March: March 13
Meals on Wheels benefits thousands of Rhode Island residents and I had the pleasure of delivering a meal to Mr. Whipple Crossman earlier this week. He is just one of the roughly 1,500 elderly and homebound Rhode Islanders who use this exceptional nutrition program each year.
During this delivery, I spent some time with Whipple, known by his family and friends as Whip, who lives alone in Warwick. His bubbly personality really came through when we talked about the many careers he has had in his lifetime. The 87-year-old is known as “Twinkle Toes” to the staff at Meals on Wheels and showed me his quick footing, even while sitting in his chair.
Whip was married for 23 years and is an Army veteran. He’s had many careers throughout his life, including rating restaurants and working as a successful salesman. Don’t let his age fool you – Whip is an active member of the Shriner’s Masonic Lodge and participates in some meetings and activities, including St. Patrick’s Day parades!
If you ask him what his motto is, Whip’s response is “Be happy, healthy, wealthy and be wise and God bless.” It is a testament to his character and upbeat personality, regardless of the health challenges he faces.
Meals on Wheels allows Whip to rest assured he will get the nutritional food he needs but cannot get because he is unable to walk on his own. Unfortunately, this program’s future is in jeopardy because of the many cuts proposed in President Trump’s budget. Cuts to critical programs such as this will have a devastating impact on the countless Americans, like Whip, who depend on them. During the budget process, I vow to do all I can to protect this program, and many others, to ensure those who utilize the program can continue to get the services they rely on.
Democracy in Action
I have held elected office, from my time in the state’s Constitutional Convention to my current work in Congress, for 30 years. Never before have I seen activism like what we are seeing in our country right now, and it’s an inspiration.
The turnout for the Women’s March in Rhode Island, in D.C., and beyond, was unprecedented. And yet, the very next weekend, another fantastic crowd turned out in opposition to the executive orders on immigration. The crowd at the Rhode Island Town Hall that I hosted at East Providence High School with my colleagues in the Congressional delegation reinforces the message loud and clear: the voices of the American people cannot and will not be ignored.
We welcome that feedback. It was amazing to see so many of my constituents come out – in the snow, no less – to share their concerns and ask poignant questions on the issues facing our nation. And whether it’s an in-person town hall, on social media, by email, or by phone, we want to keep hearing from all Rhode Islanders. I’ve been hosting quarterly Lunch with Langevin meetings for the past three years, and I hope all of my constituents consider that a standing invitation to come see me, ask questions, and share concerns.
I know that it’s a scary, uncertain time, but I hope Rhode Islanders take comfort in the fact that they are not alone; that so many of our friends and neighbors are engaged. I know I do. I also feel very fortunate to be part of a delegation that works well together and supports each other’s priorities. I’m proud to serve alongside them, and I want to thank them for joining me for a great Town Hall event.
50 Years and Going Strong!
It pains me to say this, but these are turbulent times for libraries. Some people in our country are turning away from books, and this has prompted some to question whether libraries are still relevant or still a worthy investment.
But I strongly believe that libraries are more important than ever.
Libraries are the embodiment of our highest ideals: our belief that every person has a right to knowledge and that every child, no matter his or her background, has a right to learn. They embody our belief that information should be free and available to all who seek it out. That’s why we need libraries, and why I was proud to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the West Warwick Public Library.
Libraries will never be irrelevant, because access to knowledge will always be a worthy investment. Freedom of information is a lasting and fundamental principle of the United States, and I know that in 50 years down the road, the town of West Warwick will be ready to celebrate the library’s 100th anniversary.
FIRST on the Scene
As someone who loves technology and is a policy wonk when it comes to cybersecurity, I love seeing young people who are interested and engaged in the STEM disciplines. These are industries with huge growth potential in Rhode Island, nationwide, and even around the world, so their interest now could pay dividends if they follow this path. Moreover, we have a shortage of cybersecurity professionals, and we’re going to need more young people who have the skills and training necessary to protect us in cyberspace.
