McKee-Matos final “Rhode Island 2030 Plan” must not forget seniors

Published on October 25, 2021 in RINewsToday

Over a month ago, Gov. Dan McKee penned a Providence Journal op-ed calling for the General Assembly to release the $1.1 billion (at least 10%) in federal COVID-19 aid to address the state’s immediate needs, including shoring up minority and women owned small businesses and specific sectors – tourism, travel and events, and child care. The federal funds should also target worker training programs and increase the state’s affordable housing units.

On Oct. 15, Gov. McKee and Lt. Gov. Matos rolled out “Rhode Island 2030”, a working paper containing preliminary recommendations to begin public debate on how the American Rescue Plan Act’s State Fiscal Recovery Fund should be spent. Beginning Oct. 26, public hearings will be held on the McKee-Matos working paper, “Rhode Island 2030: Charting a Course for the Future of the Ocean State”.

The 55-page working draft provides summaries of what the administration heard during the Facebook live Rhode Island 2030 Community Conversations. The document also highlights current state agency initiatives in the relevant topic areas, suggests broad goals for 2030, and recommends short-term and long-term actions the state should take to reach those goals.

With the working paper’s release last week, debate has intensified as to how the McKee-Matos Administration should spend the state’s $1.1 billion allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act’s State Fiscal Recovery Fund. On Oct. 19, the Rhode Island Foundation added its own wish list in a report, “Make It Happen: Investing for Rhode Island’s Future”, which studied and analyzed options for spending the federal COVID-19 recovery funding over the next three years.

The public input included approximately 400 ideas submitted by the public via email, stakeholder conversations with more than 140 people, five focus groups with Rhode Islanders from communities hardest hit by COVID, and 11 nonprofit-led, community visioning sessions throughout the state. The 56-page report’s recommendations, shared with Mckee-Matos and the Rhode Island General Assembly, recommends investing in six key areas: housing, behavioral health, workforce development, small business, neighborhood trusts, and immediate relief.

Senior Advocates Weigh In 

In an Oct. 18 email, Maureen Maigret, policy consultant and chair of the Aging in Community Subcommittee of the Rhode Island’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council, emailed her thoughts about the working paper to the aging network.

Here are a few of Maigret’s observations:

The working paper does not consider seniors to be an integral part of families, says Maigret, noting that “older couples are a family, some families are multi-generational with older adults being provided care by family members or helping with childcare and sharing household and family responsibilities. “While the plan recognized the pandemic caused many parents to leave the labor force, it does not mention that it also caused some employed family caregivers to leave their jobs as the caregiver workforce shortage intensified with COVID-19, leaving many caregivers without service,” she said.

Maigret called on state funded provider reimbursement to be at a level to provide competitive and living wages to all Direct Care staff and to support reasonable administrative costs.

While the working paper makes only an indirect mention of seniors about workforce development and postsecondary education, child care workers, nursing home staff and tipped workers are severely underpaid, notes Maigret. “There must be a target focus for these workforce fields, especially in lieu of the recent trends of workers leaving their jobs,” she says.

“There is no mention of any particular effort to strengthen programs that were in the labor force before the pandemic,” says Maigret.

As to workforce shortages, Maigret notes that the draft “fails to address the need for nursing home transformation and Covid’s significant impact on deaths and hospitalizations of nursing home residents, as mostly their physical structures are outdated with residents sharing rooms and bathrooms which makes infection control difficult, and contributes to high infection rates.”

Maigret noted that the working draft highlighted the need to expand broadband for Ocean State residents and businesses. “It did not include any specific facts on broadband accessibility for older adults or mention transit needs of older adults,” she said.

Giving Seniors a Brighter Tomorrow

AARP Rhode Island joins Maigret, calling on McKee-Matos to not forget Rhode Island’s seniors.

“The governor’s “Rhode Island 2030” framework includes the top two priorities that AARP Rhode Island has identified as critical,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Catherine Taylor in an Oct. 19 statement. “Investing in the future of health care and housing in Rhode Island is vital to ensuring that citizens – of all ages – have a brighter tomorrow. We look forward to working with state leaders to advance these two priorities as decisions are made on spending ARPA funds.”

