Line of Defense
I know I am not alone when I say that I am incredibly proud of our robust defense industry here in Rhode Island. Not only are these good-paying jobs in a very important sector for our state’s economy, but we are very proud of the contributions Rhode Island is making to our national security. As a senior member of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees, I spend a great deal of my time in Washington focusing on defense policy, and in particular on cybersecurity. It’s exciting for me to represent a state that has so much of a stake in this sphere. At no time is the breadth and significance of that stake more visible than during SENEDIA’s Defense Innovation Days, which brings together defense industry leaders in the public and private sectors and from some of the most innovative, impactful companies engaged in our national security landscape.
Rhode Island has an incredible concentration of undersea knowledge, anchored in Newport by NUWC and the Naval War College. We have the cyber expertise of the 102nd Network Warfare Squadron, the academic rigor of Brown, URI, RIC, PC, Roger Williams, Salve Regina, NEIT, CCRI, Johnson and Wales, and others. We have the huge defense industrial base presence, anchored by General Dynamics Electric Boat and Raytheon. We also have an education and workforce training pipeline that is primed and ready; an interested, engaged, and senior Congressional delegation; and a history of action by the state government. Finally, we have the intrinsic advantage of being small, but with all the network effects of proximity to Boston and the rest of the Northeast. Small means quicker systematic adoption of best practices and standards, easier coordination, and simpler decision chains. Small is nimble, and being nimble is the name of the game in both defense and cyberspace.
When my good friend, Congressman Michael McCaul, and I first started looking at this issue from the Homeland Security subcommittee with jurisdiction over cyberspace, I don’t think we knew what we were getting ourselves into, or just how broad of a challenge cybersecurity would become. Of course, what’s so interesting to me is how dynamic this issue is – and how, unlike a few years ago, today everyone gets just how serious this issue has become.
I can’t say what the cyber debate will be a year from now, but I can say it will be quite different from what it is today – and almost unrecognizably different than when we started working on this seven years ago. I can also say that no matter where this discussion takes us, or how national security policy evolves, the stakeholders at Defense Innovation Days will be at the forefront.
The Smithsonian is one of the United States’ true treasures, and since its establishment in 1996, Smithsonian Affiliations has identified other outstanding museums and exhibitions. The program is designed to facilitate inter-museum dialogue, giving smaller exhibitors access to some of the tens of millions of beautiful and historically significant artifacts held by the Smithsonian Institution. Achieving affiliate status is a privilege reserved to a select few museums – only 204 exist in the country.
Rhode Island is now officially on that list.
The Rhode Island Historical Society is the first Smithsonian affiliate in the state, opening up opportunities for career development, new programming and access to technical assistance from Smithsonian curators. Achieving Smithsonian affiliation status has been a goal of RIHS for some time, and they are to be congratulated for the methodical way they worked to achieve it. It’s no wonder that RIHS was singled out, as it is the fourth-oldest historical society in the nation and possesses a collection of more than 128,000 volumes. Rhode Islanders can access RIHS materials at the John Brown House Museum and the Museum of Work and Culture, as well as online through the RHODI Project.
RIHS programming is in our schools, in our neighborhoods, even on our phones, and it is directly relevant to our lives here in Rhode Island. Local history gives us a sense of place and a sense of pride that can help ground our thinking and strengthen our community bonds. Local history can also be granular enough that we can stop talking about statistics and start talking about people. It plays to that great human quality – empathy – and it does so on a scale that is instantly accessible.
While seeing the Hope Diamond or the Apollo 11 capsule may give a sense of awe – and is certainly inspiring – only a vanishingly small number of us will have the opportunity to fly in space or own a 45 karat diamond. Most of us have a GPS in our pockets today to help us get around, though, so when we see Roger Williams’s pocket compass, the connection is instantaneous. I hope this new affiliation will help people around the Ocean State experience that thrill of connection in a state so steeped in tradition and history.
Back to School
Colleges and universities are economic drivers. They serve as incubators for talent and a source for a new generation of entrepreneurs. Rhode Island is blessed with phenomenal institutions of higher learning that are preparing young people for successful careers and rewarding futures. As co-chair of the Career and Technical Education Caucus, I believe that bridging the gap between the classroom and careers will empower young people to pursue jobs with high growth potential that are available right now in our state. We also need to ensure our universities are priced competitively and that student loans do not burden young adults with unmanageable debt.
To address these concerns and more, I have assembled an Education Advisory Committee with leaders from early intervention through higher education. And to enhance these efforts, I embarked on a weeklong tour to highlight the outstanding institutions of higher education here in Rhode Island. My Back to School Week was a huge success, and truly underscored how critical our colleges and universities are in strengthening the economic health and business climate of our great state. I toured six colleges and universities and saw firsthand how much each of our institutions has to offer. Whether they choose to focus on advanced manufacturing, art and design, pharmacy, nursing, business, finance, hospitality or physician assistant studies, now more than ever, students have opportunities to ensure a successful future.
I was truly impressed by the innovation and diverse programming happening both in and outside of the classroom. New England Tech’s focus on advanced manufacturing technologies is providing students with the experience and skills employers seek; the Rhode Island School of Design is leading the movement to include art and design in the STEM disciplines, and its RISD Museum was recently named Architectural Digest’s best university art museum in America! Providence College students contribute more than 55,000 community service hours each year to support our local communities, and it was a real thrill to tour the championship Friars hockey team’s new arena. Johnson and Wales University’s Providence campus is revitalizing the city and its Physician Assistant Program is the first in the state. URI’s College of Pharmacy is leading the way in biomedical and pharmaceutical research. At Rhode Island College, my alma mater, I was so pleased to join a student admissions tour, which was a spectacular opportunity to speak with students and families about all that RIC has to offer.
Our colleges and universities are nationally and internationally recognized. They cultivate innovators who continually bring forth new discoveries and ideas that provide benefits to an array of industries and to all Rhode Islanders. Going back to school was a highlight of my summer, and I look forward to continuing our efforts!
Arts and the ADA
This summer has been fantastic for several reasons, but perhaps none more so than the ongoing celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I have thoroughly enjoyed each event, and appreciate every opportunity to share my support for policies and programs that empower people with disabilities to live independent, fulfilling lives.
The ADA helped get me where I am today, and I am hopeful that its intent will continue to transform our communities into more accepting, accessible places for all.
Another important milestone celebrated this summer is the 40th anniversary of the VSA, an international organization on arts, education and disability. The intersection of the VSA and the ADA was at center stage at Pawtucket City Hall at an event to honor young Rhode Islanders with disabilities who have demonstrated creativity and leadership that is making a positive difference in our communities.
The 25th and 40th anniversaries are such important milestones, and I was truly honored to commemorate both of them. I was so grateful to Mayor Donald Grebien for the invitation to participate, as well as the other partners who made the event possible, including Randy Rosenbaum of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts and Alison Bologna of NBC10, and Dr. Rosemary Burns, Kim Ash, Stu Giannini and Martha Lenihan of the VSA Arts Board of Directors.
