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PowerPlayer: The Poverty Institute’s Kate Brewster

Monday, October 24, 2011


This week’s PowerPlayer is the Poverty Institute’s Kate Brewster. Ms. Brewster was kind enough to chat will GoLocalProv about the state’s most pressing issues and the work she is doing to address them.

1) The state has been decimated by social service cuts in recent years. Tell us about how that affects the work you do.

The Poverty Institute advocates for policies that will allow Rhode Islanders to make economic progress, but as you point out many of the programs that support this goal have been cut. Over the years we have spent more time and energy fighting against proposed cuts to programs that help families make ends meet, rather than focusing our efforts on improving and expanding these programs. As Rhode Islanders continue to struggle with stubbornly high unemployment and rising poverty, we need to stop cutting, and increase investments in vital programs like child care assistance and workforce development.

2) What is the single most pressing issue the state faces today?

High unemployment and a lack of jobs is our biggest challenge. Manufacturing jobs that were the backbone of our state’s economy and paid wages that could support a family have disappeared. In fact, Rhode Island has lost a greater percentage of manufacturing jobs over the past two decades than any of the 48 states for which we have data. Today’s jobs demand a new set of skills. If we are to turn our local economy around, we have got to significantly increase the skills of our workforce by making new, bold investments in workforce training. Imagine if Rhode Island could boast that we have the most educated workforce in our country? A highly skilled and trained workforce is a powerful selling point to start-ups and companies looking to expand or re-locate jobs.

3) Take us through a day in your life.

Like so many of my colleagues, I am a working mom, so it is a constant balancing act between work and family. Working for a nonprofit, I wear a lot of hats. On any given day, I am running a staff meeting, giving a presentation to local community organizations, meeting with policymakers to discuss legislative issues, talking with the media about a hot-button topic, or working with our dedicated board. Needless to say, there is never a boring day here in this line of work, and in being a mom to a one and three year old!

4) While the cuts have been severe, the state still faces huge deficits every year. What are we doing wrong when it comes to funding?

A state’s ability to provide vital services is directly linked to the soundness of its tax and revenue structure. Local, state and federal governments need sufficient revenue to be able to educate current and future workers, maintain infrastructure, provide health care to seniors and people with disabilities, and protect our families, homes, and businesses.

Solving our budget problems requires a balanced approach, yet year after year we rely far more heavily on cutting spending than looking at ways in which we can make our tax system more sustainable for the long-term.

Some practical recommendations for raising more revenue include reviewing and reforming tax expenditures that cost the state more than a billion in forgone revenue each year; modernizing our sales tax; and closing corporate loopholes. We must also carefully monitor personal income tax reform which made permanent tax cuts for the highest-income households in our state.

5) Tell us something nobody knows about you. Many people don’t know my sister is local musician Becky Chace (Brewster).

Quick Hitters

Role Model: The late Nancy Gewirtz, co-founder of the Institute and my mentor, and our current Board Chair Dick Silverman, who is one of the fairest, most sincere people I have had the pleasure to work with
Favorite Restaurant: Ocean Mist in Matunuck for brunch, the Matunuck Oyster Bar for Dinner.
Best Beach: Mansion Beach, Block Island
Best Book You've Read This Year: Lemon the Duck
Advice For The Next Kate Brewster: Always maintain a sense of humor!

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