Coalition for Children and Families presents legislative priorities at State House


STATE HOUSE – The Rhode Island Coalition for Children and Families joined legislators Thursday to present its legislative agenda to help children, youth and families, which focused on stabilizing family income, ensuring child safety, addressing the crisis in behavioral health and preventing homelessness.


        “As many of you know, one of my top priorities is addressing the Rhode Island housing and homelessness crisis. All positive outcomes start with a good, safe home, but sadly many of our Rhode Island children do not have a good safe home like most of us in this room had. Everyone deserves a safe place to live that they can afford. It’s a matter of equity,” said House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick). “I want to thank all of you in this room for your advocacy. It’s all about delivering results, and you deliver them every day. Last year in response to your advocacy we amended the budget to add $7 million for early childhood programs. Continue that advocacy, it’s important, and we are listening.”


        Said Senate Majority Leader Ryan W. Pearson (D-Dist. 19, Cumberland, Lincoln), “My colleagues and I are very thankful for the work that you do to bring people here and make the stories real. I want to thank you in advance for all your advocacy during the remainder of this session as we push forward this agenda.”


         To stabilize family income and lift Rhode Island children out of poverty, Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Sandra Cano and House Finance Human Services Subcommittee Chairwoman Teresa A. Tanzi spoke about the importance of instituting a child tax credit in Rhode Island.


        “Providing income to help our families immediately is an important goal after years of stress due to high poverty rates, the pandemic and inflation,” said Chairwoman Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket). “Rhode Island has the opportunity to join Massachusetts in this important policy choice. We are pleased to join with the Coalition for Children and Families and the Economic Progress Institute in proposing the establishment of a child tax credit for Rhode Island families.”


        Said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett), “Research shows that the child tax credit directly contributes to the financial stability of families, positively impacts children’s well-being, and reduces child maltreatment. Increasing families’ income has a ripple effect on local economies as families gain more financial flexibility. I am pleased to sponsor this legislation to help rise Rhode Island children out of poverty.”


        The legislation that Chairwomen Cano and Tanzi will soon introduce would provide an annual tax credit of $1,000 per dependent child up to 18 years old. For single headed households, the credit would be available for those households with incomes up to $100,000 and for two-parent households earning up to $150,000. The credit would be refundable, so that families whose income is below the threshold to pay taxes could also benefit from the credit.


        Fifteen states including Massachusetts have child tax credits with more proposals in state legislatures nationwide, including in Connecticut.

RICCF members advocated for a variety of policy positions that will help families and children throughout Rhode Island.


        “Our advocacy is rooted in the belief that every child, youth and family regardless of their neighborhood or community has the right to be successful and thriving,” said Darlene Allen, chair of RICCF. “We work to embrace and include those who are often excluded and work to remedy the disparities in our systems that persist. Every child, youth and family must be able to access the support they need.”

Lauri Smalls, vice chair of RICCF, addressed the audience on the funding needs of the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families (RIDCYF).


        “RIDCYF has a very broad mission for child protection, education, out of home placement, community supports, services for children’s behavioral health and all youth development and juvenile justice service,” said Smalls. “To meet the needs of today’s children, youth and families we need community-based services to help at the beginning of a crisis before things escalate and families are separated and children need out-of-home care. Currently there is a funding gap of $20 million between the proposed budget for RIDCYF and the cost to fully fund existing infrastructure and services. We appreciate the legislature’s commitment to RIDCYF’s community providers and look forward to working together for the rest of the session to get this right.”


        Benedict F. Lessing Jr., president and CEO at Community Care Alliance, spoke about the investments needed to address the behavior health crisis in this year’s budget.


        “Investing in behavioral health early and fully is the best way to use our resources rather than waiting until children are in such crisis that they have to leave home for treatment or hospitalization,” said Lessing. “By investing in expanding access and increasing cultural and linguistic equity in behavioral health programs and initiatives, we can ensure that every child in Rhode Island can thrive. The key investments that are required in the budget include a Medicaid rate increase, funding of the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics initiative and funding for specialty behavioral health services.”


        Lisa Guillette, chair of the Committee on Unhoused Families and Youth, spoke about how the ongoing housing crisis in Rhode Island is causing a sharp upturn in homelessness.


        “Federal data shows that homelessness in Rhode Island has increased by 70% over the last four years. This is a growing crisis of unprecedented proportions. Families are being referred to RIDCYF for hotel stays because of long waiting lists for affordable housing,” said Guillette. “I urge the General Assembly to invest in solutions to homelessness including direct rental assistance to prevent loss of housing, sufficient year-round family and youth shelter placements and finally a $150 million housing bond to ensure expansion of the most deeply subsidized housing opportunities.”

            Other legislators in attendance included Sens. Ana B. Quezada (D-Dist. 2, Providence) and Linda L. Ujifusa (D-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol), and Reps. Jennifer Boylan (D-Dist. 66, Barrington, East Providence), Julie A Casimiro (D-Dist. 31, North Kingstown, Exeter), Grace Diaz (D-Dist. 11, Providence), Susan R. Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth), Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston), June S. Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol) and Tina Spears (D-Dist. 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly).