RI State Report: Unemployment, Gay Marriage & Fox’s Economic Plan
Saturday, March 23, 2013
We’ll also delve deeper into the same-sex marriage debate by looking at Thursday’s State House hearing, which featured hundreds of proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage. And lastly, the Senate has approved a resolution designed to help former college students finish their degree programs. Keep reading to find out the details.
Unemployment rate dips to 9.4 percent
Rhode Island’s unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest point since December 2008, but the state lost thousands of jobs. The Department of Labor and Training announced on Thursday that the state’s jobless rate ticked down to 9.4 percent last month, down from 9.8 percent in January. The number employed residents jumped by 1,300, to 508,200.
Despite the jobless decline, Rhode Island-based jobs was 465,500, a decline of 2,600 compared to revised January figures. The majority of the lost jobs were in the accommodation and food services industry. The state’s labor force also decreased by 600, to 561,200.
The state's unemployment rate remains the highest in New England and one of the worst in the country. By comparison, the Massachusetts unemployment rate fell to 6.5 percent in February.
The national jobless rate in February was 7.7 percent, a four-year low.
Same-sex marriage hearing at State House
Hundreds of supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage gathered in the State House on Thursday to voice their opinions on two different proposals. The hearing, which included Rhode Island’s elected officials, residents and community leaders lasted more than over 12 hours stretching from 5 p.m. on Thursday to past 5 a.m. Friday.
Those in attendance heard testimony on two bills: one that would legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island and another that would put a referendum on the 2014 ballot to let voters decide the fate of same-sex marriage.
In January, same-sex marriage legislation passed the House without little opposition, but a closer vote is expected in the Senate. In fact, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed has publicly expressed opposition to the bill, as have numerous other senators including Sen. Frank Ciccone, who recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment that would define marriage as being between a man and woman.
A study conducted earlier this month by Brown University found that 60.4 of voters approve of legalizing same-sex marriage, while 26 percent oppose the law.
Chafee announces $1.97 million grant program to get unemployed back to work
Rhode Island’s unemployed and underemployed are luck because the Governor’s Workforce Board is pledging nearly $2 million in grants to get citizens back to work. According to Gov. Lincoln Chafee the grants will be dispersed amongst 10 companies, each receiving anywhere from $130,000 to $250,000.
“Workforce development and training is a major economic development priority of my administration,” said Gov. Chafee. “To accelerate Rhode Island’s economic recovery, we must continue to work to better address the training needs of our businesses. By connecting employers with educational providers to serve the needs of the unemployed and underemployed, we are making real progress toward closing some of the skill gaps in our state.”
The recipients include Rhode Island Hospital, New England Institute of Technology, Amos House, Connecting for Children and Families, OpenDoors, Rhode Island Marine Trades Association, St. Antoine’s Residence, Stepping Up, Tech Collective and the J. Arthur Trudeau Memorial Center.
In total, the grants will benefit over 540 participants in the state industries like hospitality, health care, information technology, green technology and marine trades. About 420 individuals are expected to gain internships and/or work experience through various training programs. According to the governor’s office, roughly 300 people may find permanent employment due to the program.
Fox, Raimondo introduce road repair fund plan
On Thursday, House Speaker Gordon Fox and state Treasurer Gina Raimondo revealed legislation that would create a new funding source from which state municipalities can borrow money for infrastructure projects.
The legislation would create a new funding source for road and bridge projects, which will be administered by the state’s Clean Water Finance Authority. In turn, municipalities will be able to borrow money at low interest rates to finance said projects with the intention of spurring the economy.
“As leaders, our top priority is getting our economy moving again by taking action and creating opportunities for growth and job creation,” said Raimondo. “Establishing a predictable, innovative and cost-saving alternative for cities and towns to finance their road and bridge improvements is an important cornerstone to building a vibrant economy for our state.”
Early estimates to fund the program range from between $60 million and $70 million over 20 years, which would authorize the fund to loan $20 million annually.
Senate approves legislation to help former students earn degrees
According to recent census data, 30.6 percent of Rhode Islanders possess a Bachelor’s degree or higher. Although this figure is above than the national average, Sen. Hannah Gallo believes it should be even higher.
On Wednesday, the Senate approved a resolution sponsored by Sen. Gallo, which calls on the Office of Higher Education to work with the state’s colleges and universities to help former students who were near completion of their studies to earn their degrees.
“Many students do not finish college due to financial issues, time constraints or a new family or professional commitments, despite being a year or less away from completing their degree program,” said Sen. Gallo. “Helping these former students return to school and finish their remaining classes is a low-risk, high reward opportunity for increasing the overall educational attainment of Rhode Island’s workforce.”
According to the resolution, the Office of Higher Education will work with URI, RIC and CCRI to connect former students with the academic, financial and support services they require to complete a post-secondary degree program.
The resolution specifies that the Office of Higher Education must report back to the General Assembly by January 1, 2014 on the program’s progress including the number of former students, the number re-enrolled and the number that successfully completed their degree.
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