Shop Small, Dine Small
Small business is the backbone of the Rhode Island economy. In fact, small businesses make up 96 percent of our state’s employers. They are the main engine of economic growth in our state, and provide a more personalized experience for the thousands of Rhode Islanders who work and shop in these businesses every day. From restaurants to bookstores, shops to services, Rhode Island has a plethora of wonderful small, often family-owned businesses.
Small Business Saturday highlights those exceptional local businesses. It’s an effort to encourage consumers to buy local, a movement that has grown significantly in recent years. Many consumers want to know where their products are being made, and by whom, and buying local gives them the ability to do that. As I helped kick off the local Small Business Saturday initiative in Pawtuxet Village, it reminded me how important it truly is to support locally-owned shops. My late father ran a hardware store for many years, and it took a toll on him when the big box stores put him out of business. Over the years, my parents owned several small businesses, and I saw firsthand how challenging it can be. The work is hard, but also fulfilling, both as an owner and as a customer.
When you shop local, more of your money is staying in the community. It’s something I strive to do during the holidays and year round, and I encourage my constituents to do the same! It’s good for our economy, and it’s good for the soul.
I visited Pat’s Pastured farm in East Greenwich back in September, and got a firsthand look at how Patrick McNiff runs his operation. He is a force to be reckoned with in the farm to table food movement, and as I continue to work closely with food producers and farmers to support our state’s food economy, I came to see how leaders like Patrick are paving the way for other businesses to capitalize on this momentum. Pat’s Pastured is a beautiful spot, and they produce great-tasting, wholesome products.
As I left the farm that day, Pat mentioned that Thanksgiving is a big time of year for him. We got to talking about turkey and the holidays, and I had to admit that I’ve never tasted a fresh from the farm turkey.
Or, at least, I hadn’t at that point.
Now, it’s a different story.
I trust Pat’s products and have thoroughly enjoyed all of the food I’ve tasted from the farm, so I figured it was worth taking his advice on a Thanksgiving turkey. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I joined the throngs of people waiting for a fresh bird and checked out nearby vendors at the same time. Robin Hollow Farm was there with beautiful centerpieces, Great Harvest had delicious-smelling pies and Narrow Lane Orchard and Zephyr Farm had the fruits and vegetables covered. The Coffee Guy was there to warm everyone up, and I opted for a cold Yacht Club Soda (cherry cola – my favorite!). Many shoppers waited for hot sandwiches and sausages, too, from Pat’s “to go” cart. Everything was delicious, but nothing could compare to the turkey my family and I brought home. The 17-pound bird was so tender; it really made our holiday special.
Thanks, Patrick, for once again showing what a difference buying local can make!
The holiday season is an exciting time for many of us, filled with food, laughter and family. Not everyone is so fortunate, however, and for many Rhode Islanders, the holidays are an especially difficult time. Buying food and keeping their homes heated can be a monumental challenge, never mind trying to shop for presents for the little ones in their lives.
That’s why I believe that if you’re fortunate enough to indulge in the holiday spirit, you should spread that joy around as much as possible. I have a wonderful team surrounding me, and thankfully they agree. Together, we donated two large boxes of food to the Jonnycake Center of Peace Dale, along with a gift certificate to purchase a turkey and other Thanksgiving trimmings. Giving back, even in the smallest ways, can make you feel even better about the holidays.
It was a rewarding experience for our office, and it put us in the holiday spirit, but it pales in comparison to the work being done by the Jonnycake Center day in and day out. Thank you to the staff and volunteers at the Jonnycake Center and at support agencies around the state; your generosity does not go unnoticed.
Honoring Veterans Day
Veterans Day is such a special occasion. It is important that we always give thanks to our men and women in uniform, past and present, but on Veterans Day in particular. It is a welcome reminder of the sacrifice our servicemembers make, and in Rhode Island, it is filled with events that highlight the incredible service of our local veterans.
There are several wonderful Veterans Day parades around the state, and I have been fortunate the past few years to participate in the North Kingstown parade. Bill Pennoyer does an exceptional job putting the North Kingstown Veterans Day Parade together, and I am always so impressed with, and proud of, the large crowd that comes out to cheer on the veterans. From Wilson Park to North Kingstown High School, supporters line the sidewalks, waving American flags and applauding the VFW chapters and veterans groups that march each year. The turnout is consistently large, and it’s a testament, I believe, to the gratitude felt in our community for the men and women who defend our nation’s freedom.
Later in the day, I also had the chance to celebrate Veterans Day with the seniors at Greenwich Farms at Warwick, a senior living facility that pulled out all the stops to thank the veterans living there.
Veterans Day would not be complete without the annual Women Warriors luncheon sponsored by Operation Stand Down Rhode Island. We in Rhode Island are extremely fortunate to have OSDRI as a resource for our returning veterans. Returning to civilian life after a career in the military can be a jarring proposition, particularly after deployments overseas, and it is imperative that we provide the resources our veterans need to manage the transition. This transition can be even harder for our women warriors, who may have less of a peer support network.