AARP Rhode Island especially agrees with the governor’s plan that municipal barriers for Accessory Dwelling Units need to be removed in order to create more affordable and accessible housing in our town and cities.

Like Maigret, AARP Rhode Island expressed concern about a lack of inclusion for older Rhode Islanders in many sections of the McKee-Matos working plan.

Considering that the vast majority of Rhode Islanders want to live independently in their homes and communities, the plan needs to include protecting the HCBS workforce employed by many small businesses, safeguarding the financial stability of HCBS providers, and accelerating meaningful reform of long-term services and supports.

To support healthy and accessible housing, AARP Rhode Island calls for increased funding for property owners to make improvements to existing housing, including weatherization, lead abatement, and disability access. In their July letter to the governor and state leaders, AARP Rhode Island recommended expanding the funding of the Livable Home Modification Program in order to increase the state’s accessible housing stock. Demand for this program continues to rise, often resulting in a waitlist by mid-fiscal year.

AARP Rhode Island advocates strongly for investing in transportation to help create livable communities where residents of any age are able to connect with the services and amenities they want and need. Creating communities that are accommodating to people of all ages and all modes of transportation is vital to allowing people to age in their own homes, within their own communities.

“AARP Rhode Island is committed to working with state leaders to make certain that ARPA funds are invested in a way that ensures that Rhode Islanders of all ages and abilities can recover and thrive,” said Taylor.”

A Call for Your Comments

“There are obviously significant objectives & responsibilities that must be developed and pursued to strengthen Rhode Island’s recovery from the pandemic – including the well-being of our aging community and how we can become an “Age-Friendly State” (currently, 8 states in the AARP network). 

This community conversation must become a statewide collaboration – engaging families, older adults, grandparents, etc. Such a strategic effort would greatly enhance the recently released working document: “Rhode Island 2030: Charting a Course for RI’s Future,” says Vincent Marzullo, former federal civil rights and social justice Director in Rhode Island for the Corporation for National & Community Services.

Public input sessions on  the McKee-Matos working paper begins Tuesday, Oct. 26 at 6 p.m. at Harry Kizirian Elementary School (60 Camden Avenue, Providence). Additional public input sessions will be held at 5 p.m. on the following dates:

  • Thursday, Oct. 28, Hope & Main (691 Main Street, Warren)
  • Tuesday, Nov. 2 at the Community College of Rhode Island (400 East Avenue, Warwick)
  • Thursday, Nov. 4 at Innovate Newport (513 Broadway, Newport)
  • Tuesday, Nov. 9 at United Theatre (5 Canal Street, Westerly)

You can also submit your feedback, online, at www.RI2030.com

For a copy of the McKee-Matos working paper, go to https://ri2030.com/_files/public/RI%202030_final.pdf.

For a copy of Rhode Island’s American Rescue Plan Report, go to https://assets.rifoundation.org/documents/RIF_MakeItHappen_DIGITAL_vF.pdf

Now is the time for creative ideas and reactions to these plans – please take the time to be an advocate for seniors in Rhode Island – and for other causes and issues that are important to you.

It’s now time to stamp out Antisemitism

Published October 18, 2021 in RINewsToday

The American Jewish Committee (AJC), one of the oldest nation’s Jewish advocacy groups fighting racism and antisemitism, calls on the Marriott Hotel company to apologize directly to Gil Ofarim, a popular German-Israeli singer who lives in Germany, for an anti-Semitic remark made by an employee.  He was told by the check-in manager to remove his Star of David necklace while waiting to check in at the Westin Hotel in Leipzig. Marriott is the parent company of Westin.  He was a guest at the hotel for a recording of a new MDR TV show in Leipzig.

According to Ofarim’s Instagram video released after the incident and news reports, the 39-year-old musician was left standing for 50 minutes while other guests were brought forward to be checked in.  When he questioned the lengthy check-in wait, an employee referred to the Star of David on his necklace, which he always wears, saying that  only when he took it off would he be allowed to check in.     

Ofarim left the Westin lobby after the incident and posted a two-minute video on Instagram Tuesday evening, Oct. 5, titled “Antisemitism in Germany 2021” in all capital letters, that has gone viral and shared widely on the internet. A very emotional Ofarim stated, “I am speechless. I don’t know how to say this,” in describing his encounter with antisemitism.

