Rhode Islanders Fill the State House for the Funding of Human Services

By Sara Porcaro | May 10, 2022
Rhode Island, Disabilities, Inclusive, Workforce, Employee Wellness, Benefits, House, Senate, Finance Committee, CPNRI, Employment
Activists and Professionals at the Senate Finance Committee Hearing

The end of April saw a wave of green in Providence--a color that's come not only to represent the new life of spring, but the growth, change, and resilience of the human services industry and its professionals in Rhode Island. With the Senate Finance Committee hearing legislation critical to the human services industry, and every family and individual this industry serves, activists and professionals filled the State House to make their voices heard--and we're taking a look at what the new legislation is and why it matters.
The two bills, S2311 and H7180, were introduced in February by several legislators, including Senator Lou DiPalma and Representative Julia Casimiro. These bills would bring Rhode Island's stagnant reimbursement rates back to competitive levels by making sure they rise with labor market and inflationary indicators. Where rate reviews are already part of Medicaid reimbursement rate decisions in several other states--like Massachusetts, who has tied Medicaid reimbursement rates to economic indicators since 2008--Rhode Island has yet to follow suit. This has created an industry where professionals aren't paid what they deserve and human service agencies find themselves having to put people and families on waiting lists for services--or even deny them altogether, forcing them to stay in hospitals for the critical care they need.
"It's a matter of getting Rhode Island legislators to understand the work we do," says Perspectives CEO Judy Niedbala. "We're dedicated to making sure our representatives across the House and Senate know why that work matters."
And certainly, many of our representatives do understand the urgent need for rate reform, which is why they put the legislation forward for the Senate and House. Casimiro also visited Perspectives to learn firsthand what it means to be a direct support professional at our North Kingstown office. Perspectives, as one of CPNRI's member agencies, has long pushed for more funding and rate reform, and at the State House in late April, several Perspectives professionals, together with professionals from Seven Hills, the J. Arthur Trudeau Memorial Center, the Parent Support Network of RI, and other organizations came together to support much needed change. With the Senate Finance Committee hearing the testimony of several professionals' struggles in their day-to-day work from lack of proper funding, the message came loud and clear.
"This shouldn't be seen as a cost, but an investment," says Tides Family Services' Director of Intake and Community Relations Meredith Correia. "The current rates are causing a staffing crisis. The stability of people's and their family's lives is at stake; we need to be able to attract and retain talent."
For the many member agencies in the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, the fight for proper funding has evolved beyond a cause for activism; it's become a cause for serious concern, especially as neighboring states like Massachusetts and Connecticut have pay rates for direct support staff that Rhode Island agencies don't have the funding to compete with. The slogan flashing across the sea of green shirts at the State House in late April--"Stable Workforce, Stable Lives"--is therefore more than just a slogan: it's the plain, simple truth. Without the ability to properly pay human services professionals, fund agencies, and more, the lives of individuals all across Rhode Island are at risk as they go with fewer, or no, services.
But the work doesn't stop here. This Thursday, May 12th, the House Finance Committee is coming together at the State House to hear this same legislation, and we need your support to ensure they understand the value of this critical legislation. More than ever, we need to keep the focus on this issue--and you can help by sending your local representatives a message. Let them know where you stand on this important issue and help us ensure stability for the lives of our fellow Rhode Islanders!


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