We owe a debt of gratitude to our veterans, but even more so we have a responsibility to support and care for them when they return. Veterans Day celebrations are a great example of how to show our appreciation. And when it comes to our responsibility to support them, that’s a commitment we have to work at every day, and all year long.
WARM the Heart
The last time I visited the WARM Center in Westerly, they were running on a bare bones budget and the huge demand was putting a strain on operations. The kitchen was no bigger than a household kitchen, despite the thousands of meals being prepared there each year.
Upon returning, I couldn’t believe the transformation that had taken place.
The demand is still tremendous, and the WARM Center staff continues to do more with less, but the facility has expanded and they are doing incredible things. Last year, WARM served 35,000 meals, and they finally have a kitchen that can truly accommodate the staggering need in their community. Across a courtyard, a new space is taking shape. Men and women have separate shelter accommodations with beautiful furnishings that they can take pride in. A common living space is empty now, but Executive Director Russ Partridge has a vision for what it will become, and that vision will mean the world to the Rhode Islanders being served at the shelter.
During my visit, I was fortunate to have the chance to take part in the Zero:2016 survey, a nationwide effort to better understand the circumstances surrounding homelessness. Homeless individuals are asked many questions about their personal history, medical conditions, the frequency with which they have been forced to seek emergency shelter and other factors that could stand in their way of finding secure, affordable housing and stable employment. I went through the questionnaire with a very forthcoming gentleman who is currently living at the WARM Center, and his story was humbling. He has faced so much adversity, and yet he is excited about the progress he is making with the help of center staff. He is not sure what the future will hold, but he told me that he is confident that he will be able to get back on his feet and move forward. That kind of strength, faith and optimism is so inspiring.
Russ said it best when he noted that, “the face of homelessness is not what you think.” There are so many stereotypes and assumptions surrounding homelessness, but the fact is that there are countless families just one paycheck away from homelessness. They are hardworking, proud people, and they just want to provide for their families. Anyone could be at risk, which is why it is more important than ever to support facilities like the WARM Center. I’m so grateful to have WARM, the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless and the many other social service and support agencies that work day-in and day-out to make our state a better, safer place where all Rhode Islanders can find success.
Providing For Veterans
Operation Stand Down Rhode Island runs seven properties with more than 50 residential units for homeless veterans.
Make that eight properties with nearly 60 units.
It was an honor to be with Operation Stand Down founder Tony DeQuattro and Executive Director Erik Wallin, and their entire team, to officially open the Pierce Street apartments in Westerly. These 10 new units of permanent supportive housing aid in the organization’s goal of ending veteran homelessness in Rhode Island. The grand opening was a celebration of the sacred vow we take as a nation to support and care for those who have sacrificed so much for our country. These are not just buildings, but pathways to stability.
For veterans, integrating back into civilian life can be a challenge, an even more daunting one when faced with the physical or mental wounds of war. In addition to medical care, providing a stable home environment is one of the best ways to aid that transition and put them on a path to success. I’m very pleased to see that these homes are transit-accessible and will help to contribute to a livable, inclusive community. Empowering people to live, work, dine, and shop in the same area will help to foster a sense of community, and it will provide the intangible supports so vital to our daily lives that many of us take for granted.
Although it is one component of a larger neighborhood revitalization project that will benefit Westerly, this housing site has been a long time coming, and the team at Operation Stand Down – and everyone who supported their efforts – should feel very proud of their accomplishments.
Tree Business Growing
The Leyden family has been selling Christmas trees for three generations, so when a member of the fourth generation expressed an interest in taking over the family tradition, patriarch Jack Leyden was ecstatic. If his daughter, Caitlin, were to get a full-time job out of the seasonal business, though, Leyden was going to need some updating.
In 2010, the Leydens began planting grapes and other fruits on their West Greenwich land in order to craft their own local wine. While their grapes are still too young to bottle, the wine business is already up and running thanks to fruit grown just over the bridge in Newport. The product is already delicious, proving that Christmastime isn’t the only season worthy of a visit to Leyden Farm. They have big plans for the future, as well, with hopes of building a new space for the winemaking once the on-site grapes are ready to harvest. By then, Caitlin will likely be done with school. She is currently studying to be a sommelier at Johnson and Wales University, and between her growing knowledge of wine and her parents’ love for it, the Leyden Farm Winery is a passion project with a bright future.
When we talk about the food economy, the beverage industry is an important component to making Rhode Island a food destination. Just as consumers have a growing desire to eat local, they want to drink local, too, so wineries and breweries complement the overall goal of supporting a buy local mentality.
Whether you’re going for the wine or to tag a Christmas tree, Leyden Farm is truly a beautiful spot. You can sit out on the back deck or stay inside where it’s warm, sip local wine and look out at a panoramic scene filled with trees, grape vines and forest extending way back onto the property. And what you’ll get at Leyden Farm that you won’t find everywhere is the warm, welcoming hospitality of the Leyden family. They make their customers feel right at home, and I look forward to my return visit!