The arts empower us to communicate our feelings and ideas through creative expression. They promote emotional wellbeing, increase self-awareness and improve interpersonal relationships. Most importantly, they provide a creative outlet for those who might not feel comfortable expressing themselves in everyday situations. People with disabilities can often feel misunderstood in today’s society. As someone who lives with a disability, I know all too well the challenges that people with disabilities face in their daily lives. However, I also am keenly aware of their abilities and their limitless potential when given the opportunity to contribute.
Those contributions have never been as relevant as they are right now as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Since its enactment, the ADA has been a beacon of hope for millions of people with disabilities. It has broken down barriers to education, employment and technology. It has made public transportation more accommodating, improved voting accessibility, and expanded inclusion and justice for millions.
Perhaps most importantly, the ADA has broken through attitudinal barriers and changed societal stigma for the better. People are more informed and better educated about their friends and neighbors with disabilities, and they recognize the gifts they have to offer. I believe passionately that people with disabilities are our greatest untapped resource. We must work to ensure that they can take advantage of opportunities to empower themselves and enrich their communities, just as today’s participants are doing through their artwork.
Thanks to the VSA, today’s participants and honorees can envision a world “beyond barriers,” and that is a gift beyond measure.
Town Hall Thursday
I just wanted to post a note to say thank you so much to all of the constituents who took time out of their busy schedules to join me for a Town Hall meeting. We had a tremendous crowd at the Swift Community Center in East Greenwich, with nearly 100 people in attendance. Some came just to hear an update on what I have been working on, and many others shared their concerns or asked thoughtful questions.
Feedback from my constituents is so important to me. We may not always agree, but we should always have the conversation. My door is always open, and I hope this Town Hall was just one part in an ongoing dialogue. Call my office, send an email, join a Town Hall meeting – whatever you do, just stay in touch on the issues that matter to you! I’m here to serve my constituents, and the best way to do that is to have open, transparent and candid conversations.
EPA in Action
We all have a responsibility to ensure our communities are safe, healthy and economically prosperous, and thanks to the collaboration of federal and state agencies, our community leaders, advocates and stakeholders, we are now one step closer to achieving that goal.
Rhode Island has received another $1.2 million in funding from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Brownfields grant program.
We are privileged here in Rhode Island to have effective and diverse groups working to improve the economic and environmental conditions within our state. Brownfield grants are an important tool in our revitalization efforts, providing funds to safely clean up industrial sites, so that they may be redeveloped for new purposes. This particular round of grant funding benefits Central Falls and surrounding areas, and I can’t wait to return to see the finished product of revitalization.
One thing I am especially glad to see in these grants is a job training program, which will put Rhode Islanders to work, and give them skills to make our homes and businesses safe and healthy over the long-term. I am also pleased to see funding going to clean up “The Link” in Providence, a necessary step before moving forward on plans to build a pedestrian-friendly area where downtown residents and college students can enjoy recreational and commercial opportunities. And in Central Falls, funding will be used to clean up 1420 Broad Street, so we can revitalize the land and empower the city.
EPA brownfields grants do more than just restore contaminated sites – they preserve the fabric of our communities. Without this EPA program, parts of our cities and towns would remain defunct and unutilized. These projects have a multiplier effect, and promote positive economic growth in our neighborhoods. I am excited to see this grant funding transformed into action so we can set these important revitalization efforts in motion.
Happy 50th, Health Centers!
Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson launched his War on Poverty. This crusade to provide a path out of poverty and to foster an environment in which all Americans can succeed is something we continue to celebrate today. So many ideals and initiatives from that time have inspired programs that we still support, including the idea of a community health center. To recognize that anniversary and celebrate National Health Center Week, I visited the Providence Community Health Center to reflect on what was once a pilot project and is now an integral part of our communities.
It’s hard to believe how much our health centers have grown over the years, but this speaks to their commitment to collaboration and the progress they are making to better serve our communities every single day. Health center workers are on the front lines of health care, providing essential health services to over 146,000 Rhode Islanders, regardless of their financial, cultural or linguistic barriers. They treat patients whether they are privately insured, publicly insured, underinsured or completely uninsured. They establish roots in our communities and incredible bonds with their patients.
Moreover, the men and women who make these centers viable have been longstanding partners in both federal and state efforts to reform and improve health care coverage and delivery. Health centers have become a model of care coordination and are an important component of health reform. By offering medical, dental, behavioral and pharmaceutical care, and a variety of other support services to our most vulnerable patients and communities, community health centers have established a primary care model that is considered a gold standard by so many in the health care field.
I am proud to consider myself a partner in this effort, and I was honored and humbled to be recognized at the event with the Distinguished Community Health Defender Award. The designation means so much to me, and I will continue to fight for quality, affordable, accessible health care for all Rhode Islanders and all Americans.
I am so grateful to the dedicated professionals – physicians, nurses and administrative leaders – who make the community health center model successful. I don’t know if President Johnson could have ever imagined the difference this model would make in so many lives; but I do know how proud he would be.
Deepwater Moves Forward
Over the course of the past month, Deepwater Wind has made leaps forward in the Block Island Wind Farm offshore project. On July 27, I helped to celebrate the “steel in the water” milestone as the first foundations were installed roughly three miles off Block Island. Deepwater Wind and their public and private partners used the hashtag, #JourneytoFirst, and I can’t think of a more appropriate moniker. Rhode Island is leading the nation in alternative, clean energy with this first offshore wind farm. We are setting the tone and the example.
Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski said that “the world is watching,” and I agree. The caliber of guests and prestige of speakers on the boat that day demonstrate the significance of this milestone, and this project. In addition to Rhode Island elected officials, we were joined by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Abigail Ross Hopper. Clearly, the entire country truly is watching.
Not long after the first foundation was installed, we were back to celebrate again with Deepwater Wind, this time for a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Blount Boats Shipyard, the company that will be supporting the offshore wind farm by providing transportation to and from the equipment. The 70-foot catamaran that will service the wind farm is under construction now, with nearly 70 Rhode Islanders working on the project. Rhode Island Fast Ferry’s Atlantic Wind Transfers contracted with Blount Boats to ensure the vessel would be constructed locally and, when complete, would be adequate to provide crew and equipment support for the duration of the wind farm construction. Once the turbines are spinning, Rhode Island Fast Ferry will provide operations and maintenance support for at least the next 20 years.
The environmental implications of this project are significant, but so are the economic impacts. From the construction team at Blount Boats to the staff at Rhode Island Fast Ferry to Deepwater Wind, this project equals jobs. It’s a win-win from my perspective, and I can’t wait for the next ribbon cutting celebration to signify another step toward energy independence in Rhode Island.
Conquering the Impossible Seas
Too often, the focus is on the activities and tasks that people with disabilities cannot perform independently. Physical pursuits like sailing are relegated to the ‘not me’ category, but not for the many people touched by the Impossible Dream, a 60-foot, wheelchair-accessible catamaran that sailed from Florida to Rhode Island to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Impossible Dream is opening up opportunities for people with disabilities and showing them that with perseverance and ingenuity, nothing is out of reach. Sailing along our beautiful coastline is a beloved Rhode Island pastime for good reason, and I was thrilled and grateful for the opportunity to explore our shoreline on a vessel that is making possible what I once thought would be impossible.