Programs like the FIRST Tech Challenge are inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers, technicians and, yes, cybersecurity professionals. These jobs are cutting edge, they are in demand, and they can be fun, so programs like FIRST Tech are preparing students to be successful in and after school - not just as scientists, but as leaders, problem-solvers, and team players.
The FIRST Tech Challenge Championship puts the talent and ingenuity of students on display, and it’s the culmination of many months of hard work learning about robotics and honing critical thinking and problem-solving skills. I’m grateful to the New England Institute of Technology for hosting the FIRST Tech Challenge and to all of the mentors and volunteers who make it possible, including Erin Flynn at NEIT, head judge Helen Greathouse, head referee Phil Carlucci, and a team of inspectors led by Art Van Meeteren. These volunteers give up their time to make science and engineering fun for Rhode Island students, and we will have them to thank for the STEM leaders of tomorrow.
Congratulations to all the FIRST Tech participants and winners. Some of you might not be thinking about your career paths, or even what you’re doing next week, but I hope the work you put in for FIRST Tech and all of the things you learned will stay with you for many year to come. You are Rhode Island’s next generation of innovators, and I’m so proud of you!
Colonel Ann Assumpico has led an impressive career. She has worked in law enforcement for four decades, starting as a Correctional Officer at the ACI, then graduating from the Rhode Island Municipal Police Training Academy and joining the Coventry Police Department as a Patrol Officer and SWAT Team member. For the past 24 years, she has served with the Rhode ISland State Police, quickly moving through the ranks from Corporal to Captain. She is a fifth-degree black belt, has a Master’s degree in Administration of Justice from Salve Regina, and most recently served as the Director of Training for the State Police Training Academy and the Municipal Police Training Academy.
As if that resume weren’t impressive enough, Colonel Assumpico broke a glass ceiling when she became the first female to lead a law enforcement agency in the State of Rhode Island. So to see her sworn in as the 13th Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police and Director of the Rhode ISland Department of Public Safety, was to see history made.
I have a tremendous respect and appreciation for law enforcement, and a lifelong fascination of the work they do, and I think Colonel Assumpico will do a phenomenal job as our state’s leader on public safety. She has spent 40 years protecting Rhode Islanders and setting an example for public service, and I am very much looking forward to seeing the mark she makes on the State Police and on our entire state. Congratulations, Colonel Assumpico - you deserve it!
A new administration in the White House comes with so many changes, and as the new session of Congress picks up speed, infrastructure is at the forefront of policy discussion. Congress will likely consider a new infrastructure package in the near future, so I was pleased to be able to meet with the Rhode Island Water Works Association to discuss how water infrastructure will come into play.
As we have seen from the crisis in Flint, and from our own history in Rhode Island, we cannot afford to delay or shortchange our long-term investment in water projects. And as we take up a new package, I am particularly interested in highlighting the need for green infrastructure, a field in which Rhode Island has been a leader. Through green banks such as the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, we can simultaneously conserve our environment, create efficiency, and upgrade our reliability - goals I know the members of the Association share.
I also discuss cybersecurity concerns during my meeting, because while many Rhode Islanders know of my longstanding interest in cybersecurity, many do not know what brought me to the issue in the first place. My interest, in fact, was not spurred by a data breach, but by the thought of a malicious actor hacking the power grid or a dam. These were theoretical threats when I founded the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus in 2008, but today, they’re very real. Whether it’s two incidents of cyber attackers shutting down the power in Ukraine, or Iranian hackers poking around the networks of a New York dam, we have left the realm of the possible into the practical, and it is incumbent upon government and the private sector to work together to protect our infrastructure.
It’s a safety problem, it’s an executive problem, it’s a board problem, and it’s going to take a dramatic culture shift to realize that point if we are really going to start closing our aperture of vulnerability. Looking at the water suppliers, legislators and state agency heads involved in the Rhode Island Water Works Association, however, I trust that Rhode Island is in good hands, and I look forward to continuing to work with them on infrastructure policy in Congress and on the next challenges to come.
