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10 Babies Dead in RI in 26 Months, 2 New Near Deaths & Little Outrage

Monday, April 17, 2017

 

Twenty children were recently killed in Syria in a deadly gas attack. The images of the dead children sparked President Donald Trump to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles at a key military airport in response to the killings. Nearly 90 percent of Americans supported the American military response.

In Rhode Island, ten babies all under 18-months old, have died in the past 26 months, and at a recent State House hearing, it was disclosed by the state’s Child Advocate that two new “near deaths” are now under investigation. The disclosure was made during a House Finance sub-committee meeting in which most of the subcommittees members were missing for the majority of the meeting.

For long segments during the sub-committee hearing, only Chair Teresa Tanzi was in attendance. This hearing was just the latest in a series that reviewed the deaths.

For those who have seen the recent legislative hearings reviewing the Child Advocate’s report, emotion and outrage have been void in the discussion. The dialogue between legislators reviewing the deaths with state bureaucrats often sounded more like the narrative between cartoon characters Chip ’n’ Dale — “after you, no-no, after you.”

Raimondo Administration - Under Staffing and More Budget Cuts

Thursday’s hearing unveiled the massive under staffing at DCYF. More than 110 positions have been funded -- but have been unfilled -- according to House Fiscal Advisor Sharon Reynolds Ferland. “I think the committee should be asking about the staffing gaps,” said Reynolds Ferland.

The department’s funding has been consistent over the past five years, but the Raimondo administration has failed to fill key staff positions. DCYF was funded in this year’s budget at 629 positions, but the Raimondo administration thru April 1 has staffed the agency at 517 positions — 112 positions vacant. 

By contrast, filled positions in July, 2011 totalled 616.

Trista Piccola, the Director of DCYF congratulated the Governor and her Department for their performance in her opening remarks and made no mention of the number of deaths or the recent “near deaths” that are now being investigated. 

Child Advocate Jennifer Griffith said that for the first few months she was in her position, there were only three staffers including an administrative staffer.

“If that is not an alarm bell I don’t know what is,” said Tanzi.

Child Advocate Report on Deaths

OCA MDT Review of Cases, page 3: "In 2015 there were six children whose deaths came to the attention of the Department. Five of the children were in the care of the Department of Children Youth and Families at the time of their deaths." 2015-- January 2015 to December 2015--12 months.

Final OCA Child Fatality Review Panel Report, page 6: "The Child Fatality Review Panel reviewed six cases between Oct 12, 2016 and March 1, 2017. Four of the cases involved a child fatality and two involved near-fatalities as defined by {Statute citation}. All six families were known by DCYF sure to previous Child Protective Services reports or prior case openings." January 2016-December 2016 --12 months January 1, 2017 -March 1, 2017--2 months.

 

Related Slideshow: Winners and Losers in Raimondo’s FY18 Budget Proposal

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Winner

Criminal Justice Reform

Per recommendations from the Justice Reinvestment Working Group, the Governor is proposing nearly $1 million in investments such as the public defender mental health program ($185,000), improved mental health services at the ACI ($410,000), recovery housing ($200,000) and domestic violence intervention, in her FY18 budget. 

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Winner

English Language Learners

Under the heading of “promoting 3rd grade reading,” Raimondo proposed adding $2.5 million to make English Language Learning (ELL) K-12 funding permanent.  The Governor’s office points out that RI is one of four states that doesn’t have permanent funding.

The suggestion was one made by the Funding Formula Working Group in January 2016, who said that “in the event that Rhode Island chooses to make an additional investment in ELLs, the funding should be calculated to be responsive to the number of ELLs in the system and based on reliable data, and include reasonable restrictions to ensure that the money is used to benefit ELLs — and promote the appropriate exiting of ELL students from services.”

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Winner

Car Owners - and Drivers

Governor Raimondo wants to reduce assessed motor vehicle values by 30% - a change that would reduce total car tax bills by about $58 million in calendar year 2018. Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, however, has indicated that he might want to go further in its repeal.  

In her budget proposal, Raimondo also put forth adding 8 staffers to the the Department of Motor Vehicles to "address wait times."

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Winner

T.F. Green

The “Air Services Development Fund” would get an influx of $500,000 to “provide incentives to airlines interested in launching new routes or increasing service to T.F. Green Airport.” The Commerce Corporation set the criteria at the end of 2016 for how to grant money through the new (at the time $1.5 million fund).

Also getting a shot in the arm is the I-195 development fund, which would receive $10.1 million from debt-service savings to “resupply” the Fund to “catalyze development & attract anchor employers.”

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Tie

Minimum Wage Increase

An increase in the state minimum wage is part of Raimondo’s proposal, which would see it go from $9.60 an hour to $10.50 an hour.  Raimondo was unsuccessful in her effort in 2016 to bring it up to $10.10 — it was June 2015 that she signed legislation into law that last raised Rhode Island’s minimum wage, from $9 to 9.60.  

The state's minimum hourly wage has gone up from $6.75 in January 2004 to $7.75 in 2013, $8 in 2014, and $9 on Jan. 1, 2015.  Business groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business however have historically been against such measures, citing a hamper on job creation.  

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Tie

Cigarette Tax

Like the minimum wage, Raimondo is looking for an increase - in this instance, the cigarette tax, and revenue to state coffers.  Raimondo was unsuccessful in her effort to go from a tax of $3.75 to $4 last year. Now she is looking for an increase to $4.25 per pack, which the administration says would equate to $8.7 million in general revenue — and go in part towards outdoor recreation and smoking cessation programs.  

The National Federation of Independent Business and other trade groups have historically been against such an increase, saying it will hurt small businesses - i.e. convenience stores. And clearly, if you’re a smoker, you’re likely to place this squarely in the loser category instead. 

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Loser

Hospitals

As often happens in the state budget, winner one year, loser the next. As GoLocal reported in 2016, “the Rhode Island Hospital Association immediately lauded the budget following its introduction, and addressed that while it is facing some reductions, that it "applauds" this years budget after landing on the "loser" list last year.”

This year, it falls back on the loser list, with a Medicaid rate freeze to hospitals, nursing homes, providers, and payers — at FY 2017 levels, with a 1% rate cut come January 1, 2018. 

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Loser

Online Shoppers

The taxman cometh — maybe.  Raimondo proposed an “Internet Sales Tax Initiative” — which would purportedly equate to $34.7 million in revenues.

"Online sales and the fact that online sellers do not collect sales tax has created a structural problem for Rhode Island's budget — our sales taxes have been flat," said Director of Administration Michael DiBiase, of the tax that Amazon collects in 33 states, but not Rhode Island. "We think mostly due to online sales, we’re able to capture the growth. The revenue number is $35 million dollars — it improves our structural deficit problem. It’s an important fiscal development."

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Loser

Long Term Care Funding

The Governor’s proposal recommends “redesigning the nature” of the State’s Integrated Care Initiative, by transferring long-term stay nursing home members from Neighborhood Health to Medicaid Fee-for-Service and repurposing a portion of the anticipated savings (from reduced administrative payments to Neighborhood Health) for “enhanced services in the community.” “The investments in home- and community-based care will help achieve the goal of rebalancing the long-term care system," states the Administration. 

Cutting that program is tagged at saving $12.2 million; cuts and “restructuring” at Health and Human Services is slated to save $46.3 million. 

 
 

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