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RI State Report: Grants For Vets + Bishop Tobin Switches Parties

Saturday, August 17, 2013


This week's State Report centers on the newly released jobless rates for July, which illustrate some discouraging news for Rhode Islanders in search of work. Also on the docket this week are a pair of grants: one which looks to help veterans find affordable housing, and another designed to end distracted driving. We'll also look at Rep. Gregory J. Costantino's choice to decline the General Assembly's annual pay raise, as well as Bishop Thomas Tobin's decision to switch his political affiliation in light of Rhode Island's legalization of gay marriage.

Unemployment rate increases in July

Rhode Island's unemployment rate rose in July to 8.9 percent, up from June's 8.8 percent rate, according to figures released Thursday by the state Department of Labor and Training.

Most notably, the number of employed residents dropped by 2,400 in July, leading to a decrease in the total labor force. Additionally, Rhode Island-based jobs decreased by 900.

The number of unemployed Rhode Islanders decreased by 200 in July, bringing the state to one of the lowest levels of unemployed residents since 2008.

Rhode Island's jobless rate had been sitting at 8.8 percent since April, which was the state's lowest rate in four and a half years.

The state's unemployment rate remains the highest in New England and one of the worst in the nation.

The unemployment rate also rose in neighboring Massachusetts from 7 percent to 7.2 percent in July, the Bay State's highest rate since September 2011.

AG Kilmartin Announces $200,000 Grant to Help Veterans Find Sustainable Housing

In an effort to help veterans and low-income families obtain sustainable housing, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin has announced a $200,000 grant to Helping Hands Community Partners.

"Veterans put their lives in danger to protect their country and its citizens. However, when they return home they are not always able to find housing and access to services in their communities,” said Kilmartin. “This grant will arm our veterans and their families with the knowledge and tools to help them realize their own American dream of home ownership.”

Funded through the National Mortgage Settlement between the five largest mortgage service providers and attorneys general nationwide, the grant looks to educate and train veterans and low-income families on the various commitment and responsibilities associated with home ownership—including how to evaluate loan products, determining how much they can afford to borrow, and understanding the mortgage process.

Under the terms of the National Mortgage Settlement, Rhode Island, has received $8.5 million to help fund consumer protection and state foreclosure prevention services. To date, Kilmartin has granted four million dollars to seven nonprofit housing and community agencies.

Helping Hands Community Partners, Inc. is a non-profit corporation founded on the belief that home ownership is a core American value.

RIDOT Gets $459,000 Grant to Curb Distracted Driving

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) announced on Thursday that it will be receiving a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) grant to tackle distracted driving in the state. The $459,000 grant is part of NHTSA's National Priority Safety Program.

"Rhode Island continues to lead the way in proactively addressing highway safety programs," Governor Lincoln Chafee said. "Through the receipt of this grant, we can step up our ongoing efforts to ensure highway safety and ensure that drivers stay focused while driving. I want to congratulate RIDOT and our many partners in law enforcement as they continue to do all they can to make our roadways safer."

RIDOT will use the NHTSA funds to develop a comprehensive distracted driving prevention program, which will launch in October 2013. The program looks to curb distracted driving through driver education, community outreach, and increased funding for enforcement efforts.

"We continuously strive to engineer safety on our roadways," said RIDOT Director Michael P. Lewis. "For the best results, engineering and policy reforms must be combined with enforcement and education, which are the focal points of this new program."

Additionally, RIDOT plans to launch another distracted driving program entitled "It Can Wait" in September, which aims to bring greater awareness to the dangers of texting while driving via a series of education programs throughout Rhode Island schools.

In 2009, the General Assembly passed a law banning texting while driving. This year, the state passed a law requiring tickets issued for texting while driving to be heard before a judge at the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal.

Rep. Costantino Declines Legislative Pay Raise

Rep. Gregory J. Costantino (D-Dist. 44, Lincoln, Johnston, Smithfield) has submitted a formal notice to the General Assembly that he is declining the legislator pay increase that took effect on July 1—thus becoming the 10th lawmaker to do so.

“While Rhode Island is making progress in repairing the economy, people in this state are still struggling to make ends meet and find sustainable income,” Costantino said. “I know this is a small token, but I hope it will serve as a sign that we understand what everyone is going through and we are committed to job creation, sustainable programs and a better quality of life for all Rhode Islanders.”

In 1995, a state constitutional change downsized the GA and mandated that legislators be compensated an annual rate of $10,000, with annual pay increases based on the Consumer Price Index of the previous year. Based on that formula, the legislator pay this year increased by 2.1 percent, from $14,640 to $$14,947. The annual salary of the House Speaker and Senate President has increased to $29,894.

Aside from Costantino, nine lawmakers have turned down the 2.1 percent raise—including Senators Dennis Algiere (R), David Bates (R), Dawson Hodgson (R), Nicholas Kettle (R), Christopher Ottiano (R), Edward O’Neill (I), Adam Satchell (D) and James Sheehan (D), and Rep. Michael Chippendale (R).

Forty lawmakers turned down last year’s 3.2-percent pay increase.

Bishop Tobin Says He's a Republican

Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin has announced that he is now a registered Republican. According to Tobin, he made the decision to switch his party affiliation from Democrat because he could no longer be aligned with the party's stance on same-sex marriage and abortion.

"The a-ha moment for me was the 2012 Democratic National Convention. It was just awful," said Tobin to the Rhody Young Republicans during an event at the Holy Rosary Band Society Hall in Providence. "I just said I can't be associated structurally with that group, in terms of abortion and NARAL [Pro-Choice America] and Planned Parenthood and [the] same-sex marriage agenda and cultural destruction I saw going on. I just couldn't do it anymore."

Tobin also expressed his displeasure with Catholic politicians, saying they "let us down" in regard to the legalization of same-sex marriage. The bishop went on to add that the law was a personal failure for him.

Tobin, who is the leader of Rhode Island's approximate 621,000 Cathoilcs, had been a registered Democrat since 1969. Pope John Paul II appointed Tobin the eighth Bishop of Providence in 2005.


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