Money in Your Pocket
Nobody likes filing their taxes, but for many Rhode Islanders, there are resources available that can make the process easier and maximize the returns going back into their pockets. Often times, taxpayers are unaware of these programs, which is why I look forward every year to participating in a kickoff event to raise awareness for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). VITA offers free tax preparation assistance to low-income individuals, or those who earn $55,000 or less. And for individuals who earn less than $47,955, they can also take advantage of the EITC, a refundable credit that averages more than $2,400.
That money can make a tremendous difference for hardworking families, and yet 20 percent of those who qualify don’t actually claim the credit. The VITA program hopes to rectify that gap, making sure Rhode Islanders get back every penny they deserve. The EITC is only one piece of the puzzle, but it is important to providing financial stability to families in our state.
The VITA program is at the center of expanding access to the EITC, and it would not be possible without the support of community groups and volunteers. These efforts are funneled through Community Action Agencies across the state and affiliated groups that are committed to assisting in the VITA effort, including Citizens Bank, the Economic Progress Institute, the United Way, and the Community Care Alliance. It is only because of their continued participation that the VITA program continues to thrive, and I’m so grateful for the work they do to lighten the load on Rhode Islanders during tax season.
Rhodes to Success
If you’re a Rhode Islander who has never heard of Rhodes Technologies or Rhodes Pharmaceuticals, you’re not alone. The team at Rhodes isn’t prone to self-promotion, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t doing exceptional work. Housed on a single campus, Rhodes Technologies and Rhodes Pharmaceuticals are separate entities involved in different aspects of pharmaceuticals. The technology side handles production, marketing and sales, while the pharmaceuticals side develops and distributes products in their final dosage forms. Rhodes currently has eight commercial products on the market – seven generic drugs and one name brand.
Together, the Rhodes entities employ 220 people. They also have plans in the works to hire another 20 this year, which is great news. They employ high school graduates through PhD levels, too, so there is a range of opportunity with the company – another great piece of news for our diverse workforce. I was particularly pleased to hear that they hire more than a dozen interns a year and also partner with the University of Rhode Island to find qualified employees. Add in the fact that they utilize Commerce RI’s Wavemaker Fellowship program, and Rhodes is doing a great job at trying to identify and cultivate talent locally.
New York and New Jersey have sizable pharmaceutical industries, but Rhodes uses Rhode Island’s quality of life as a selling point for recruitment. That method has proven successful for them so far, and I hope it will continue to as they provide challenging and rewarding career opportunities for native Rhode Islanders and those looking to relocate here. I want to thank the entire team at Rhodes for showing me and State Representative Jared Nunes (Coventry, West Warwick) around, and for investing in our state. The business may not be prone to self-promotion, but they certainly have a lot to be proud of!
Setting the STEM Example
Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields are growing quickly in Rhode Island and beyond, but women remain vastly underrepresented. Women make up about half of the U.S. workforce, but hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs, despite their growth potential and strong wages. In fact, women in STEM careers earn 33 percent more than women in other fields.
Why the disconnect?
There are many answers that contribute to the dearth of women in STEM, but it is clear that we need to take action in order to encourage women of all ages, and especially young women, to pursue educations and careers in these related industries.
That’s where the Million Women Mentors program comes into play. I was proud to join the Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership, Governor Gina Raimondo, and others to kick off the Rhode Island Million Women Mentors initiative. Mentors inspire confidence in young people. They provide guidance and support, and they motivate our students and workers to succeed. STEM mentors, therefore, can help close the gap between STEM job opportunities and the women who could fill them. It’s good for industry, it’s good for our economy, and it’s good for women in Rhode Island.
Living MLK’s Legacy
At a time of great challenge and discord in Congress and across our nation, there is a lot we can learn from the students at Broad Rock Middle School.