After the video’s release, Marriott International issued a statement saying the hotel chain would take this matter very seriously and supports the police measures and condemns antisemitism and all forms of discrimination. According to police, the hotel employed has filed a complaint of defamation, portraying the alleged antisemitic incident differently than Ofarim.

In a Facebook posting, Ofarim states that he has filed a criminal complaint against the employee at the Westin Hotel.  “… there should be no place for hate, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia or discrimination of any kind in this world,” he says. He says that after reporting the incident he is getting open threats and hate messages via social media.

‘This blatantly antisemitic incident is sickening and unacceptable everywhere, but especially in Germany. It reminds us that antisemitism is a problem in all parts of society, not only in the extreme fringes,” said Remko Leemhuis, Director of AJC Berlin. “Marriott should take all necessary steps to ensure that something like this will never happen again. AJC stands ready to help with our expertise and knowledge.”

While hotel staff involved in the incident with Ofarim reportedly have been placed on leave, AJC has launched an online petition calling on Marriott to not only apologize to Ofarim, but to commit to training its employees in Germany and around the world about antisemitism.  

Leemhuis says that AJC has the staff expertise and resources, especially its Translate Hate publication, to engage staff at all Marriott brands in understanding what is antisemitism, what should obviously be offensive words and actions.

Antisemitism alive and well in the United States   

Like Germany, antisemitism is alive and well in the United States. Just months ago, the ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) expressed deep alarm in response to the FBI’s annual Hate Crimes Statistics Act (HCSA) report, that revealed that 2020 saw a six percent increase in reported hate crimes from the previous year and represented the highest total in 12 years. 

The latest FBI’s report, released Aug. 30th, is based on voluntary local law enforcement reporting to the Bureau.

In 2020, the FBI reported 7,759 hate crime incidents, a six percent increase from 7,314 in 2019 and the most since 2008, when 7,783 hate crime incidents were reported. Reported hate crimes targeting Black people rose to 2,755 from 1,930 the prior year – representing a 43 percent increase, and the number of anti-Asian hate crimes rose from 158 to 274.

According to the FBI’s HCSA report, hate crimes targeting the Jewish community made up nearly 60 percent of all religion-based hate crimes. Overall, religion-based hate crime incidents decreased from 1,521 in 2019 to 1,174 in 2020; this includes incidents targeting the Jewish community, which decreased from 953 to 676.

The increase in reported hate crimes comes, despite the fact that, for the third straight year, the number of law enforcement agencies providing data to the FBI has declined.

According to the FBI, only 15,136 agencies participated, which is 452 less than in 2019. The majority of agencies who did participate reported zero hate crimes.

“As ADL has said time and time again, when just one individual is targeted by a hate crime, it negatively impacts the entire community, resulting in marginalized groups rightfully feeling vulnerable and under siege,” said ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt. 

“While these numbers are disturbing on their own, the fact that so many law enforcement agencies did not participate is inexcusable, and the fact that over 60 jurisdictions with populations over 100,000 affirmatively reported zero hate crimes is simply not credible. Data drives policy and without having a complete picture of the problem, we cannot even begin to resolve the issues driving this surge in hate and violence,” says Greenblatt.

Meanwhile in Texas…

A top school administrator with the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake advised teachers that if they have a book about the Holocaust in their classroom, they should also provide students with a book from an “opposing” viewpoint, according to an audio recording obtained by NBC News.

Gina Peddy, the Carroll school district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, made the controversial comment, captured by a leaked audio recording, during a training session on which books teachers can have in classroom libraries.

“Just try to remember the concepts of [House Bill] 3979,” Peddy said in the leaked recording released by NBC News, referring to a newly enacted Texas law that requires teachers to present multiple views when discussing “widely debated and currently controversial” issues. “And make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust,” she says, suggesting “that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.”

“How do you oppose the Holocaust?” quipped one teacher said in response. 

After the online article and news story was released detailing the leaked audio recording,  Lane Ledbetter, Superintendent of Schools, quickly released an apology on Face Book. “During the conversations with teachers during last week’s meeting, the comments made were in no way to convey that the Holocaust was anything less than a terrible event in history. Additionally, we recognize there are not two sides of the Holocaust. As we continue to work through implementation of HB3979, we also understand this bill does not require an opposing viewpoint on historical facts.” 