Impossible Dream was created by Mike Browne, a paraplegic who sought to build a vessel that could be operated by a person in a wheelchair. Impossible Dream President Deborah Mellen is carrying the torch of that dream along with Harry Horgan, a friend of mine who serves as president of Shake a Leg Miami, an adaptive sailing program that is likewise breaking barriers for people with disabilities. Throughout the course of the Impossible Dream’s current journey, the team is documenting accessibility of port cities and evaluating challenges faced by those with disabilities. Their hope is to demonstrate how technology and design can improve accessibility and quality of life for people with disabilities.
Harry is the one who invited me aboard, and I can’t thank him or Deborah enough. To sit behind the steering wheel of a boat and direct its course from a wheelchair was such an exciting experience for me, and I know other visiting captains must feel the same way, even if it’s just for an hour.
For a century, Camp Yawgoog has been a home away from home for young men in Rhode Island. Four generations have passed through the beautiful landscape, rolling out their sleeping bags in Three Point, Medicine Bow and Sandy Beach – the three camps that have served as a backdrop for the journey of Boy Scouts each summer. Set beneath a canopy of trees, with a view of the lake in the distance, Camp Yawgoog is truly a valued landmark in Rhode Island history.
Founded in 1916 as “A Scout Adventureland Forever,” Camp Yawgoog elicits wonderful memories for so many Rhode Islanders, myself included. My focus early on became the Police Explorers program within Boy Scouts, but I spent an all-too-brief portion of one summer in Camp Yawgoog, and the magic of the place is something I never forgot.
Returning there to celebrate the 100th anniversary, I was amazed at how the camp feels so unchanged. Boy Scouts has evolved so much over that span of time, but Camp Yawgoog is a piece of living history in Rockville. It’s refreshing, and quite a comfort, to see something so important endure over a century. The mission of Boy Scouts is to empower young men to be intelligent, responsible, moral and involved members of their communities, and Camp Yawgoog is at the heart of this mission.
At a time when young people are inundated with social media and pressure to compete – and at a time when too many are bullied or put down for being themselves – Boy Scouts turns the focus to being a good person and a reliable member of a team. These are lessons that young men need now more than ever. I know the lesson stuck with me all those years ago at Camp Yawgoog, and thanks to the hard work of the men and women who lead the Boy Scouts organization today, I am confident it will resonate with this new, and future, generations of Scouts.
Brown Bagging It
When I talk about internships, I feel like a broken record sometimes, but I can’t emphasize enough the importance of hands-on learning. I tell my interns all the time that they are on a job interview every single day, and the connections they make as students can affect their future careers more than they realize. That was the message I tried to underscore when speaking with the interns working across departments in government as part of the state’s Brown Bag Lunch Series.
Thirty years ago, I was in the same position. Just starting to get a handle on the type of career and life I hoped to pursue, I began seeking out new opportunities that would help shape my future. My mother was working for Frank Flaherty, a mayoral candidate at the time, and I surprised myself when I learned that I enjoyed politics. I met so many interesting people, and learned that public office was an avenue through which I could make a difference in my community. That experience led me to get involved with student government, and I was hooked.
During my undergraduate studies at Rhode Island College, I took on an internship with the late Senator Claiborne Pell, a man who had a tremendous impact on my life and who inspired me to continue to follow this path. The internship was an incredible experience, and after seeing the Senator in action – his passion, his commitment to his constituents and his dedication to his home state – I decided to run for public office myself.
Regardless of what a student is majoring in or what careers he or she hopes to pursue, I encourage all young people to seize every opportunity available and maximize internship experiences. Make the most of every single day. Always be on the lookout for new challenges. Hard work and discipline will open new doors.
A Healthy Track
When it comes to growth industries in Rhode Island, health care undoubtedly makes the list. Rhode Island is home to outstanding hospitals and treatment facilities, and the industry accounts for a significant portion of our state’s workforce. Looking to the future, the potential for growth remains robust.
To help facilitate that growth, it is essential that we keep the dialogue open and work closely with health care providers to ensure they have the support, resources and workforce necessary to provide the best possible care, while still pursuing academic and technological innovation and cutting-edge research. I kicked off my August District Work Period with a focus on health care in Rhode Island, embarking on a listening tour of hospitals and health care centers from Burrillville to Westerly.
Health care reform was sorely needed in our country, and the positive impacts are already being felt. The number of Americans who are uninsured continues to decline, and our system now emphasizes quality of care. Care providers are encouraged to better coordinate care, eliminating the duplication of services and focusing more on preventative care. Patients have access to preventative services like cancer screenings, smoking cessation and free annual check-ups
The system is not perfect, however, and there are definitely areas that need improvement. Two common challenges that were mentioned repeatedly over the course of the week are reimbursements and workforce demands. Health care costs remain high, and while I believe that reform will ultimately drive those costs down, hospitals and care providers are still struggling to provide quality care despite facing delays or complications in reimbursements.
Several hospitals also mentioned the difficulty in keeping doctors in Rhode Island. As co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus, I understand that we must connect education with workforce demands. We have a phenomenal program right here in Rhode Island at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School, but clearly we must do better at tapping into that talent and creating an environment that makes students and doctors want to stay in Rhode Island. Likewise, we must recruit from out-of-state, and that requires not just strong hospitals, but a strong state.
Despite the significant challenges faced by hospitals and care providers in today’s changing health care landscape, there are incredible things happening in Rhode Island. At the Providence VA Medical Center, I was blown away by the innovation happening in their Gait and Motion Analysis Lab. The research being done on site is directly benefiting veterans, especially in the rehabilitation process. My good friend Dean Kamen, who invented my wheelchair, the iBot, is also responsible for the DEKA Arm, a next-generation prosthetic that I got to see in action at the VA.
Providence VA Medical Center was a fantastic start to the week, and at each stop, I learned something new about the programs and initiatives in play at Rhode Island hospitals. I have been to the Thundermist Health Center in West Warwick many times, but I had the chance to visit the newly opened Wakefield center and was so impressed by their beautiful, state-of-the-art facility. South County Hospital is also undergoing renovations in their labor and delivery unit, as is Hasbro Children’s Hospital, in their emergency room. Westerly Hospital is celebrating their 90th year serving Rhode Island patients, and Providence Community Health Centers are quickly outgrowing their existing facilities around the capital city, thanks to huge demand for their wraparound services. Kent Hospital is thrilled about the coronary angioplasty program that was recently approved there in conjunction with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston; Rhode Island Hospital has an exceptional new spine center; and Women and Infants Hospital showed off their simulation lab during my visit. The week wrapped up at the Zambarano division of Eleanor Slater Hospital, which was an important reminder for me of the personal sacrifice our health care professionals make. Nurses, doctors and aides all care for patients as if they are family, and that kind of commitment is not easy.
I am so grateful to the executive teams, doctors, nurses and professionals at each facility for hosting me, and for their candor in discussing the challenges they face. It was an enlightening week, and I will continue to look for ways to support health care providers in Rhode Island.
The Camp Fuller Experience
At its nine branches statewide, YMCA offer tremendous learning, athletic and social opportunities for young people, both during the school year and throughout summer vacation. At this time of year, summer camps get kids away from their smartphone screens and into the outdoors, as they learn about team building, responsibility and how to live the YMCA mission of “building a strong mind, body and spirit.”