I paid a visit to Robin Wildman’s class just a few days after Martin Luther King Day and the students became the teachers as they brought me up to speed on the nonviolence principles they follow at Broad Rock. Wildman studied with Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Jr., a civil rights activist who worked alongside Dr. King, and brought their teachings back to South Kingstown. She has trained nearly all of the teachers at Broad Rock, teaches her students about nonviolent conflict resolution, and this year has opened up her training to parents, as well. The entire Broad Rock community now has access to this program, and it’s paying off. Disciplinary action has decreased, and according to the students, it has made school a more enjoyable, supportive environment.
One student, Carlie, talked about her experience being bullied in elementary school. Now that she has the tools to better express herself, and her classmates try to resolve problems peacefully, she loves coming to school. Other students nodded in agreement, adding that the teachings of Dr. King have really transformed the school. Their hope is that the work they start in the classroom can be magnified across the city, the state, and eventually the world, as more people begin to study and understand nonviolence. A sign to the side of the room lists the six principles they follow, and one, “attack problems, not people,” came up several times as a guiding force for how the students address disagreements.
At the end of my visit, the students asked me if I ever get into disagreements with my colleagues in Congress. We call them debates, but it is true that things can be contentious. As strongly as I might support an issue, you can bet that there’s another member, from a different part of the country, who opposes it just as strongly. But if we attack problems, not people, and follow the teachings of Dr. King, we’ll be much more successful in building consensus and compromise.
Food for the Soul
When I’m in D.C. and one of my colleagues says they’re going to be visiting Rhode Island, ticking off a few of my favorite places to go out to eat is the first thing I do. Food is part of the identity of our state, a major economic sector, and a cornerstone of our tourism industry. The number of farms here continues to grow, with more than 1,200 working farms in operation. For a state our size, that’s incredible. And as the Ocean State, who can forget the flourishing aquaculture businesses harvesting off our shores? We’re also home to educational institutions that have empowered food economy leaders that are putting our state on the map. From Johnson and Wales University – a premiere culinary school that has turned out household names like Emeril Lagasse and Tyler Florence – to the University of Rhode Island that counts Perry Raso of Matunuck Oyster Bar among its distinguished graduates, we have amazing talent in the food industries. Over 60,000 jobs are supported by the food sector.
Farms, fisheries, restaurants, manufacturers – we have it all. And now, we have a statewide food plan to guide us forward.
Rhode Island has a fantastic food economy infrastructure, which was on display at the first-ever Rhode Island Food System Summit. Director of Food Strategy Sue AnderBois helped unveil a draft plan that will help our state to grow the food economy, reduce food insecurity, increase access to local foods, and do all of this in a way that is protective of our environmental assets. I was proud to be one of the speakers opening up the summit, along with Sue, First Gentleman Andy Moffit, Dan Levinson and Dr. David Dooley of URI, Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit, Department of Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott, and Department of Human Services Acting Director Eric Beane. An impressive list of presenters followed, including members of my Food First Advisory Committee.
There are many people– too many, in fact – who deserve praise and gratitude for the incredible success and growth of Rhode Island’s food economy, starting with Sue and the work she is doing leading the way. Together with farmers, fishermen, business owners, policymakers, and community leaders, the local food movement will continue to grow in Rhode Island. The ideas, ingenuity, dedication, and passion coming out of these industries are helping to keep our neighbors healthy, our environment protected, and to give me plenty more reasons to brag to my colleagues.
These are strange, uncertain times, and I have heard from many constituents who are afraid of what lies ahead. I share those fears. Hate, violence, discrimination – there is too much of it in our country, and it is being normalized and even endorsed by those in the highest positions of leadership.
But as former First Lady Michelle Obama has said, “When they go low, we go high.” Her words remind me of Dr. Martin Luther King, and they remind me of the wonderful group of people who assembled at the Ebenezer Baptist Church this year for the annual celebration of MLK Day. This group of people – elected leaders, community leaders, and advocates – is committed to preserving, celebrating, and truly living by the principles of Dr. King.