It was cold and rainy, but that didn’t stop the crowds at the Pawtucket Wintertime Farmers Market or the Coastal Growers Market from showing up for the first week of indoor sales. Located in the Hope Artiste Village and Lafayette Mill, respectively, these markets feature nearly 100 vendors altogether. In fact, Pawtucket, which is run by Farm Fresh Rhode Island, is the largest indoor market in the state with more than 70 different booths. Coastal Growers is smaller, but has a fierce following of loyal shoppers who make the transition indoors after a long summer at Casey Farm in Saunderstown.
Opening weekend did not disappoint. Clearly a lot of excitement had been building for the indoor market launch, and that speaks to the growing interest in buying local and eating local. I have discovered so many fantastic products through farmers’ markets. This time around, I was especially thrilled with my breakfast crepe from la creperie in Providence and the kettle corn from Nettie’s. I saw a lot of familiar faces, too, like Pat from Pat’s Pastured and my friends Jesse Rye and Kayla Ringelheim from Farm Fresh RI. The food economy is a tight knit community in Rhode Island, and you can see that on full display at these markets. Restaurateurs, farmers and manufacturers all come together not just to showcase their own goods but also to connect and collaborate with one another.
One of the things I love most about the farmers’ market venue is that it’s an equalizer. All farms and businesses, no matter their size or annual profit margin, get basically the same size table. It puts products on even footing, and that is a great opportunity for new businesses. I love supporting new, growing and established businesses in our food economy, and I highly recommend both the Pawtucket and Coastal Growers markets as a great way to spend a Saturday morning.
Cyber for All Ages
If you look back to my October 21st post about the URI Honors Colloquium on cybersecurity, you can see that cybersecurity is a major priority for me in Congress. I co-founded and continue to co-chair the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, and I am proud to be considered a national leader in this area. I have been ringing the bell on this for many years, trying to get legislators, educators and the general public to understand that securing our nation’s technology infrastructure – public and private – is a crucial goal and a daunting challenge. As technology advances and evolves, so do cyber criminals, meaning that we must constantly be evaluating and reevaluating our security.
It can be an overwhelming problem at times, but the good news is that more and more people are starting to listen. People are finally coming to understand that we need to act now.
Just one week after the Honors Colloquium, I had three additional cyber-related speaking engagements, highlighting both the increased awareness and the important role Rhode Island must maintain as a leader in the cybersecurity movement. I returned to URI on October 28th to speak first with the students at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, or OLLI. OLLI engages students over the age of 50 who are hungry to keep learning. They were a wonderful audience with pointed questions, and I was especially excited to see that level of interest from a generation – my generation – that is traditionally less “plugged in” than your typical college student.
Immediately after, I headed across campus to appear on the URI television program, “Stream of Consciousness.” Adam Schmuter, a very bright student who I first met because of his involvement in the Student Senate, interviewed me for the show, and he too had some great questions. Adam and his classmates are very fortunate because URI has done some exceptional programming on cybersecurity, and I am very proud of how committed the university is to training the next generation of cyber professionals.
After my URI cyber day, I was at the Community College of Rhode Island on the 30th to provide keynote remarks at CCRI’s Security Awareness Day. I was joined by my friend and colleague Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who has also committed much of his time to finding legislative fixes to improve our nation’s position in cybersecurity. Sheldon and I were both very pleased to be there at the request of CCRI, the Rhode Island State Police Computer Crimes Division, the RI Air National Guard and the Association for College and University Technology Advancement. Together, these groups assembled an impressive guest list that featured law enforcement officers, educators, government officials and, of course, students, ensuring that the young people studying at CCRI could be brought up to speed on where we are and where we need to be when it comes to making this country – and our cyber infrastructure – safer.
Rocky Point: Past, Present, and Future
As a Warwick native, I grew up going to Rocky Point. It has always been a special place for me, and I am so proud to see the progress that has been made in revitalizing this state treasure. Having been involved in this project for so long, it was a thrill for me to look out at the spectacular Rocky Point vistas and reflect on the importance of this stretch of coastline to Warwick and to all Rhode Islanders. Rocky Point is an important part of our history, a treasure of the present and I believe an opportunity for the future as people return to enjoy the park with a new generation of families.
When Senator Reed, Senator Whitehouse, and I began working with the City of Warwick, the SBA and neighborhood groups, all those years ago, Rocky Point was mired in bankruptcy court, and the public was not able to enjoy its scenic views and its open space. I am delighted to say that this effort is almost complete, and I’m grateful for the commitment shown by so many within our community to see Rocky Point restored and preserved as a State Park.
Through the hard work of citizen groups like Rocky Point Foundation, with help from Save the Bay, in collaboration with the Congressional delegation, Janet Coit’s team at RI DEM, Governor Lincoln Chafee and Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, this area has gained new life, and again offers access to scenic views of the Narragansett Bay.