The survivors who witnessed the horrors of Genocide and the Holocaust during World War II continue to dwindle in numbers and will soon no longer be here to share their stories. Rhode Island’s Genocide and Holocaust Education Commission is now gearing up to keep this knowledge alive to millennials, Gen Z and other generations. 

During last year’s General Assembly session, legislation was enacted to create this Commission to raise the awareness of the horrific Holocaust and other genocides that have taken place and continue even today through public education and community events to provide appropriate memorialization of the genocides throughout the state.

“The Rhode Island community has a responsibility to address all forms of hate and bullying. Educating our students about The Holocaust and other genocides is a step in the right direction,” says Marty Cooper, chair of the former Rhode Island Holocaust and Genocide Coalition. “The issue in Texas, unfortunately, is the tip of the iceberg. While the vast majority of Rhode Islanders support education as a means to recognize a history of hate and bigotry in our world, there is a minority that do not want to address this issue,” he says.

Antisemitism is alive and well in the United States, Germany, and throughout the world. We must be vigilant to continue to condemn all acts of hate within Rhode Island’s borders.

Editor’s Note: In 2021, the Associated Press changed their style guide to no longer have the word “antisemitism” hyphenated or capitalized.

Older adults still worried, coping with COVID-19 Delta, poll shows

Published October 11, 2021 in RINewsToday

With the COVID-19 Delta variant numbers having surged across the nation, Joe (70) and Joyce (66), residing across the Rhode Island border in Seekonk, Massachusetts, continue to keep their distance from others, only seeing vaccinated friends and spending time with their daughter and her husband and grandchildren. During the first year of the pandemic, my friends pre-ordered their groceries and picked up the filled bags outside the store, where an employee quickly put the bags in their trunk. Now, this includes a quick 15-minute trip into the store, if necessary. They continue to not eat their meals in restaurants but will pick up their order curbside or eat outside.

Like my longtime friends, many older adults age 50 and over still remained concerned about this virus and continue to isolate themselves from others (especially those unvaccinated) and practice social distancing and wear their masks.

Still Feeling Socially Isolated

According to a newly released survey on Sept. 29, 2021, by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and funded by The SCAN Foundation, while a majority of adults age 50 or older see their quality of life, mental health, and satisfaction with social activities and relationships positively, they rarely, or never, feel socially isolated. But still, 18 months into the pandemic,1 in 3 still feel socially isolated at least sometimes. And 1 in 4 feels that their social life and relationships have gotten worse over the past year.

The poll survey includes 1,015 interviews with a nationally representative sample of adults age 50 and older living in America. Interviews were conducted between Aug. 20 and 23, 2021, via internet and phone, in English.

The research findings indicate that those older adults most worried about themselves or a loved one being infected by COVID-19 are most likely to practice social distancing, by avoiding travel, staying away from large groups of people, and wearing a mask. They are the ones most often experiencing feelings of social isolation. The researchers say that these people rate their quality of life, mental and emotional health, and social activities and relationships as worse than those less concerned about the virus.

The study’s findings indicate that being vaccinated does not provide the older persons with relief. Those who are vaccinated are more worried about infection from the virus, are more likely to practice social distancing, and are more likely to describe their mental health as worse than last year compared to those who are not vaccinated.

Touching Others Thru Video Chat and Social Media

To cope with isolation, older adults are using video chat and social media more often since the beginning of the pandemic as the frequency of activities like visiting with friends and family in person, doing volunteer work, attending religious services, and talking with neighbors have declined, the study’s findings indicate. And despite struggles with mental health and isolation, more report that their use of mental health services has declined (34%) than increased (6%).

In addition to the increasing use of technology to socialize, more older adults are using video chat, email, and other technology to receive health care remotely, say the researchers, noting that 63% have used telehealth at some point during the pandemic, up from 56% who had used it as of March 2021. Fifty-1% users expect to continue using it once the pandemic is over, too.

Still, adults age 50 and older are more optimistic than pessimistic that they will be able to fully return to their pre-pandemic activities in the next year, though 17% have already done so.

The results of The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research can be found in “Long-Term Care in America: Coronavirus Worries and Social Isolation among Older Adults,” released on Sept. 2021.