Now, more than ever, we must band together in unity against those who seek to divide us. We must show courage of conviction for those who are too afraid to speak out. And above all else, we must show kindness to our friends and our enemies alike. Because as Dr. King taught us, “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
At only 17 years old, Evan Huddon’s medical costs have exceeded $3 million. Born with Spina Bifida, hydrocephalus and a number of other health conditions, the health care costs his family has faced are unavoidable. If they had paid those costs out of pocket, their family finances would have been ruined and Evan’s care would have suffered.
Thankfully, he was covered under his parents’ insurance despite his pre-existing conditions, and he was enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program that provide home and community based services for children with disabilities.
Evan’s story is a compelling illustration of why health care reform is so important, and his is one of so many stories that I’ve heard since I was proud to vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Many of the Rhode Islanders behind these stories – more than 500, in fact – crowded into the Johnston Senior Center and spilled out onto the sidewalk for the Save Health Care Day of Action rally. One of many events held nationwide, the rally represented “Our First Stand” in our efforts to fight against policies of the new administration that could have an adverse effect on our constituents.
For nearly seven years, Republicans in Congress have pledged to gut the ACA, having voted more than 60 times to repeal or undermine the historic law. Now that they control the White House and both chambers of Congress, they’re trying to make good on that promise with no alternative in sight. They’ve had seven years to come up with a replacement plan, yet, they pushed through a vote to begin the process of dismantling the ACA without offering an alternative.
If Republicans follow through on their promises to repeal the ACA, privatize Medicare and block-grant Medicaid, what will people like Evan do?
We need to work together to come up with real solutions. Health care is a right, not a privilege, and it should not be reserved only for those who can afford it. I do not believe the ACA is perfect, but I do believe that we have the power to improve upon it in a way that will help more Americans and make coverage more affordable. Based on the overflow crowd at the rally, I am not alone in this belief.
This fight is just beginning, and with so many Rhode Islanders in our corner, I believe it is a fight we will win.
At a Crossroads
Twenty-percent of children in Rhode Island are living in poverty, and at no time of year is that incredible need felt more acutely than in the cold winter months and during the holidays. During the holiday season – and all year round – Crossroads Rhode Island is a safety net for too many Rhode Island families who are struggling to make ends meet and have battled against homelessness.
The need is tremendous, but thankfully, so is the generosity of Rhode Islanders. I was proud to do my small part, as my office participated in the Crossroads Adopt-a-Family program this year. When I dropped off our gifts, I had the chance to speak with Cicely Dove, the Vice President of Family Services for Crossroads. Like so many in her line of work, Cicely is an incredibly compassionate individual, and she really pours her heart into the individuals and families served by her agency. It’s inspiring to see, and the commitment of Cicely and her colleagues at Crossroads should be a reminder to all of us about the true meaning of the holiday season.
Thank you to Cicely and everyone who works at, and donates to, Crossroads for your dedication, empathy, and generosity! Happy holidays!
Cyber at Center Stage
Cybersecurity has been a passion of mine for almost a decade now, and I am always excited to have the opportunity to share my thoughts on the topic and broaden awareness. In Rhode Island, those opportunities are becoming increasingly common, as more and more partners in the public and private sector recognize the importance of tackling this national and economic security issue. Our institutions of higher learning, in particular, have placed a growing emphasis on cyber disciplines, and Salve Regina’s Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy is at the front of the pack with their continued focus on cybersecurity. Rhode Island is so lucky to have leaders like Jim Ludes and Francesca Spidalieri in our corner, working hard to bring cyber to the forefront at Salve and beyond, and I’m grateful to have them as partners.
I joined Sister Jane, Francesca, and guest speaker Adam Levin, founder and chairman of IDT 911, at the Pell Center’s cybersecurity lecture, “Identity Fraud Happens to Everyone: So What Do You Do When It’s Your Turn?” The event was well-attended, with leaders from technology, financial, law enforcement, and health care industries, to name a few. The forum – and the guest list – demonstrated the importance of public-private partnerships to improving cybersecurity across sectors, and academia plays a critical role in that equation, developing the cyber workforce of tomorrow. Salve is a key partner, as are Brown, URI, and Roger Williams University, all of which have cybersecurity areas of expertise as well and have all expressed interest in partnering with local businesses. There are also technical communities of interest, like the vibrant Rhode Island chapter of OWASP, the Open Web Application Security Project, that provides fertile ground for networking and learning about cybersecurity best practices.
