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.

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.

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.”

WJAR: Beyond the Podium- Congressman Jim Langevin

1. What differentiates you from your opponent(s)?

  • It is my experience working for middle class Rhode Islanders that differentiates me from my opponent. I have fought tirelessly for our state’s working class families. All families deserve a fair shot at achieving the American dream, and that means quality and affordable healthcare, good jobs with good pay, and quality education.
    I am proud of my record fighting for Rhode Island seniors and people with disabilities against Republican efforts to privatize Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. I also continue to work on policies and funding to improve our nation’s career & technical education programs so workers have the skills to succeed in 21st Century jobs.
    I have nearly two decades of experience fighting for Rhode Islanders, and I know how to be their champion in Washington.

2. Explain what you see as the most important issue facing the state, and how you believe it should be addressed.

  • Rhode Island’s economy is on the rise, but in order to see sustained, long-term growth, we need to do a better job of closing our skills gap and aligning what is taught in the classroom with the skills our local businesses need. Our hardworking students deserve good-paying jobs and Rhode Island’s businesses need workers who are ready to work on day one. I was proud to fight for increased career and technical education funding to address this skills gap, but there is still more work to do. I remain committed to fighting for the necessary resources at the federal level to ensure all Rhode Islanders have the opportunity to succeed with 21st-century skills, in the 21st-century economy.

3. RI is scheduled to expand tractor trailer tolling along I-95. Do you agree with those expansion plans?

  • This is a state issue that will be determined by the General Assembly and Governor.

4. Are the current gun laws in Rhode Island too strict, too weak, or just right? If not just right, what needs to be changed? Should teachers and/or other school employees who are not law enforcement officers be armed?

  • Many federal laws affect gun safety for Rhode Island residents. While I support the second amendment, I believe in common sense gun safety laws. I support universal background checks, and closing the “gun show loophole”. I am also strongly opposed to efforts to impose “concealed carry reciprocity,” which would invalidate state laws relating to carrying a concealed handgun and instead allow most people to carry automatically. I am also fighting for federal support for strong child access protection laws that hold parents accountable when their child accesses an unsecured gun. As someone who was injured, albeit accidentally, at the hands of well-trained professionals, I reject the notion that arming teachers will keep our kids safer, and help reduce risks in schools.

5. Under what circumstances would you support the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Rhode Island?

  • I support the rights of states to develop medical marijuana rules, and I hope more research will be conducted into its medical uses. To that end, I have voted for legislation that prevents the Department of Justice from interfering with state medical marijuana laws. However, marijuana remains a restricted drug at the federal level, and, absent further research, I do not support changing that designation for recreational purposes.

6. Are you satisfied with the way sports betting is being implemented in Rhode Island?

  • Sports betting was regulated at the federal level until a Supreme Court decision earlier this year. Because the ruling was so recent, it is too early to say whether Congress should step in again and introduce new laws relating to sports betting or whether it should be left to the states. I will continue to monitor this issue as new state approaches emerge.

7. Is the minimum wage in Rhode Island too high, too low, or just right? If not just right, what should it be?

  • I believe the minimum wage in Rhode Island is too low, which is why I support federal legislation to increase the minimum wage for all states to $15 per hour by 2025. I don’t think anyone should work a 40-hour workweek and still live below the poverty level. Hardworking Americans should be able to support their families with fair compensation.

8. What are your thoughts about the ongoing opiate crisis? Are current local and national policies appropriately addressing it?

  • I have been devastated by stories I’ve heard from Rhode Islanders who have been personally affected by the opioid overdose epidemic. Addiction is a public health crisis that we must use a comprehensive approach to address, with a particular focus on treatment and counseling. I am proud to have worked with the federal delegation to support the opioids bills that have been signed into law over the past two years to bring millions of dollars to Rhode Island to help with prevention and recovery. I have also introduced legislation that would improve collaboration between local, state, and federal law enforcement when it comes to interdicting potent narcotics like fentanyl at the border.

9. What national issue or controversy do you believe resonates most deeply in Rhode Island?

  • Constituents across my district are deeply concerned about quality affordable healthcare. They are worried about rising costs and if they will be denied coverage if their preexisting conditions are no longer covered under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). We must work together to make healthcare more affordable and accessible for all Rhode Islanders.

10. What is an example of a policy or issue you have changed your view on in the last 20 years?

  • I strongly oppose discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. However, for much of my legislative career, I did not support same-sex marriage, believing instead that civil unions were sufficient. It was not until 2011, three years after I attended the commitment ceremony of one of my long-time staff members, that I finally understood that preventing same-sex couples from achieving full marriage equality was, in fact, a form of discrimination. Since then, I have proudly fought for full marriage equality.

BONUS ROUND – ANSWER ANY OR ALL OF THESE QUESTIONS:

1.  What has drawn you to public service?

  • I have always had a strong desire from an early age to serve my community. Growing up, I wanted to be a police officer, and perhaps going on to become an FBI agent. When my accident ended my law enforcement dream, the outpouring of support that I received from the community inspired me to give back and pursue a career in public service.

2.  Who is your political hero? Why?

  • I will list two: President Franklin Roosevelt and Senator Claiborne Pell. As President, FDR guided the nation through one of the most difficult, tumultuous times in our history, and he never let his disability get in the way. And Senator Pell was a champion of good public policy for Rhode Island and the nation. He didn’t care about taking credit and he always put his constituents first.

3.  Under what circumstances would you tell a lie?

  • As President George Washington said in one of my preferred fables, “I cannot tell a lie.” I think this a good philosophy for all of us to follow.

4.  What is the best advice you have ever gotten?

  • The best advice I have received is from the late and former State Representative Paul Sherlock, one of my oldest political mentors. He told me that the key to being successful in public service is to be “accessible, responsive, and to never embarrass your constituents.” I have taken this advice to heart, and it has been a guiding principle throughout my career in public service.

5.  Top item on your “bucket list?”

  • I’d love to visit the Egyptian pyramids.

Name:

  • the last live music concert you saw:
    • U2
  • the last movie you saw in a theater:
    • “Mission Impossible: Fallout”
  • the TV show you never miss, or the last one you binge-watched:
    • Game of Thrones
  • What sports team(s) (Pro, college, Little League) do you cheer the loudest for?:
    • Patriots
  • What question do you wish someone would ask you and what would your answer be?:
    • I would like to hear from someone who is considering entering public service and would like to know if it is worthwhile. I would them know that it certainly is. While the intensity of today’s political climate may be intimidating, it’s absolutely critical to get involved. We are in desperate need of good people in the public arena who are in public service for the right reasons.