I look forward to seeing Rhode Island build on the great steps that have already been taken to ensure that Rocky Point remains a source of pride and great memories for generations of Rhode Islanders to come.
Head of the Class
I would like to thank North Kingstown State Senator Jim Sheehan for inviting me to speak with students at Toll Gate High School, where he teaches history and civics. I enjoyed my visit and was impressed by the engaging questions from the students. The discussion revolved around pertinent issues that the students are currently learning about, such as combating the high unemployment rate, implementing the Affordable Care Act and reforming our broken immigration system.
I was also delighted to take the opportunity to encourage civic participation amongst the student body. Students should remember that they are never too young to get involved with the legislative process. I became interested in politics when I was still in high school, and my early experience volunteering on campaigns sparked a passion for public service. Staying up on current events and policy helps shape our opinions so we can best contribute to the democratic process. There are many opportunities for students to get involved, including internships with legislators, such as myself. And it goes without saying that all teenagers should register to vote when they are of age because every voice matters!
After speaking at and helping to coordinate the University of Rhode Island Cybersecurity Symposium for the past several years, I was really looking forward to this year’s Honors Colloquium on cybercrime and security. I continue to be so impressed by the University’s leadership in this area, and by the promise shown by students, who will be the cyber warriors of the future.
First, I want to thank Lisa DiPippo and Vic Fay-Wolfe for dedicating so much time and energy to this issue, and for bringing together an exceptional group of speakers. I am especially grateful to those speakers, who ignited spirited discussion and offered some powerful insight into cybersecurity and the challenges we face. Cheri Caddy from the White House, Gerry Bessette of the FBI, Roby Luna of Aretec, Inc. and facilitator Sergeant John Alfred were wonderful, and I was honored to be on stage with them to offer my thoughts on how we can move this country forward and secure our technology infrastructure.
Defending against an adversary has always been difficult: an attacker needs to find only a single point-of-failure to be successful, while a defender must protect against all possible breaches. This paradigm is exponentially more challenging in cyberspace for two reasons. One, it’s just as easy to attack someone across the planet as it is to attack someone across the room, so the attack space is much larger. Two, it’s almost as easy to attack everyone with a vulnerability as it is to attack one entity with a vulnerability, making the attack space larger still. As a result, attacking is more lucrative, which draws off important talent even as more defenders are needed. I frequently make the point that we only have a fraction of the highly-skilled cyber professionals that our nation needs.
Thankfully for our nation, and certainly for Rhode Island, we have the University of Rhode Island at the forefront, educating cyber professionals and shedding light on an industry that will continue to grow and evolve alongside technology.
Welcome to Sensation Station
When my nephew was diagnosed with autism, my family was overwhelmed. Like many families, we all questioned how to best care for and support him. What resources are available? How will he fare in the classroom? What can we do?
An autism diagnosis can make you feel helpless, but we are fortunate in Rhode Island to have access to many community resources that make life easier for a child on the autism spectrum. Another resource joined the mix with the opening of Sensation Station on Centerville Road in Warwick. Sensation Station is a pediatric therapy practice that specializes in the treatment of children with autism. Sensation Station employs occupational, physical and speech therapy professionals to provide one-on-one, individualized support and interventions. Sensation Station also offers family and sibling support and home assessments to ensure the safety of children with autism.
I’m proud to welcome Sensation Station to Warwick, and I look forward to returning to see the progress made by the many children and families that this facility supports.
Salute to Veteran Caregivers
I hosted an event at Operation Stand Down’s Employment and Education Training Service Center to garner support for two pieces of legislation I introduced. The Veterans Homebuyer Accessibility Act would provide an $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit for veterans, as well as an $8,000 tax credit for adaptive housing modifications. The Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act would make veterans of all eras eligible for caregiver support services, extend eligibility to include a wider array of needs that may require caregiving and expand services available to caregivers. I believe these are important pieces of legislation that help to fulfill our promise to the men and women in uniform – and their families – who sacrifice so much in the service of our country. Erik Wallin from Operation Stand Down and Kathleen McKeon from the Caregivers Alliance of Rhode Island were on hand to offer their support of the legislation, and they talked about the unique challenges facing veterans and military families in Rhode Island and nationwide.
I was grateful for the opportunity to discuss these bills, and to hear from Erik and Kathy, but all of that took a backseat when Dottie Furlong and Angela O’Connell took their turns speaking. Dottie is a caregiver to her son’s fiancée, Heather, who suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving in Iraq and now has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Angela cares for her husband, Donald, a Vietnam War veteran who was diagnosed with dementia four years ago. These women are unbelievably strong. They put the needs of others first, and have dedicated their lives to caring for their families at any cost. They met for the first time at this event, but when Angela became choked up while talking about her husband, Dottie reached out and held her hand. Angela did the same when Dottie described what she called the “unraveling” of her future daughter-in-law. These women are strangers, but their kinship as caregivers connects them. To see that bond up close, the bond forged by shared experience and hardship, was powerful, and it reminded me of not only why I wanted to introduce this legislation but also why I pursue public office. If I can make life easier for someone like Angela, or assure someone like Dottie that she is not alone, that makes it all worth it.