All of those values are on display at Camp Fuller, which offers a co-ed summer camp for kids ages 7 to 16. In addition to the programming found at other Y branches, though, Camp Fuller offers a unique chance for young people to experience the Ocean State on the water. The facility is located on Point Judith Salt Pond, and daily programming includes sailing, kayaking, canoeing, windsurfing and studying marine biology.
During my visit to Camp Fuller, I got to see these programs in action and also witness the finished product of the long-awaited Turner Point Development project. The completed boathouse is absolutely beautiful, further enhancing what has already become an impressive sailing and aquatics program. Congratulations to the YMCA and the Camp Fuller team for implementing a spectacular vision that I know will benefit young Rhode Islanders for generations to come!
For any regular readers of this blog, it will come as no surprise when I say that I believe Rhode Island has an incredible food economy. This sector of our economy continues to grow, and is a force-multiplier with a positive ripple effect on other industries. Food affects hospitality and tourism, most of all, and there is a movement of Rhode Islanders pushing to rebrand our state as a food destination. I consider myself part of this movement, and I am excited by the possibilities it offers.
As food grows, Rhode Island grows.
This is possible thanks largely to our strong foundation. The best restaurateurs will tell you that the key to great-tasting food and commercial success is to use the finest, freshest ingredients, and the fastest way to fresh is to use locally-sourced ingredients that require little travel from field to table. Our restaurants rely on high-quality local foods, and with a robust demand for farmers markets, consumers are making those same local choices in their own kitchens.
Scratch Farm in Cranston has seen this demand first hand. The farm grows vegetables, flowers, herbs and more, and while they do work with some Rhode Island restaurants, resident farmer Ben Torpey says individual customers make up the bulk of the business. He could cater exclusively to restaurants, but part of the Scratch Farm model is to support consumers in their quest for healthy local food. Ben and the farmers who share the adjacent farmland believe that we should know what we are eating and where our food is coming from. For the 100 customers who participate in the Scratch Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, they know exactly what they are feeding their families each day. And they know that those foods have no exposure to pesticides, fungicides or herbicides. CSA participants receive a weekly share of crops, with the colors, shapes and tastes changing with the season. Participants pay on a sliding scale based on what they can afford, helping to ensure that no one is denied the opportunity to eat well and to eat healthy.
There are so many fantastic farms across the state, and Scratch Farms certainly makes the list. Thanks so much to Ben for showing me and Senator Whitehouse around, and for taking the time to discuss how we can leverage our resources – like local farms – to protect more open space, to keep Rhode Islanders healthy and to improve our state’s economy.
When I reflect on the programs and initiatives that have had the greatest impact on our nation, the support we provide for our seniors is at the top of the list. I am so fortunate to be part of a Congressional delegation that believes in the promise we have made to American seniors through Social Security and Medicare, and we came together at the PACE Organization of Rhode Island recently to recommit ourselves to this belief that how we treat our seniors is reflective of our heart, soul and priorities as a country.
When the Social Security Act was signed into law 80 years ago, it was with the intent to provide “some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-stricken old age,” as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stated at the signing ceremony. However, he also recognized that the effort was “by no means complete.” It took many years before Social Security became the program we recognize today – an essential safety net protecting our seniors, disabled workers, surviving spouses and children.
Thirty years later, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law, it was based on the fundamental belief that access to health care should be a right afforded to all, and that no one should be forced into poverty due to their medical needs. Over the last 50 years, Medicare and Medicaid have helped America’s seniors, people with disabilities, children and young adults become more independent and financially secure. The same holds true for the millions of people who receive Social Security.
In the past, Republicans have proposed rolling back the protections afforded under these programs in the name of fiscal discipline by reducing Social Security benefits, voucherizing Medicare and block granting Medicaid. I strongly disagree with these proposals. We need to work in a bipartisan manner to improve these programs, not to play political games with the financial security, health and wellness of Rhode Islanders.
These programs represent a promise of basic financial security – a means to lift millions out of abject poverty – and it is a promise we must keep.
Sister Ann’s Legacy
There have been a lot of words used to describe Sister Ann Keefe and the impact she left on Rhode Island. Hero. Advocate. Saint. Champion. Activist.
And friend. A fearless, unwavering friend to all Rhode Islanders.
Sister Ann dedicated her life to public service, not just in the church, but also as a civil rights and social justice activist who was committed to reducing poverty and violence in Providence. When Sister Ann spoke, people listened, and it was with great sadness that we all learned of her passing in January.
She left us too soon, but in her 62 years on this Earth, Ann Keefe left a legacy that will never be forgotten. She touched the lives of countless individuals in her service to Rhode Island, and I was so proud and humbled to be a part of the Elmwood Post Office dedication ceremony in remembrance of her tireless efforts. The Congressional delegation was united in our support for this memorial, and we were led by my friend and colleague David Cicilline, who introduced the bill and saw it through the legislative process. The designation of this building as the “Sister Ann Keefe Post Office” is yet another demonstration of the lasting mark Sister Ann’s generosity, compassion, and fearless advocacy for social justice has made on the state of Rhode Island. She was a true public servant, speaking for those who had no voice and working relentlessly to assist the disadvantaged. In her more than 33 years of service as a Sister of Saint Joseph, Sister Ann worked to address the many challenges facing Providence.
No feat was too great; Sister Ann knew how to roll up her sleeves and get the job done, bringing a patient, faithful voice to issues affecting the most vulnerable among us. Her spirit was contagious, galvanizing people from all over Rhode Island to come together for social and economic justice. Sister Ann’s legacy endures through the many lives she touched and the dozens of initiatives and organizations she founded, including the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence, Providence CityArts for Youth, AIDS Care Ocean State, and the Providence Human Relations Commission. These programs continue to serve those in need and make our communities stronger.
Our state and our world are better places because she passed through. She has been an inspiration to me and to all Rhode Islanders, and her example serves as a reminder that with love, compassion, and determination, a single individual can make a tremendous difference. She taught us so much about what it means to care for our neighbors, and those lessons will stay with us forever.
25 Years of Progress
A sidewalk with no curb cut. A doorway that’s too narrow. An out-of-order elevator next to a looming set of stairs. These physical barriers may seem small to some. They did to me, too, until an accident left me paralyzed at the age of 16. From that moment on, I viewed the world through a different lens, my vantage point set from the perspective of a wheelchair. Restaurants, businesses and public spaces I once loved to visit became inaccessible. Physical obstacles became barriers to opportunity, and the future I envisioned for myself instantly changed.
My story is not unique. My challenges are similar to those faced by millions of Americans with disabilities across this country – Americans whose dreams and aspirations are not diminished by their disabilities, physical or otherwise. For the first decade I lived with a disability, I saw minimal progress in making our communities as inclusive, accessible and welcoming as possible. To the contrary – people with disabilities were too often treated as second-class citizens.
But there was already a powerful movement underway, and on July 26, 1990, the tide dramatically shifted.
When President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law on that day, he ushered in a new era of civil rights for individuals with disabilities. In the remarks he gave at the ceremony, President Bush stated that “with [the] signing of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom.”