It’s vital to realize that utilizing all of these various resources can really make a difference in improving cybersecurity posture. More than 85 percent of attacks can be mitigated just by implementing relatively simple security controls like patch management and two factor authentication. Government stands ready to provide the tools, resources, and incentives necessary to help business strengthen their defenses. But, as I have often said, cybersecurity is too big a problem to be addressed by government or industry in isolation. It is going to take cooperation to get things done, and I, for one, will continue to cooperate with the excellent team at the Pell Center and with cyber-minded leaders state and nationwide.
Out to Lunch
I started my Lunch with Langevin initiative in March 2014, and as we near the two-year anniversary of this outreach project, I am thrilled with how successful this endeavor has been. Each quarter, Lunch with Langevin gets a little bigger, and at our most recent event, we had more than 80 constituents take time out of their weekends – during the busy holiday season, no less – to ask questions, share concerns, and offer ideas as to how I can best represent them in Washington. Thank you to everyone who came out for another successful forum, and thank you, especially, to the Greenwood Inn in Warwick for your hospitality and for a delicious lunch!
Stay tuned for the next Lunch with Langevin in 2017!
Workforce of the Future
It’s always an honor to host a Cabinet secretary in Rhode Island, and when that Administration official is as accomplished and distinguished as Dr. John King, it’s important that we put our best foot forward. Secretary King has a Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, a Master’s degree from Columbia University, a law degree from Yale Law School, and a Doctor of Education degree, also from Columbia University. He is a brilliant man, and I know that Governor Raimondo and all of my colleagues in government were eager to show off what has been happening in Rhode Island schools.
While the Secretary’s morning was focused on the state’s Computer Science for Rhode Island (CS4RI) initiative, I joined his tour at the Providence Career and Technical Academy, where the focus turned to the benefits of hands-on learning in a career and technical education setting. As co-chair of the CTE Caucus, this is a huge priority for me, and I appreciated the opportunity to showcase the wonderful things happening in this sphere in my home state. Providence Career and Technical Academy has some great programs in place, and I think offering this kind of work-focused alternative is essential if we are going to serve all students and all types of learners. Education is not just about classroom learning; it’s about preparing young people for the future. For many of them, the future is going to be some kind of skilled trade, and CTE programs can get them the skills they need to be successful.
In Congress, I championed House passage of the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act. I fought for increased funding for the Perkins Act, which supports CTE programs. I introduced the Counseling for Career Choice Act to help provide career counseling for students, a proposal that was included in the final Every Students Succeeds Act that passed in 2015. And while I have been fighting for these initiatives in Congress, we have been fortunate to have the leadership and vision of Secretary King, guiding education in our country. It was great to have him in Rhode Island as he closes out his tenure, and I cannot thank him enough for everything he has done for students in America.
Rhode Island to Connecticut to Colorado
General Dynamics Electric Boat builds the best submarines in the world. This is a huge source of pride for me and for my district, and christening a new EB vessel is both an exciting milestone in the life of a submarine and a celebration of the men and women who build these ships. Most recently, it was the talented EB workforce responsible for the USS Colorado that gave us cause to celebrate.
This submarine will be the fourth vessel to bear the name Colorado, with the first dating back to the mid-1800s. I know that the people of the Centennial State will be proud that once again, USS Colorado will fly the American flag on the high seas. The USS Colorado is the 15th Virginia Class Submarine and is a testament to the hard work and excellence of our submarine industrial base, and the men and women of General Dynamics Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding, who work so hard to build the boats that help keep our nation safe and secure.
The Virginia Class Submarine is the finest submarine in the world and absolutely essential to our national security. Their missions support us and our allies and ensure the United States maintains our undersea dominance. I wish the Colorado a long and distinguished service to our nation, and I am grateful to those who worked on and those who will serve upon this incredible ship.