Full Steam Ahead!
In recent years, the Steamship Historical Society of America has been a ship without a harbor. The SSHSA previously set anchor in locations up and down the eastern seaboard, but thanks to the hard work of the City of Warwick and New England Institute of Technology, they finally have a place to call home. Nestled between NEIT buildings on Post Road, the new SSHSA museum is now a cultural and historical jewel for the public to enjoy.
Thomas Edison – whose electric light bulb was first commercially used on SS Columbia in 1880 – famously said “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” Edison’s point is well-taken: no matter your talent, success will never come without your exertions, mental and physical. However, I have always thought it a bit ironic that a man who boasted of working 20-hour days assigned so little a role to inspiration. While Edison may have been right about the marginal importance of an out-of-the-blue moment of clarity, I would venture to say that no human being can work as long and as hard as Edison did unless he is inspired by his work.
Inspiration can take many forms. Some are called by an idea, like public service, or by the example set by a mentor. Some, however, are inspired by more concrete things. Engine-powered vessels, testaments to human ingenuity, have captured the imaginations of artists, sociologists, engineers, modelists, and writers since the 18th century. SSHSA’s Warwick museum is now well-positioned to continue that legacy for a new generation.
We can’t know where an early dose of inspiration will take a young person. But though they may never work on powered-ships, the industrial design student at RISD inspired by the line drawings of the SS Commonwealth, the mechanical engineer at URI inspired by the physics of steam engines, and the machinist in NEIT’s shipbuilding program inspired by the majesty of the old ocean liners will all owe to SSHSA that little spark that set them on their way.
Living on the Edge
Affordable housing is the antidote to homelessness and the cornerstone of opportunity in our communities. Without a safe place to call home, an individual faces countless other challenges. Without clean clothes or a permanent address, finding full time-time employment can be near impossible. Paying for child care is out of the question, which makes finding a job doubly difficult. Access to health care, barriers to transportation and general stability all come into question without a home, and this is the reality of far too many Rhode Islanders. For others, they are just one paycheck away from homelessness.
This group of people, people who are living on the edge, need our support. It’s not a hand out and, in fact, it makes economic sense to ensure that all people have access to housing and therefore employment. With a steady job and stream of income, people contribute to the economy. They buy goods and services and can pull themselves up to a position where they no longer need public assistance.
There is a misconception perpetuated by those who wish to abolish public support programs that these individuals would prefer to be unemployed. That they are not motivated to work or to better their situation. I have looked these people in the eye and I have heard their stories, and I can say unequivocally that this could not be further from the truth. Thanks to my friends at the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, House of Hope Community Development Corporation and Amos House, I participated in an insightful roundtable that reinforced what I already knew: homelessness has no age or gender or race. Anyone can become homeless. But with the appropriate resources and smart investments in community supports, anyone can recover, too.
If we want to break the cycle of poverty, we need to take this issue seriously. We need to extend long-term unemployment insurance so those who have been out of work for a long stretch can pursue training or education, and continue the job search. We need to raise the minimum wage, because no one in America should work a 40-hour work week and still live in poverty. We need to make it easier to access student loans and affordable college education. We need to increase access to affordable housing. And we need to support the types of workforce development programs that retrain workers with the skills necessary for a 21st century economy.
Homelessness is a serious problem in this country, and certainly in Rhode Island. It’s going to take a serious commitment to end it. Thanks again to the Coalition, House of Hope and Amos House for showing me the many faces of poverty in Rhode Island, and thank you for your tireless advocacy on their behalf.
Growing up, my parents took in more than a dozen foster youth, giving our family an opportunity to see firsthand the difference a loving home makes for children. True permanency isn’t just a legal parent, but a home, and home doesn’t cease to exist at the age of 18. Every foster child deserves the same kind of care we provide for our own children.
Unfortunately, many child welfare agencies are facing budget constraints that limit the number of caseworkers that are hired and the number of training programs available. As a result, too many children linger in the foster care system for long stretches of time. Reducing caseloads and investing in child-focused recruitment would allow caseworkers to do the kind of in-depth research necessary to find true permanency. That challenge was a central topic at a two-day think tank event hosted by Adoption Rhode Island. Executive Director Darlene Allen assembled an incredible group of caseworkers, agency leaders and child advocates from across the country to brainstorm about how we tackle this issue and improve outcomes for children in the foster care system.
I was honored to be included in the forum so I could discuss the Permanent Families for All Children Act, which I introduced in September. This bill would invest more federal dollars in child-focused recruitment training for caseworkers, continue to support foster families while a child is in a residential treatment program, and decrease to five years the time before which caseworkers can access Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
My fellow panelist, Nicole Dobbins of Voice for Adoption in Washington, D.C., and Gail Johnson-Vaughn of Mission Focused Solutions in California, highlighted some additional ways that individuals are tirelessly working to meet the needs of children in foster care. Gail has pushed to expand programs and reinvest funds to support permanency. Nicole has worked to advocate and pass legislative policies to improve the lives of children and youth in our nation’s foster care system.