That ideal changed my life and the lives of so many others, and I was proud to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the bill’s enactment with several Rhode Islanders who have likewise benefited from the law. Hosted by the Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, our celebration included director Tony Antosh, and also a panel of young people I greatly admire. These individuals have turned their personal challenges into a platform for helping others. Gary Balletto was known for his tenacity in the boxing ring before an accident left him paralyzed. Now, he’s fighting a new battle for disability rights. Katie Lowe is breaking barriers and stigma as a representative of both the Down Syndrome Society of Rhode Island and the Developmental Disabilities Council. And Alyssa Silva, an inspiration to me, is undeterred by her diagnosis of spinal muscular atrophy. As the founder of Working on Walking, Alyssa is raising awareness and funds to beat SMA once and for all.
These pioneers give me hope for the future. The silver anniversary of the ADA presents us all with a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the strides we’ve made, but it also presents us with occasion to reaffirm our commitment to equal opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities everywhere. And with such strong, passionate, committed partners in Rhode Island and nationwide, those are goals we all can reach.
Social Media Snacking
Eric Weiner was still an undergraduate business student at Johnson and Wales University when he saw a used limousine for sale at a local dealership. To make some extra money, he took a chance, bought the limo and started a one-man operation. Fast forward to 2008, and Eric is the SBA Small Business Person of the Year and his fleet of limousines and workforce are both extensive. He learned what it took to become a successful businessman, but the thrill had subsided and he was ready for the next big challenge.
Thanks in part to his Johnson and Wales roots and in part to his passion for local food, the food economy emerged as that next big challenge.
Eric started FoodTrucksIn.com as a platform to promote mobile kitchens and make it easier for consumers to support small businesses that value fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. More and more, people want to know where their food comes from, and the best way to empower them to make those choices is to create an environment that fosters small business growth. That’s something Eric believes in strongly, and it’s exciting to see his idea grow.
FoodTrucksIn.com is connected to more than 6,000 mobile food trucks and is available for diners in more than 1,200 cities. Unlike many other mobile platforms that focus on major metropolitan areas, FoodTrucksIn and its founder cast a wider net. Eric believes all consumers should have easy access to the food trucks in their area, just as they can easily look up a brick and mortar restaurant location. FoodTrucksIn doesn’t discriminate, and as a result, opportunity opens up for both the consumers and the chefs.
I met with Eric at the Roger Williams Park Carousel, at which the Rhode Island Zoological Society recently acquired the vending contract. The zoo now oversees the on-site cafe, and thanks to Eric’s counsel, the Carousel is quickly becoming a favored destination for foodies. During my visit, the grilled cheese food truck Fancheezical was serving lunch, and I had a fantastic sandwich. Each day, a different food truck is parked on site for lunch, and on Fridays, the lot is filled alongside a beer garden and music.
For Eric, that’s what it’s about: bringing exposure to small businesses, promoting local food and, ultimately, helping Rhode Island foodies experience the delicacies that our state is known for.
Putting Out Fires
Days after a major boat fire and an explosion on the beach, it was a quiet morning in Narragansett. Not quite time to rest for the Narragansett Fire Department, though, as I joined Senators Reed and Whitehouse and state and local officials to celebrate a $770,000 federal grant that will enable the department to purchase a new ladder truck and additional firefighting equipment.
I was proud to support the grant application, written by Lieutenant Kevin Tuthill, who joined his colleagues and Fire Chief Scott Partington to announce the grant award in front of the 30-year-old ladder truck the funds will help to replace. This round of federal funding comes through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) Grant Program. This is a highly competitive program, but Rhode Island departments continue to stand out. This time around, Narragansett received $690,477 toward the cost of a ladder truck and $79,105 to replace all hoses on the department’s engines, purchase new nozzles and replace three master stream devices.
In short, these funds will further modernize the department and enhance firefighting services in a town that, for many residents and tourists alike, is the epicenter of summer in Rhode Island.
Shrinking municipal budgets have forced fire departments statewide to do more with less. They are meeting that challenge and doing an exceptional job maintaining public safety, but additional funds make that job a little easier and help the public and the firefighters, alike.
Harvest Season in Central Falls
I’m always happy to welcome Congressman David Cicilline into the Second District, and he returned the favor recently when I joined him for a tour of Acopia Harvest International in Central Falls. Acopia Harvest is a business that specializes in making hydroponics – a type of indoor farming – available to schools, homes and businesses across the nation. Hydroponics creates great efficiencies in farming and is at the forefront of energy-efficient technology, and therefore is a growing industry within agriculture.
As Energy Task Force chair on the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition in Congress, I am interested in the work Acopia is doing, and I was eager to learn more from Ameth Alzate. Through their hydroponics growing system known as Gro-Stax, the workers of Acopia Harvest International are able to grow their fresh produce year round using a minimal amount of water while also significantly reducing chemical emissions into the environment.
In addition to their attention to the environment, Acopia Harvest is finding ways to give back to the community. Project Sprout, a program run by the company, teaches young people about hydroponics and the opportunities it creates in commercial and personal farming. Members of the Acopia Harvest team visit schools and community groups to show children how they can make a difference in the world with just a few simple farming tools.
Hydroponics is a big part of the future of agriculture, and based on what I saw during my visit, Acopia will be a valuable player in Rhode Island.
Savage on Cybersecurity
Dr. John Savage, a professor of Computer Science at Brown University, is a knowledgeable resource on cybersecurity, and I am fortunate to count him as a friend and advisor in this arena. We have met several times to discuss strengthening cyber defenses and supporting a strong cyber workforce and he offered tremendous insight during his most recent visit. We discussed protecting consumers and their sensitive information – an issue brought to light once again by the recent hack of the Office of Personnel Management. Dr. Savage believes strongly that the nation needs to work with experts to encrypt sensitive data and software. I agree that stronger cyber defenses require a strong public-private partnership. There is no single solution to the immense cybersecurity challenges we face.
Dr. Savage earned his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering at MIT in 1965. He has taught at Brown University for the past 48 years, and while there, he co-founded the Department of Computer Science and served as its co-chair from 1985 to 1991. He was also a Jefferson Science Fellow in the U.S. State Department during the 2009-2010 academic year. On top of that, he currently serves on Governor Gina Raimondo’s Cybersecurity Commission. He focuses his time on cybersecurity technology and policy, as well as computer system security. He has done research and taught courses on these issues, and continues to impress me as a leading voice in the industry.
Located among Quonset Business Park’s nearly 200 resident businesses, BB&S Treated Lumber of New England is situated next to a rail siding, making it easier to unload and exchange materials efficiently. They work and send out products 24-hours a day and their services range from treating dimensional lumber to fabricating vinyl fence. BB&S has employed Rhode Islanders and serviced New England independent lumber yards and regional Home Depots since 1983.
Dan Kane, the general manager, was gracious enough to show me around their sizeable facility.
During the tour, Dan explained that the products BB&S uses to treat wood are more expensive, but more eco-friendly, making it a worthy investment. As an advocate for environmental protection, I’m encouraged to see BB&S leading the industry on using cleaner, less harmful products. In 1994, BB&S become the third treater in the United States with ACQ, a treating product that minimizes the environmental impact. BB&S also reuse materials from their treatment facility. As Mike McCarthy, the Marine Department Manager, put it, “nothing leaves the building.”
