential for bipartisan cooperation when it comes to infrastructure. Trump campaigned on a $1 trillion dollar infrastructure package, but getting that through Congress is something that will take both Democrats and Republicans, Langevin added.

While they plan to work across the aisle in Congress, Rhode Island’s elected officials see the election results as a sign of Americans’ dissatisfaction with Washington’s current Republican leadership. “There are a number of issues where I think the Democrats better reflect the concerns and wishes of the American public,” Whitehouse said. Americans are “voting for change, and they’re voting for Democrats,” Langevin said.

The Democratic majority in the House will also likely focus on checking the presidency, Cicilline said. “We’re going to be able to conduct real oversight,” he added. Democrats’ success sends a signal that Americans want to see “real accountability in Washington,” Reed said.

“Once there’s another power sector in Washington that he has to deal with, I think that the conversation will move much towards the middle,” Whitehouse said.

Rhode Island’s congressmen are also concerned about Trump’s recent firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In place of Sessions, Trump selected Matthew Whitaker as interim Attorney General, circumventing the normal line of succession which calls on the Deputy Attorney General to serve. “Why would you bring in somebody who isn’t in the ordinary line of succession and has not been confirmed by the Senate, unless you have some ulterior motive?” Whitehouse said. If it were just an ordinary president, “there’s nothing to get too excited about,” he added.

Now that the midterms are over, the Democrats voted into office are ready to show their constituents that they can accomplish real change. According to Langevin, Democrats have been running on an economic message prioritizing the working and middle class for years, and with newfound control of the House, “hopefully that is the message that we can deliver on. … We have two years before the next election to earn our message with the bills that we pass and the work that we do,” Whitehouse said, emphasizing the importance of running on policy rather than relying on political messaging to win over voters.

In preparation for a competitive presidential election in 2020, Cicilline sees issues centered around lowering healthcare costs, protecting retirement security and ensuring economic security for all as “the heart and soul of the Democratic Party,” he said. “I have no doubt that we’re going to have a very strong candidate to run against Trump, if he’s a candidate in 2020,” he added.

WJAR: Cicilline, Langevin weigh in on divided Congress

WJAR: Cicilline, Langevin weigh in on divided Congress

By Michelle San Miguel

The midterm election left the country with a divided Congress — Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives, while Republicans picked up more seats in the Senate.

Rhode Island Democratic Congressmen David Cicilline and Jim Langevin, who both won their bid for re-election, are optimistic Democrats and Republicans can find common ground.

“I hope right away we take up an infrastructure bill,” Langevin said. “The president had campaigned on infrastructure and the promise of a perhaps one-trillion dollar infrastructure package. Democrats welcome that.”

With Democrats in control of the House for the first time since 2010, Cicilline is seeking a leadership position. If Cicilline becomes the assistant Democratic leader, it would make him the fourth ranking Democrat in the House.

“I hope that the work that I did as a member of the House Democratic leadership in helping to bring us into the majority will be valued by my colleagues,” Cicilline said.

Cicilline and Langevin welcome the checks and balances that Democrats will have now that they’re in control of one of the two chambers.

NBC 10 political analyst Wendy Schiller cautions that Democrats should pick their battles wisely.

“Democrats should not spend all their time investigating Trump. That’s a no win for the voters. They don’t want to see that. They want to see the Democrats worrying about healthcare, education, security,” Schiller said.

Cicilline said, “I think there’s an enormous amount of work that have to do with respect to our oversight responsibilities that have nothing to do Mr. Mueller’s investigation — that have to do with administration policies, child separation policies, the Department of Justice’s policies. I mean there are a whole range of issues that require immediate review from this administration.”

As for whether House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi should be named House Speaker once again, Schiller said, “At this point in time, the Democrats need an experienced politician who can go toe to toe with Trump, who knows Washington, who knows how to deal with McConnell. The very person that is – is Nancy Pelosi.”

Cicilline said he’ll support Pelosi for the speaker position.

When NBC 10 asked Langevin if he would vote for Pelosi, he said, “I think all options are on the table right now. I’m not announcing my support for anyone just yet to be the next speaker. I’m excited that it’s going to be a Democrat.”

WPRI: Ground broken on Pawtucket-Central Falls commuter rail, bus hub

WPRI: Ground broken on Pawtucket-Central Falls commuter rail, bus hub

By Bill Tomison

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — With the heft of shovels, Rhode Island leaders launched a transit center project Friday afternoon kicking around Pawtucket and Central Falls for years: a new commuter rail station that will incorporate the state’s public bus service.

The hub project is part of the RhodeWorks bridges and transportation infrastructure improvement initiative. Joining Gov. Gina Raimondo for the groundbreaking were the state’s congressional delegation; Sen. Jack Reed, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rep. Jim Langevin and Rep. David Cicilline all played roles in securing funding for the project.

On Pine Street at Goff Avenue, the new transit center will be situated in a wedge-shaped lot next to a neighborhood of industrial mill buildings – several redeveloped, or being redeveloped, into loft apartments and more – all part of the Conant Thread District straddling the two cities, which itself has lofty goals for development.

When the transit center’s commuter rail connection is finished, it’ll allow riders to connect to Providence, T.F. Green Airport’s InterLink, and Wickford Junction stations on the MBTA’s intercity rail system, as well as Boston and South Attleboro, and all the Massachusetts cities in between.

It’ll take over from Pawtucket’s current bus interchange on Roosevelt Avenue. The center will include an overpass over the train tracks, elevators, ramps and stairs. Early estimates figure 520 people will board transit at the hub each day.

The price tag for the project is $47 million, funded by federal grants known as TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery – now known as BUILD) grants, funding from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) and the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), as well as grants from the state and city.

The actual construction work starts immediately, according to RIDOT spokesperson Charles St. Martin, and the bulk of it will take about three years all told. The bus aspects are set to be completed by the end of 2020; train, late 2021, but train service won’t be expected to start until summer 2022 due to safety testing. Most of the work will be done during overnight hours, when Amtrak trains won’t be running on the rails that workers will have to build over and alongside.