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State Report: Gay Marriage Battle, Foreclosure Crisis & the Sawyer School

Saturday, January 12, 2013

 

This week’s State Report centers around a pair of deadlines that many Rhode Islanders may want to keep in mind. Not only is the deadline to file a claim under the National Mortgage Settlement drawing near, but the cut-off for residents to register for Hurricane Sandy relief is just days away.

Aside from relief payment cut-off information, the State Report also examines the recently proposed controversial gay marriage legislation through the lens of the state’s Roman Catholic Diocese. Also on the docket this week is an update on the sudden Sawyer School closure and an examination of the new State Poet.

AG Kilmartin reminds Rhode Islanders mortgage settlement claim deadline

The deadline for eligible Rhode Island borrowers who lost their homes due to improper foreclosure practices between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 201, to file a claim for funds under the $25 billion National Mortgage Settlement is January 18, 2013, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin announced on Tuesday. The settlement pertains to borrowers who had mortgages serviced by Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan and Wells Fargo.

According to Kilmartin, his office has mailed approximately 5,500 packages to eligible residents. So far, the Attorney General’s office has received 2,398 claims from eligible borrowers. Borrowers that believe they qualify for a payment, but have not received a notice because they’ve moved, may visit www.nationalmortgagesettlement.com to download and complete a form. Rhode Islanders may also contact the settlement administrator, toll-free, at 1-866-430-8358 or by email at administrator@nationalmortgagesettlement.com.

The settlement, which took effect in April, provides up to $25 billion in relief to distressed borrowers and direct payments to states and the federal government. It’s the largest multistate settlement since the Tobacco Settlement in 1998, which ordered the country’s largest tobacco companies to pay an estimated $246 billion.

Federal disaster aid deadline draws near

The deadline for Rhode Islanders to apply for federal disaster relief is midnight Monday, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The federal aid is intended to help homeowners pay for home repairs, temporary housing, damage to vehicles and other expenses related to Superstorm Sandy. State residents have been paid $6 million on 1,020 claims thus far, according to federal officials.

Rhode Islanders affected by the storm may register online at www.disasterassistance.gov or call 800-621-FEMA. Federal funding is available to state, tribal, and eligible local governments and select nonprofit groups on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair of facilities damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

Preliminary figures estimate that Superstorm Sandy caused approximately $65.6 billion in damages, making it the second-costliest Atlantic hurricane in history, behind only Hurricane Katrina.

President Barack Obama has signed a $9.7 billion bill to pay flood insurance claims from Superstorm Sandy, but a larger and more comprehensive $51 billion package still awaits approval from Congress.

Update on Sawyer School closure

As GoLocal previously reported, 300 students were left in the cold last week when The Sawyer School decided to close its doors without warning. And now, one week later, the Rhode Island State Police have presented their preliminary findings.

On Thursday, state police announced that it had removed boxes of documents from the career training school and was looking into whether Sawyer committed any crimes. Investigators are currently trying to determine how the school spent student’s tuition money and where federal financial aid money went.

That being said, state police also stated that there may be no crime and that The Sawyer School simply failed financially.

As for the displaced student body, the state Office of Higher Education will hold an all-day “transfer fair” from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Jan. 17, at the Community College of Rhode Island’s Providence Campus. Representatives from eight schools will be in attendance to talk to Sawyer students. Students with questions can contact The Sawyer School Hotline at 401-277-5282.

Aside from affecting 300 students in Rhode Island, about 1,200 students in Connecticut were impacted by the sudden closure. Academic Enterprise’s, the owner of The Sawyer School has declined to comment.

Bishop Tobin calls same-sex marriage ‘immoral and unnecessary’

Just days after the Rhode Island House and Senate each introduced same-sex marriage legislation, the leader of the state’s Roman Catholic Diocese has come out in strong opposition of the bills. In a statement released on Monday, Bishop Thomas Tobin called the legislation to legalize gay marriage “immoral and unnecessary.” Tobin added that although the Catholic Church welcomes “individuals with same-sex attraction,” it cannot condone gay marriage.

‘‘It is our very concern for their spiritual welfare, however, that motivates our rejection of the homosexual lifestyle and same-sex marriage,’’ wrote Tobin in the statement, which will be published in the Rhode Island Catholic weekly newspaper.

Tobin went on to write: “The natural law, the Holy Scriptures, and long-standing religious tradition are very consistent in affirming that homosexual activity is sinful, contrary to God’s plan. It should never be encouraged, ratified or ‘blessed’ by the state.”

Tobin did add that if the state must consider same-sex marriage, he’d prefer it be left for voters to decide.

Despite Tobin’s opposition, the Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Marriage Equality issued a statement Monday supporting the legislation. “No one church or leader represents all persons of faith,” said Rev. Gene Dyszlewski, the group’s chairman. Dyszlewski added that his group believes ‘‘all loving, committed couples should be recognized, respected and treated equally under the law.’’

Same-sex marriage legislation was introduced last week in the House and Senate. House Speaker Gordon Fox has called for a vote on gay marriage in the House by the end of the month. Rhode Island is the only New England state that has not legalized gay marriage.

Gov. Chafee appoints new State Poet of Rhode Island

On Wednesday, Gov. Lincoln Chafee appointed Dr. Rick Benjamin as State Poet of Rhode Island, replacing outgoing State Poet Lisa Starr, whose five-year term has expired.

“Dr. Rick Benjamin is an accomplished and committed poet and educator who has taken his love for and belief in the power of poetry far beyond the classroom and out into our Rhode Island communities,” said Chafee.

Benjamin, who is currently a lecturer in Public Humanities and Environmental Studies at Brown University and at the Rhode Island School of Design, is the author of Passing Love: Poems (2010) and the upcoming Floating World: Poems (TBD). He also edited Words from Mothers: Poems from Project Hold (2009) and Love, Loss, Life: The Epoch Poets (2011). Benjamin’s poems have appeared in numerous publication including Ars Poetica, Berkeley Poetry Review, Creature Comforts, Journal of New Jersey Poets, Paterson Literary Review, and Blackletter among others.

Aside from being a prolific educator and poet, Benjamin has been extensively involved with non-profits and community organizations throughout the state. He has served as statewide director of Rhode Island River of Words, associate director of Project 540, the National High School Civic Engagement Initiative, and as an arts mentoring fellow with New Urban Arts.

“I am honored and humbled to be named Poet Laureate of Rhode Island,” Benjamin said. “My deepest wish during my tenure will be to saturate this small state with poetry — in schools, community and assisted living centers, in places where poetry already has a presence and in some other ones where it is desperately needed. I am delighted to accept this position.”

Established by law in 1989, the position of Rhode Island State Poet is traditionally held by an artist who represents the highest achievement in poetry in the state. There are no specific duties assigned to the position, but the State Poet is the principal advocate for poetry in Rhode Island. The Previous State Poets are Michael Harper (1989-1994) and C.D. Wright (1994-1999), Thomas Chandler (1999-2006) and Lisa Starr (2007-2012).

 

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