Hearing perspectives from around the country was very helpful, especially as the group of more than 30 posed questions about my legislation and offered their own suggestions. It is this kind of open dialogue – with people working directly in the field – that improves policy. I know it will shape my efforts going forward, and I look forward to continuing this work to support foster youth in America.
Welcome to RI, Secretary Castro!
Latinos make up 13.2 percent of Rhode Island’s population, which is a nearly 52 percent increase since 2000. But while 60 percent of Rhode Islanders own their own homes, only 25 percent of Latinos do. There is a huge discrepancy there, and it is important that we get to the root of these numbers to better understand how we can improve quality of life and access to housing for our Latino neighbors. There is no reason that the economic prosperity of Latinos should lag behind the rest of the state.
I know that Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julian Castro agrees, and it was an honor to have him in Rhode Island to discuss how we can work together to increase opportunity for Latino Rhode Islanders. Secretary Castro had the chance to meet the hardworking officials on the front lines from housing authorities statewide, and the team at the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University, along with Housing Works RI, provided a wonderful overview of the trends we are seeing here in Rhode Island.
For my part, I have taken steps to support Rhode Island’s Latino community and all working class families, including signing the discharge petition to extend long-term unemployment insurance, co-sponsoring a bill to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and supporting legislation that would allow millions of borrowers to refinance their student loans at lower interest rates. I also support the Paycheck Fairness Act to strengthen federal equal pay laws for women, which is especially important for Latinas, as they earn an estimated 54 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.
I look forward to a time when all women, and all Latinos, earn the same as their white counterparts. And with partners like Secretary Castro at the table, I believe that dream is possible.
Doing Business with EB
Electric Boat is a leading defense contractor nationally, a major employer in our state’s workforce and, for more than 200 other Rhode Island companies, an important client. Electric Boat does tens of millions of dollars’ worth of business with local suppliers, and with a $17.6 billion Navy contract awarded in May, that partnership will continue to grow.
Understandably, other businesses in Rhode Island are eager to connect with Electric Boat.
To make that process easier, I supported an Electric Boat Potential Suppliers Summit that was sponsored by the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation and its Rhode Island Procurement Technical Assistance Center. This event gives more businesses the opportunity to learn how best to do business with Electric Boat, which is truly a win-win situation for EB, for the suppliers and for the Rhode Island economy. The work of EB is so critical – not just to Quonset Point and the economies of Rhode Island and Connecticut, but to the entire nation. That’s reflected in the continued national-level support that the Virginia-class submarine program enjoys, dating all the way back to when then-Congressman Rob Simmons and I first fought for the two-per-year production rate. Now I have a great partner across the border in Congressman Joe Courtney, and we are going to keep working to ensure that these priceless and peerless national assets continue to come into the fleet. Without exception, every Department of Defense official that I meet or that testifies in front of the Armed Services Committee hammers home the point that these boats are absolutely not optional to the future of national defense.
But it’s not just the Virginias – there’s Ohio Replacement, the Virginia Payload Module, and other programs coming down the pike. And every single one of them is a must-do from a national strategic perspective. There’s no alternative. Here in Rhode Island, we’re building the right boats at the right time for our nation. That’s why this summit was so important. Electric Boat has done strong work to build a robust supply chain here in New England, and I hope that the summit will open doors for more Rhode Island companies to become a part of the effort.
Letter to Remember
I hear from my constituents every single day on a wide array of issues. I receive emails, Facebook messages, letters and phone calls to my Washington, D.C., and Rhode Island offices. They ask about health care, the economy, education, energy, national security – you name it. By and large, these questions, concerns and suggestions come from constituents who are of voting age. They pay close attention to the news, and they rightfully want to hold me accountable as their representative.
That is, until Luca.
Luca is certainly not the typical writer for my office. In fact, he’s five years away from ever casting a vote.
At 13 years old, Luca is one of my younger writers, but is no less impassioned. He was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was in the second grade, making schoolwork challenging, especially reading and writing. Luca is fortunate to have a strong family, though, and his mother Stacy, in particular, serves as his tireless advocate. She brought the entire family to see a documentary, “Dislecksia: The Movie,” and the film closes with a suggestion that viewers reach out to their local representatives to talk to them about the challenges of dyslexia.
Stacy said it took Luca a year to build up the courage to write to me. She says it is a major feat for him to hand-write a full letter on his own, but that’s exactly what he did. I applaud that courage, and it was great to get the chance to meet Luca in person. Luca wrote in his letter to me that teachers should have additional training so they can adapt lesson plans to meet the needs of students with dyslexia. That is a great point, and it will take the hard work and cooperation of individuals like Luca and Stacy to effect that kind of change. While many of those issues are handled at the state and local level, I know from my perspective as a federal policymaker that hearing a first-person story is so powerful and important. When I write legislation or support various issues, I want to hear how it will affect people directly, which is why it is great to see someone as young as Luca taking an interest in his government.