The industry is not without its challenges. BB&S consistently faces a dearth of young truck drivers, and Rhode Island’s infrastructure is nowhere near where it needs to be for a business that relies heavily on trucking. I understand the concerns and priorities of BB&S, and they dovetail with my own. While in Congress, I have worked to encourage innovation that will create 21st century jobs, educate young people about the jobs that are available in their communities, and better connect educational institutions with area businesses, all of which could help address the shortage of drivers that BB&S currently faces. Like Dan, I also believe that Rhode Island – and our nation as a whole – is facing a crisis of infrastructure. Directing resources to roads, bridges and transit is critical to economic growth, and I will continue working to promote these investments at the federal level.
I appreciate the commitment that BB&S has made in locating their company and many jobs here in Rhode Island. I share that commitment and belief in our state, and I look forward to working with them in the future to ensure that infrastructure and workforce needs are no longer a barrier to economic development.
One of my favorite things about working in Congress is the ability to engage with my local community. After my injury, I received a tremendous amount of support – often from strangers – and because of that, I have worked tirelessly to give back to my community. As the first quadriplegic to serve in Congress, I remain committed to educating both my constituents and colleagues about the programs and services needed to increase accessibility and inclusion in our communities, from health care and education to accessible transportation and ADA-compliant housing.
Community resources are essential to engage people with disabilities, and the YMCA is a great example of an organization that brings all Rhode Islanders into the fold. There are nine YMCA branches across Rhode Island, with members accessing an array of services. Some come to swim laps in the pool while others come to enjoy a workout in the gym. Now, thanks to the Cranston YMCA, individuals like me with spinal cord injuries have the opportunity to engage in some exercise too. The Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) bicycle is designed to exercise the muscles of individuals with paralysis and neuromuscular diseases. The FES bike works by shooting an electrical current into an individual’s leg muscles, allowing the individual to pedal. The bicycle is an important tool to both increase and maintain muscle mass. In addition, the bicycle works to engage members in cardiovascular activity. This specialized FES bike is the only one of its kind publicly available in Rhode Island, and YMCA staff members were required to undergo an extensive training course in order to help members use the equipment.
After speaking with YMCA staff, I learned that the specialized bicycle can be used by anyone with mobility issues. Popularity has skyrocketed thanks to the work of former boxing champion and disabilities advocate Gary Balletto, a good friend of mine who invited me to see the FES bike in action. Gary became paralyzed two years ago following an accident in his backyard. He now works out on the FES bike as many as six days per week, and media attention surrounding his success using the bike has led to an increase in calls to the Cranston Y from members who are interested in utilizing the bike. The bike is already used three to four times each day between five different members, and the leadership team at the Cranston branch expects that number to increase. Any individual that has a YMCA membership is able to use the bicycle, and there is no additional fee to do so.
When I think of the Town of Johnston, two things come to mind. First, Johnston is a small but strong, tight-knit community, where neighbors truly care for one another. Second, this town is known across Rhode Island for its vibrant Italian-American culture, with unbeatable Italian food and warm Italian people.
Nearly 7,000 miles away, the village of Panni, in the Foggia region of Italy, boasts the same reputation, and these two towns are now inextricably connected as Sister Cities.
One of the things I love most about Johnston – the aforementioned cuisine aside – is how connected this town is with its roots. History and culture are celebrated. Take the Johnston Historical Society, for example, a group that is incredibly active in the town and engages residents regularly with public events. And if you want to see Italian heritage on display, look no further than St. Rocco’s Feast and Festival. These are just two examples of how Johnston embraces its past and treasures the role of tradition in our present and future.
With this foundation, the people of Johnston recognize the importance of community, and it is felt in every corner of town. From the packed bleachers at a Johnston High School football game to a holiday celebration at the senior center, Johnston residents love their town. And now, thanks to the vision of Mayor Polisena and his friends at the Pannese Society of Providence, there’s more to love. This Sister City relationship between Johnston and Panni fortifies the town’s strong Italian roots and assures us all that if we ever find ourselves overseas, we have friends to call on in Panni.
In today’s uncertain world, these friendships are more important now than ever. There is so much we can learn from each other and our varied experiences. Complimenti – congratulations – to Johnston and Panni on this exciting relationship!
Spotlight on Dave’s
As a lifelong resident of Warwick, Dave’s Marketplace is a household name for my family. The locally-owned market has been around since 1969, and for just as long, I’ve been shopping at my nearby market. It’s convenient, and more than that, I’ve come to appreciate Dave’s commitment to quality. The market has exceptional prepared foods, and I often stop by for a quick, easy dinner on my way home.
Perhaps what I appreciate the most about Dave’s is their commitment to buying local and supporting other Rhode Island businesses.
This was the main topic of conversation when Animus Studios stopped by for a quick interview for a documentary they’re working on. The film centers upon Dave’s locally-owned, locally-sourced model, and I was proud to have the opportunity to help highlight a Rhode Island business success story.
Dave’s is a significant employer, providing 1,300 jobs that run the gamut from after-school bagging to full-time, highly skilled chefs, bakers and managers. The store’s impact is felt beyond its walls, though, as Dave’s works with more than 30 farmers and food manufacturers throughout the state. New farmers are added to that list regularly, while some farms in Rhode Island sell almost their entire stock to the market, thereby supporting jobs in agriculture, manufacturing, fisheries and other related industries.
There is a growing movement of people who want to buy and eat local, and understand exactly where their food is coming from. Dave’s gets it, and they’ve made buying local part of their overall plan. Shopping with a locally-owned grocer makes it possible for consumers to feel connected once again to their food, and that’s a business model I can get behind.
Independence Day Comes Early
One of my favorite parts of being a Congressman is being able to advocate for the people of my district and to be the voice for every single constituent.
This work is never done alone. It takes the collaboration of public and private partners in order to support all Rhode Islanders in their pursuit of health, happiness and equal rights. The Ocean State Center for Independent Living (OSCIL) is an important partner in our collective efforts to help Rhode Islanders live independently and with dignity.
Located very close to my office in Warwick, OSCIL is a community-based, non-profit organization that provides various independent living services to those who need it. The agency strives, in everything they do, to improve the quality of life for individuals with disabilities and also to integrate them into the community. Being paralyzed at the age of 16, I know the difficulties that come with a disability and the struggles faced trying to live independently. The great team at OSCIL works to make this transition not only possible, but easier and more sustainable for clients who want to find work, pursue an education, access community supports and live in a safe, affordable environment. It is a great, comforting feeling to know someone has your back, and for OSCIL clients, they have an office full of people looking out for their best interests.
OSCIL has had a busy year. After the closure of other organizations, OSCIL has gained new cleints – doubling the number of people they serve and, in turn, increasing the size of their staff to meet growing demand. Although the workload has increased significantly, the dedicated staff at OSCIL has taken it in stride, working to help clients access every available federal, state and community resource – and every bit of funding possible – to empower individuals with disabilities to live independently and pursue their dreams.
