Allies and Advocates in Rhode Island's State House: Representative Julie Casimiro

By Sara Porcaro | Aug 16, 2022
Rhode Island, Disabilities, Inclusive, Human Services, Politics, State House, Budget, Governor, Activism, Advocacy
Representative Julie Casimiro at Perspectives (Image Credit: Community Provider Network of Rhode Island)

With all the tweets and posts across social media, the photos and videos of crowds filling the Rhode Island State House, there's no doubt: the work of activists and professionals has been instrumental in our fight for I/DD services' rate reform in the state's new budget. But it's worth looking behind the curtain, too--at the legislators that hear the voices of these activists, and the hard work they've done to bring this reform to the Governor's desk. Representative Julie Casimiro and Senator Lou DiPalma have been a tireless force for change in the State House, and we're taking a deeper dive at their efforts!

Laying the Foundations of Rate Reform

Representative Casimiro and Senator DiPalma have both been tireless advocates of the I/DD community. When Casimiro was first elected in 2017, she began with the goal of helping children and families receiving services get more support--but as she met with her constituents, this expanded to the entire I/DD community, and she's been working closely with DiPalma ever since on several family and I/DD related initiatives. With the budget's rate reform, they worked together to fine tune the details of what an overhaul of the Rhode Island human services industry would look like to ensure human services agencies got the funding they need.
"This was a full time job, advocating for this to pass in the budget," Casimiro says. "As a part of the budget, we were able to also advocate for an oversight committee to identify the source of funding and ensure that the money was being spent appropriately. That kind of oversight and follow-up is something we wanted so we can make sure this reform is successful."
Together, both Casimiro and DiPalma worked to not only draft and re-draft the specifics of this initiative, but also to connect with human service agencies and the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island. They wanted to make sure that the scope of their work accurately captured the needs of the hundreds of human service professionals in Rhode Island--ones that have long been underpaid due to the budget issues these legislators sought to fix. Casimiro also came to Perspectives herself for a Take Your Legislator to Work Day, where she met professionals like DSP Charlene Howard, Site Supervisor Jackie Silva, and individuals supported by Perspectives, like Cece. Given how easy it is to feel disconnected from the world of politics, as well as the people drafting and championing new legislation, it was a valuable moment for all.
"The work these professionals do for the I/DD community is so important. So many doors of opportunity are opened when individuals have the support they need, and that's why doing the work to make this rate reform happen was crucial."
"I think it was good for Cece to meet Representative Casimiro and share her story," says Charlene. "I think it made an impression on her. I know it made an impression on me; I really appreciated the chance to explain our situation and feel heard."
Likewise, Jackie adds, "Meeting Representative Casimiro in person has given me more confidence. I never used to be too involved with politics, but it's good to be informed, and making these connections with legislators, remembering they're people like us that want to hear from us, makes it easier."

The Need for Change in the Human Services Industry

Likewise, Casimiro was all the surer of the work that needed to be done after hearing directly from the people that needed this rate reform most: the people receiving supports, and the professionals working each day to support them. The unfortunate reality is that many Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) across the industry have struggled with an impossible dilemma: how to do the job they love while earning enough money to pay their bills. It's led to many professionals working two or more jobs to make ends meet, working for higher pay in neighboring Connecticut or Massachusetts, or just leaving the industry outright--and in the middle of it all are individuals receiving supports who, time and time again, are the most affected by the turnover rate of DSPs.
"The work these professionals do for the I/DD community is so important," Casimiro says. "So many doors of opportunity are opened when individuals have the support they need, and that's why doing the work to make this rate reform happen was crucial."
That work included, beyond meeting with advocates and professionals, beyond drafting the language of rate reform, a tireless advocacy behind the scenes. What we constituents don't often see are the many hours of networking, conversation, and advocacy that go on into each and every piece of legislation brought forward--and with Casimiro and DiPalma working together, reaching both their colleagues in the House and the Senate to discuss the necessity of this reform and the details to make it successful, they made the case for rate reform clear.
"When you first step into politics, you don't realize how hard you have to advocate for legislation you put forward," Casimiro acknowledges. "And you do have to work well along party lines, too; you have to build relationships between parties, and across the House and Senate. But when the House and Senate voted for this reform, honestly, it was a surreal and celebratory moment, seeing all that work pay off."

Activism and Advocacy in Rhode Island Politics

Casimiro also acknowledges the incredible efforts of the advocates, who sent letters and e-mails, made phone calls, and arrived at the State House for both House and Senate Finance Committee meetings to make their voices heard. For people like Charlene and Jackie, who had their first experience in this level of political advocacy with the issue of rate reform, it was an eye-opening experience. Perspectives COO Kim Einloth also arranged trainings through Soapbox Consulting for professionals to learn effective advocacy, so they were supported and prepared to take a stand in the State House.
"It's nerve wracking at first. You'd think all you need to do is get in a room and talk like you would with anyone else, but then you realize that's not the case," Charlene says. "I'm grateful for the training Kim organized for us, because that gave me the tools to advocate clearly and effectively."
"I'd decided to give this a try, but was the advocacy trainings that really made me feel prepared and want to do it," Jackie says. "I'd never done anything like this before, but with the chance to make change for the better, I was excited to be part of something of this scale."
With the budget passed, the next movement came: the wave of gratitude from these advocates for seeing this critical rate reform happen. Charlene and Jackie, among many others who worked to make their voices heard, did so again with e-mails, cards, and other ways of expressing their thanks to the legislators that supported this initiative--and we're also grateful for the connections we've made, the learning we've done, through this important political work. Many thanks again to Representative Casimiro, Senator DiPalma, and others for their work for the I/DD population of Rhode Island!


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