Luca is already a wonderful advocate, and I am confident that he will continue to fight for an education that best addresses his needs and the needs of countless students like him.
Luck of the Irish
As T.F. Green Airport continues to expand, so do the opportunities for Rhode Island’s economy. And for a state where tourism and hospitality are major industries, that possibility could open the world up to the beauty of Rhode Island. That is one of the reasons I was so thrilled to have Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the Prime Minister of Ireland, travel to Rhode Island recently to discuss how we can partner together to achieve economic growth and mutual prosperity across the Atlantic.
In this job, I work hard to be an advocate for Rhode Island wherever I travel. I share my passion for our state, and encourage people to visit. That is just one piece of what the Prime Minister does. He is a tremendous advocate for his country, and I think we can learn a great deal from one another.
Rhode Island is a small state, and many people tend to think about business here as an equally small circle of stakeholders. But the truth is that our reach is significant. Our state is poised for economic growth. As we continue to work together, here and abroad, to further improve our business climate, we open up to new markets and attract businesses far and wide. Strong relationships with international leaders like Prime Minister Kenny can only enhance that effort.
With Flying Colors
That motto – “a hand up, not a hand out” – has always resonated with me, and at no time is it more prominently featured by Operation Stand Down Rhode Island than during their annual Stand Down Weekend.
Operation Stand Down works every day of the year to advocate for and support veterans and their families. And during Stand Down Weekend, that work is jam-packed into three days and one encampment. The event is set up like a military-style encampment, and veterans are able to stay on-site for the duration of the weekend. During these three days, veterans have access to health care services, legal advice, transportation information, mental health professionals and more. Basically, all of the services that Operation Stand Down and the Veterans Administration work to connect veterans with are available in one place at one time. It’s one-stop shopping for veterans.
Making my way through the encampment, I was so grateful to Operation Stand Down Rhode Island for offering this service, and also to the countless volunteers who give their time and talent to improve the lives of men and women who have sacrificed so much for our safety and our freedom. We owe a debt of gratitude to our veterans, and the volunteers at Stand Down Weekend are doing their share with smiles on their faces. I was especially pleased to see many young people volunteering, including students from our area colleges.
We owe so much to members of the armed services, past and present. There is always room for improvement, and we cannot stop until veteran homelessness is eradicated and all returning veterans can find work and stability in their lives here at home. Operation Stand Down works toward that goal every day, and I look forward to continuing to work with them to do my share.
Attendance at National Drive Electric Week 2014 events more than doubled from last year, and I think that is a true testament to the growing awareness and concern over energy and environmental conservation. Nationwide, more than 90,000 people participated in 152 events in 150 cities – and I was one of them.
Investment in electric and hybrid vehicles is one of the most important actions we can take to reduce carbon emissions in the transportation sector, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. As most people now know, the United States is the largest consumer of transportation energy in the world – consuming about 27 percent of the world total. The cars we drive contribute a substantial proportion to that amount. The Obama Administration made huge strides in developing fuel economy standards to nearly double miles per gallon by 2025. This is comparable to lowering the price of gas for Rhode Island families by $1 a gallon. But more can be done, and it can be done today – with electric and hybrid vehicles.
Electric and hybrid vehicles not only bring about meaningful reductions of our carbon emissions, their production can spur economic growth through new industries and job development. Their use can strengthen our nation's energy security, and save families money. I imagine you will hear that a lot from the Rhode Islanders who came here to showcase their cars, answer questions, and brag about how much they save on their commutes.
I look forward to continuing to collaborate with state, local and federal officials, and energy leaders nationwide on policies to spur green growth, protect Rhode Island’s natural resources and create jobs around clean energy.
With Flying Colors
As a native of Warwick, I have been hearing about plans to expand T.F. Green Airport for as long as I can remember. In 2011, the Federal Aviation Administration gave the go-ahead on a runway extension that would allow for longer distance flights – including international air travel, literally opening Rhode Island up to a new world for overseas passengers preferring to fly direct.
Now, work is underway to make this longtime dream a reality.
Construction is scheduled to continue through 2017, and I can already imagine the difference this expansion will make. The process has its share of obstacles, but the City of Warwick, the FAA and the Rhode Island Airport Corporation have worked hard to overcome those challenges, including the relocation of the Winslow Park ball fields. Now we can focus on growing our state’s airport and promoting Rhode Island as a destination for tourists across the globe. I embarked on my RI Food Week initiatives – first in February and again in September – because I believe that our state has the potential to become a worldwide foodie destination. Increasing access and improving transportation is a crucial component to making that possible. We need to make it easy for people to get here and easy to get around, and most importantly, we need to do a better job promoting all that Rhode Island has to offer.