In Washington, I will continue to advocate on behalf of OSCIL and all groups who assist those with disabilities, doing everything in my power to provide them with adequate resources and support. This is a cause that is close to my heart, and I applaud OSCIL for all that they do to help people with disabilities forge a path toward independent, fulfilling lives.
It’s no secret that high housing costs remain an obstacle for Rhode Island families. In this state, and nationwide, we are facing a crisis in affordable housing. Low-income families, in particular, face countless challenges as they struggle to escape the harsh cycle of poverty. I believe that everyone deserves a place to call home, and ensuring access to affordable housing is absolutely essential. That is why I cannot praise the Fernwood Development project highly enough. Funded by a partnership of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Federal Home Loan Bank Affordable Homes Program and the Rhode Island Housing Resources Commission, when Fernwood is completed it will house 30 low- to moderate-income families. These are families that have perhaps not yet been able to achieve their dream of homeownership. The “sweat-equity” program that Fernwood is undertaking is particularly admirable, as it will allow families to save more than $75,000 by helping to build the homes alongside the developers.
I am also thrilled with the efforts taken through this project to preserve our natural resources, both locally and globally. The neighborhood has been constructed with the surrounding area in mind, modeled after the designs of nearby historic homes. In addition to being a great addition to Pascoag, the homes will be energy star-rated with high R-value insulation, and will include water conservation features and renewable materials. Being a short drive away from downtown Pascoag, families will have access to the shops and amenities, quite literally right down the road. Fernwood combines the best of rural and suburban living, and quality of life will be further enhanced thanks to the open green space in the neighborhood and the strong sense of community that Rhode Island Housing and NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley hope to create.
It was a pleasure to attend this ground-breaking ceremony, and I am eager to return for the ribbon-cutting!
One of the greatest rights we have as American citizens is the right to vote. Every election cycle, men and women from all over the country turn out to their local polling locations to cast a vote and have their voices heard. It is a great privilege to participate in the electoral process, and yet, cycle after cycle, voter turnout is nowhere near where it could be.
A contributing factor to low voter turnout is that too many Americans who are eligible to vote are not registered. They may not know how to register, or perhaps they have moved recently and forgot to register within 30 days of an election. When I was Secretary of State in Rhode Island, I tried to remove as many barriers to voting as I could, including passing a provision that allowed for same-day registration in the Presidential election.
Still, more must be done.
To bring down barriers and increase civic participation, my colleague, Congressman David Cicilline, has introduced The Automatic Voter Registration Act. This legislation, of which I am an original co-sponsor, would automatically register people to vote after they submit information to the Department of Motor Vehicles such as by applying for a license. Even those who may not have a driver’s license, like myself, would still be registered by registering a car or by applying for a state ID. For those who do not want to be registered, they would have 21 days to opt-out.
Across the country, 51 million people are eligible to vote but are not registered. In our state alone, 249,000 are eligible but unregistered. In other words, those are 51 million voices – 249,000 in Rhode Island alone – that remain silent.
I am confident that this legislation, if passed, would significantly increase voter participation. Democracy is not complete without participation, and any step we can take to increase it is a step in the right direction. Let’s give these Americans their voices.
Salute to General McBride
It was almost four years ago when Major General Kevin McBride was appointed as Adjutant General of the Rhode Island National Guard, the capstone of an extraordinary career that started back in 1980. General McBride has seen our National Guardsmen through an extraordinary period, with more than 2,000 individual deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan. He has led Warwick’s own 43rd MP brigade in its deployment to Iraq, and served our state and the nation in a succession of commands, including as an aviator on multiple rotary-wing platforms.
And as the head of RIEMA, he has seen our state through some of the worst conditions Mother Nature could throw our way.
He has devoted 35 years to Rhode Island and the United States, and it’s been an honor to work with him and benefit from his experience and expertise as we work for the betterment of the state. It is difficult to imagine the Rhode Island National Guard without General McBride at the helm, but our loss is the Town of Bristol’s gain, and I wish him the very best of luck in his new position as director of the town’s Public Works department. General McBride left an indelible mark on our state, and I know he will do the same for Bristol.
Seniors are such a tremendous asset to our community. Their wisdom and knowledge, and the varied experiences they have had over the course of a lifetime provide a unique perspective on the world around us. Their counsel helps us to avoid the mistakes of the past and craft a stronger, more thoughtful vision for the future. They have earned our respect, and as an elected official, I believe that it is now our turn to ensure that our seniors – the ones who paved the way for the next generation – are well taken care of.
There are many ways to support our seniors, from protecting Social Security and Medicare to fostering livable communities that have accessible public transportation and affordable housing options. Health care, transportation, housing, retirement security – the list of issues that are important to seniors goes on, and representing their interests at every level requires a collaborative effort from the public sector, private industry and non-profit community agencies. All of those partners are involved in my new Seniors Advisory Committee.
For our inaugural meeting, I was glad to have the opportunity to give a legislative update. I’m pleased to report that Congress finally passed legislation that permanently fixed Medicare physician reimbursements, and also funded community health centers for two years. Personally, I introduced an amendment, which successfully passed, that increases funding for the technical assistance and training programs that improve accessibility in public transit for older adults and individuals with disabilities. In that same vein, I introduced the Transit Accessibility Innovation Act that, if passed, would establish a pilot program to encourage transportation systems to become more accessible and user-friendly.
Despite some victories, the list of pending legislation that is relevant to seniors is long, and I am so grateful to have this advisory committee as a sounding board. When I have votes coming up that impact seniors, this is a group of knowledgeable, experienced professionals to whom I can turn for advice. Likewise, I know that they will reach out to me whenever they have suggestions. Their experiences in the field and first-hand stories of what challenges Rhode Island seniors are facing will help to shape my policy. If the productive discussion from our first meeting is any indication, this advisory committee will prove to be an invaluable resource for me and, in turn, for all of the constituents of the Second District.
Craving for RI Food
Rhode Island is the smallest state, but we are known for our abundance of beautiful beaches and a coastline that yields some of the best seafood in the country. Local farms harvest delicious native crops. World-class restaurants cover the state.
Despite this vibrant food economy and wealth of locally-grown products, much of our local food leaves Rhode Island. Restaurants struggle to procure the quantity of local goods that they need, and owners, stretched thin by a heavy workload, often have difficulty finding the time to shop around for innovative menu items.
Entrepreneur and Chef, Matt Tortora, a graduate of Johnson and Wales University, identified this problem while working at the restaurant Jamestown Fish. After the restaurant placed an order for fresh Rhode Island squid, Matt opened the package to find that it had been processed in China. Processing challenges had prompted the local fishermen to bring their business elsewhere, and the result was a product that was not as fresh as Matt had hoped. He sought a solution where restaurants could more easily connect with the producers and purveyors in their backyards.
Along with his partner, William Araújo, Matt founded Crave Food Services, whose inaugural product is a cloud-based platform that serves as a liaison between restaurants and purveyors. The WhatsGood application can be used on a computer or on a smartphone, linking local farmers and fishermen with independent restaurants. The purpose is to make the purchasing and selling process less expensive and easier. Purveyors post their products on the site and can update prices and stocks in real time. Restaurants can search for specific companies they want to do business with, or pick and choose products from an array of farms or producers. From the app, sellers can keep track of their inventory and match with potential buyers based on what they have and their delivery capabilities. Buyers can see how much the seller has left, what he or she can provide, and some basic information about the farm or company.
