Senator DiMario's Latest: Universal Pre-K for RI by 2028!
Friday, March 25, 2022
Hello Neighbor - This week I have a new community program for seniors and a sign up form for interest in the 2022-2023 public preschool lottery up top, followed by the Top 3 for this edition: rolling out the roadmap to Universal Public pre-K for all 3 and 4 year olds, my calendar highlights, and updates on the bills I am sponsoring from the past few weeks. Thanks for reading!
Community Programs & Assistance
Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program: Eligible participants can now sign up from March 1st – April 15th at the locations listed in this link for the first round of the NEW produce box delivery program of the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP). Those who sign up will receive a free food box filled with fresh, local, produce with a value of $20. Produce will be provided by local farmers and delivered by Farm Fresh Rhode Island (FFRI) at these chosen locations on a specified delivery day. For additional senior locations to be considered for receiving a produce box delivery in the second round of the bulk purchase program in 2022, please email: DEM.SFMNP@dem.ri.gov or contact one of the listed Nutrition Programs - which include the Narragansett Community Center and the North Kingstown Senior Center.
Public Pre-K: If you have a child who will be 4 by September 1, 2022 and you are interested in getting updates about the lottery for public preschool spots, fill out the form linked here to be kept in the loop!
1. Building the Roadmap to Universal, Public Pre-K for 3 & 4 Year Olds
When the legislative session began in January, the Rhode Island Senate promised Rhode Islanders that we would create a pathway to universal Pre-K in Rhode Island. We're excited to do that by accelerating the state's current Pre-K expansion to provide enough seats for every student nearly 30 years ahead of the current schedule.
But the lack of classroom seats isn't the only barrier to high-quality childcare for our working families: we need to expand financial support for families seeking child care and address a lagging pipeline of early childhood educators in our state.
On March 15, Senator Hanna Gallo, Senator Sandra Cano and I put forward a suite of five new bills that address these issues and will put Rhode Island on the path to universal Pre-K:
Rhode Island Pre-Kindergarten Act: The backbone of our accelerated path to Pre-K, this bill would create a path to universal Pre-K by 2028 and ramp up quickly, nearly doubling the number of available seats by 2024.
Child Care is Essential Act: This bill not only expands state eligibility for financial assistance with child care, but also ensures that families who do start earning more money once their children have daytime care don't lose their eligibility as a result.
Early Educator Investment Act: Rebuilds our early education workforce by determining a wage scale for educators and supplementing their current wages to help workers make ends meet.
Early Learning Hubs: Building a pipeline of educators means not only hiring new ones, but providing professional support to those already in the field. ELHs would create a network for professional development and other support for providers.
Office of Early Childhood Development and Learning: Early learning is crucial, and it deserves full-time professional support with both government and civilian oversight to ensure providers meet standards.
Investing in early education is good for parents who know that their child is safe and cared for, good for the educators who work hard to help their students grow and thrive, and most importantly, it's good for our kids, who will get an early start on their education and be ready to succeed when they get to kindergarten. Now is the time to get this done, and I am looking forward to working on this for the rest of the session. Read more about the initiative here, or watch the press conference for more information!
2. Recent Calendar Highlights
Outside of our regular Senate sessions and Committee hearings, here are some of the things I've been up to in the last few weeks:
I had an informative and moving meeting with constituents who are advocates for the Rhode Island American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network where I heard from a caregiver and a healthcare professional about the importance of insurance coverage for biomarker testing to improve treatment and outcomes for Rhode Islanders with cancer
Rep. Terri Cortvriend and I met with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to catch up on their current projects and priorities related to reducing transportation emissions and how they relate to some current legislation
I attended an informative update from the Rhode Island Food Policy Council where I learned about a pilot program for app-based grocery delivery for people receiving SNAP benefits
I had the opportunity to speak to a group of social workers about the importance of legislative advocacy at NASW Rhode Island's Legislative Education and Advocacy Day (LEAD 2022)
Joined my fellow General Assembly colleagues who are champions for Rhode Island's infants and children on the Right From The Start panel focusing on Infant and Maternal Health
Shared highlights from Rhode Island's currenttransportation legislation with colleagues from the northeast and learned about initiatives from our neighboring states on a call facilitated by the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators
Sen. Valverde and I met with Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds Washington County to learn about their legislative priorities, including a coordinated crisis response program, enhanced SNAP benefits, and shoring up our provider network for mental health services for children
3. Tracking My Work in 2022
In the past two weeks I have had hearings on more of my bills:
S2072 This bill would help reduce administrative burden on providers when referring a patient to another provider or prescribing a treatment and help connect patients with their care faster. After some feedback from the provider community, we are working on improving this bill and bringing it back to the Health & Human Services Committee soon.
S2139 Rep. Karen Alzate asked me to partner with her on bringing Happy Hour back to Rhode Island as a way to give restaurants another tool for recovery, allow patrons more options for trying new places, and getting more money into the pockets of restaurant workers during slow times. Since Happy Hour was banned Rhode Island has passed strong liquor liability and server training laws that help guard against the concerns that led to it being banned. We are working on incorporating the feedback from the hearings, and hope to have an improved bill back soon in front of the Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs Committee.
S2337 We need to address the limitations of our current transportation system for riders with disabilities, and this week the Senate Committee on Housing and Municipal Government heard my bill proposing a pilot program to expand access. I will continue to work with the committee and advocates to make progress on this ASAP. Our community members with disabilities can't wait any longer.
S2615 For Rhode Islanders with disabilities and their families, transitioning from youth to adult services can be a difficult process to navigate. In addition, we need oversight to ensure that abuse or mistreatment of adults with disabilities is identified and addressed. To achieve these goals, advocates from the disability community have been asking for an Ombudsperson position to be created, similar to the Office of the Child Advocate. I am proud to be the Senate champion of this effort, and we heard the bill (updated from last year with more accurate language and other clarifications) in Senate Health & Human Services last week.
S2616 This bill would allow for a two-step licensure pathway for graduates of approved counseling programs, opening up opportunities for new graduates to provide mental health services to Rhode Islanders with commercial/private insurance, not just Medicaid clients. This change, which is a model followed by 44 other states, helps expand our mental health provider network so people can get care faster and keeps counselors working here in Rhode Island. I am looking forward to bringing this back to Senate Health & Human Services soon after making some minor language corrections so we can move forward with this important change.