Friends in High Places
Eight years ago, Kathy and Frank Carpano and their friends, Karen and Bill Ciotti, put their heads together to find a way to support Adoption Rhode Island. The result was Friends Giving Back, an event that continues to impress and surprise me each year. Twin River did a fantastic job hosting the event this year, and the ballroom space was transformed, from the photo booth filled with circus props to the aerial show on stage. The back wall was full of silent and live auction items, and Frank and his colleagues from Channel 10, who served as emcees, kept the energy up for the entire night.
As a member of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, I believe that foster youth belong to all of us. These children living in foster care deserve the security and continuity of a forever home, and finding permanent placements is exactly what Adoption Rhode Island aims to do. I have long admired and supported the work of Adoption Rhode Island and their exceptional team, and it is so encouraging that generous donors and supporters like the Carpano and Ciotti families are there to lend their assistance. They have made this event bigger and better year after year, and I am proud to support their efforts.
Adoption Rhode Island is lucky to have friends like the Carpanos and Ciottis. And the foster youth of Rhode Island are lucky to have Adoption Rhode Island in their corner.
Feasts and Festivals
One of the benefits of living in a small state is that you get to know your neighbors. And for many Rhode Islanders, “neighbors” can refer to an entire city. Town and even village allegiances are strong, though, and the result is a tremendous amount of community spirit. That spirit is always on full display when it comes to feasts and festivals, from the arts-based to the religious to the cultural. I had back-to-back festival visits one Saturday, first sampling the delicious ethnic food at the 29th annual Cranston Greek Festival sponsored by the Church of the Annunciation, and then checking out the Italian delicacies and music at the Our Lady of Grace Church Feast in Johnston. Both events were wonderful, and it was a great opportunity to catch up with all of my “neighbors.”
Tech First at FIRST Tech
It is a joy to attend FIRST robotics competitions each year, to watch the program grow into the towering success that it is today, and to see the interest and participation increase year to year. These programs are vital to spurring interest in the fields of science, math, engineering and technology.
As co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus, I continually advocate for programs that increase enrollment in STEM fields. Closing the skills gap by giving students and workers the tools to succeed in the modern economy is how we will create an economy built to last. FIRST is one of my favorite student outreach programs, and it has already inspired countless students to pursue careers in STEM. For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST as it is known, was founded by my friend Dean Kamen – a brilliant innovator who uses his ideas to push the boundaries of health care, science and technology. Among his many distinguished achievements, he has invented the first portable insulin pump, an advanced robotic arm, the Segway and my personal IBOT wheelchair.
Dean can now add teacher to his resume, as the FIRST competition has done an exceptional job at engaging young people and getting them excited about learning. That enthusiasm is palpable. I couldn’t believe how excited the students were at the FIRST kickoff. My good friend from New England Tech, Erin Flynn, who coordinates the competition locally, showed the students a video that gradually revealed this year’s game rules. Each revelation brought gasps from the audience, and as soon as the video faded to black, the students began talking to each other about how they planned to tackle the challenge. It’s not often you can get young people that excited about homework, especially on a Saturday morning, but it’s a true testament to what FIRST Tech has accomplished. I can’t wait to come back to New England Tech to see what the teams come up with!
I feel fortunate to be part of a federal delegation that works hard for our state and fights for the issues that are important to Rhode Island. And when it comes to the environment – from preservation of open space to promotion of clean energy to fighting climate change – there is no stronger voice in Congress than that of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. It was an honor, then, to be by his side for his 5th annual Rhode Island Energy and Environmental Leaders Day, an all-day summit for environmental advocates and stakeholders to discuss Rhode Island’s energy future.
We in Rhode Island are on the front lines of climate change. We have already seen the impacts of global warming on our beaches, through sea level rise, erosion and devastating storms; on our coastal economy, through ocean acidification and sea temperature changes; on our health, as warmer days make it harder for those with asthma to breathe; and on our dinner tables, as changing weather patterns disrupt and destroy crops.
Climate change is not some far off concept. Climate change is here, and I am proud that Rhode Islanders have been at the forefront of mitigation efforts that will serve our state’s natural resources and economy for decades to come. I have had the opportunity to work with leaders nationally and locally to defend environmental programs and develop a comprehensive energy policy. At the federal level, I introduced legislation called the Building Efficiently Act to encourage energy efficient construction and retrofits. I have pressed federal agencies, particularly the Department of Defense, to price in energy security – as many in the Northeast learned during Superstorm Sandy, a solar panel is a valuable commodity in an extended power outage. In addition, I am working to bring the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed into the Wild and Scenic River System. This bill passed the House last year, and we hope it will pass the Senate before the end of this Congress. These measures will not only bring about meaningful reductions of our carbon emissions, they will spur economic growth through new industries, job development and tourism.
Everything we’re doing in Washington comes back to supporting efforts at home. I look forward to continued collaboration on policies that protect Rhode Island, our natural resources, and the future jobs we will create around clean energy.