I have become increasingly interested in the food economy, and I can see that WhatsGood fills an important need. Buying local isn’t a trend – it’s a genuine movement. Consumers want to know where their food is coming from and chefs want to provide the freshest product possible. Crave Food Services is fulfilling both of those needs, at the same time providing a great tool to support local businesses as they market themselves within one of the greatest restaurant scenes in the country.
An Important Lunch Date
It was more than a year ago when I hosted my first Lunch with Langevin, an open office of sorts in the community where constituents can come and enjoy lunch while asking questions about the issues that are important to them. My District Office in Warwick is open five days a week and I am accessible by email, phone, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram; but accessibility is something we should never stop working toward as public officials. Lunch with Langevin is just another avenue through which I can communicate with my constituents and hear their concerns or hopes for our state and our nation.
After visiting Scituate, Narragansett and Coventry, I felt it was time to visit our capital city, and I am grateful to the wonderful team at Providence Coal Fired Pizza for providing a delicious meal and excellent service to all of the constituents who came out. Some had specific issues they wanted to discuss, others had questions and others still just wanted to come by to say hello. No matter the reasoning, or where in the Second District I’m meeting with them, it is such a pleasure to speak with my constituents and let them know first-hand that I’m proud to represent them.
Thanks to everyone who attended, and please stay tuned to my website and Facebook page for details on the next Lunch with Langevin!
Feeding RI’s Growth
It’s hard to believe that it has been nearly two years since I first met Davide Dukcevich of Daniele, Inc., a meeting that sparked my interest in the food economy and its role in Rhode Island’s overall economic recovery. Two years, two Food Weeks and many business visits later, my Food First Advisory Committee is a reflection of not just my interest in this area, but in our state’s commitment to and enthusiasm for this growing industry.
One of the highlights of my most recent Food First Advisory Committee meeting came from David Dadekian of eat drink RI, who provided an update for us on a very exciting project that could have an enormous impact on Rhode Island’s food economy. David won a Rhode Island Foundation fellowship to help him establish an “eat drink RI Central Market.” Similar to other public markets like Chelsea Market in New York City or the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco, the Central Market in Rhode Island would showcase local restaurants, purveyors and products. David is already looking at potential properties, and hopes to finalize a location before year’s end. The enthusiasm in the room was tangible, and I know I speak for everyone on the committee when I say that we are all so excited to see how a Central Market could further promote our state as a food destination.
This second meeting of the advisory committee was a good chance to catch up with everyone and also to introduce new member, Robin Squibb, owner of Granny Squibb’s Iced Teas. As we went around the table, several businesses, including Baffoni’s Poultry Farm, Walrus and Carpenter Oysters and Nickle Creek Vineyard, said their businesses are busier than ever. Pelloni Farm and eat drink RI are both flourishing. Farm Fresh RI and the RI Hospitality Association are working to retrain Rhode Islanders, ensuring we have the skilled workforce for job growth in this sector. Others, like Sons of Liberty and the Backyard Food Company, talked about the cross-collaboration happening between food businesses. To hear that two advisory committee members connected after the first meeting and are collaborating on a project is so exciting for me. It’s exactly what I hoped would happen when I invited this group together!
For my part, I was able to fill the group in on a lot of legislative issues of interest to food-related businesses, including my support for the Farm to School Act that would increase funding from $5 million to $15 million for the USDA Farm to School grant program. I also shared my support for the Small BREW Act to reduce the federal excise tax on small breweries, and my introduction of the RI Fishermen’s Fairness Act, a bill that would create two new spots for Rhode Island on the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council.
I always appreciate the opportunity to update constituents on the legislation and policy work that impacts them, but more importantly, this advisory committee gives them the opportunity to let me know what is most important. They are in the field every day, and have an acute knowledge of what legislation, policy and regulatory reforms will help support the Rhode Island economy. This insight is invaluable in shaping my work in Washington, and I look forward to a continued dialogue that empowers me as a legislator and gives them a strong voice in Congress.
Supporting a Different ‘Troop’
The Boy Scouts is such an exceptional organization. They teach young men to be responsible, caring and involved in their communities. So when Troop 11 Harmony arrived in my office, I was somewhat surprised to hear them ask what it means to be a good citizen. They were visiting to discuss this specific topic because they are working toward badges for Citizenship in the Community and Citizenship in the Nation. The workbook includes questions about the branches of government, the electoral process and pieces of American history, but the focus during their visit was on citizenship.
What these young men may not realize yet, is that they are embodying what it means to be a good citizen. Citizenship is about being engaged in our community and doing our part to make that community better. For some people that may be environmental causes like beach clean-ups and for others it could be volunteering at the local elementary school. I imagine that each of these boys has different interests and hobbies, but regardless of what cause they choose to take up, they are being good citizens just by showing they care.
It is great to see the positive impact that Scouting can have on a young person, and Troop 11 is no exception. They were poised and respectful, and as I said to them during their visit, I truly hope they will stick with Boy Scouts. Several from the Harmony troop are closing in on the Eagle Scout rank, and it is an honor they will carry with them for their whole lives. Thanks to Scout Leader Cheryl Dergemann for bringing Troop 11 by, and thank you to all the Scouts for reminding us all that it’s never too early to be a good citizen!
Fighting Cancer with COBRE
For more than 150 years, Rhode Island Hospital has improved the lives of Rhode Island patients and their families. In support of that work, and the hospital’s focus on cancer treatment in particular, it was my pleasure to help announce a $5.6 million grant award renewal from the National Institutes of Health. The NIH grant recognizes Rhode Island Hospital as a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) in Cancer Research and Development, and the cancer research grant will be spread over five years. This award is an acknowledgment of the outstanding work that is being pursued at the institution, and I was honored to be a part of the announcement.
I would like to thank President and CEO Tim Babineau for his leadership at Lifespan, as well as the Lifespan board of directors, senior managers and the employees at Rhode Island Hospital, especially those on the investigative team who have been working tirelessly in the field of cancer research.
As attending physician Dr. Bharat Ramratnam said, these programs work to foster creativity, which led to this award in the first place, and it is all of Rhode Island that stands to benefit from the best in cancer research, diagnosis, and treatment. These grants are highly competitive, which is a testament to the incredible work done by Rhode Island Hospital. It comes as no surprise that the hospital has been recognized several times in the past for excellence in treatment and research.
Cancer affects us all; we all know someone who has fought this insidious disease, and too many Rhode Islanders have faced this battle personally. The work that is being done at Rhode Island Hospital will lead to more effective treatments, better health care outcomes, and hope for those afflicted with cancer. In addition, this institution has enormous potential to create cutting-edge jobs as we pursue new and exciting fields of scientific research. Biomedical research is not only the future of medical innovation, but also economic innovation, and Rhode Island is well-suited to be a leader in this field.
I would like to once again congratulate Rhode Island Hospital, and I look forward to seeing what good work they do in the future.