Representative David Morales and Senator Sam Bell 
September Community Town Hall featuring Reclaim RI
September 27th 2021 at Mt. Pleasant Library

September Town Hall.jpg

Notes

On September 27th, Representative David Morales (District 7) and Senator Sam Bell (District 5) hosted their 6th Community Town Hall meeting to discuss the federal relief funding that the State of Rhode Island and City of Providence received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). They heard ideas from community members on how this money should be used and answered questions. 

Discussion and Questions on ARPA (American Rescue Plans Act) Funding:

  • Rep. Morales and Sen. Bell discussed the recent federal relief funding that our State Government and City of Providence received from the American Rescue Plan Act 

    • The State received $1.1 billion and the City of Providence has received $122 million. Each respective government body (State Legislature and City Council) will help allocate and approve how the money is spent. 

    • The State Legislature will determine how the money will be spent through a supplemental budget proposal (Governor makes an initial proposal and the State Legislature revises it as needed before voting to approve the use of funds)

    • So far, RI is the only state in New England to not yet use ARPA funds

    • The State has 4 years to allocate funds and 6 years to use them

 

  • Question from a community member: how does the “little guy” gets a say with how the federal money will be used? 

    • Sen. Bell said decisions regarding federal funding will be made by the legislature which makes it important for people to participate during public hearings and testify 

 

  • Question from a community member: what are the limits and restrictions on the ARPA funding and by when does the State have to use them?

    • Sen. Bell said exceptions are limited as they can’t be used for the purpose of tax breaks or paying off pensions 

    • The State has 4 years to allocate the funds and 6 years to spend them

    • Rep. Morales mentioned that the Governor has expressed interest of immediately using 10% of ARPA funds for broadband expansion, childcare services expansion, and affordable housing, but has yet to provide a formal proposal or concrete details 

 

  • Rep. Morales share that there is an ARPA task force and the Senate will be relying on their Finance Committee to begin discussing the use of ARPA funds

    • The ARPA task force will start having public hearings and will create recommendations based of their hearings

 

  • Question from a community member: what is happening with the Federal Infrastructure Bill being debated in Congress?

    • Rep. Morales and Sen. Bell shared that if the Federal Infrastructure Bill is passed, that RI is on track to receive up to $2 Billion

    • Reconciliation and Infrastructure bill would give the states discretionary grants 

 

  • Question from a community member: Will the ARPA funds be invested in social services? If not, where would the money go?

    • Sen. Bell says that there might be a push for corporate grants to train workers (previous governor put $45 million into this and it went to big military contractors)

 

  • Question from a community member: What is happening with the staff shortage at Providence Public Schools? 

    • Rep. Morales discussed the district’s recent financial incentive of $2,5000 being offered to new teachers, guidance counselors, and school psychologists. 

 

  • Question from a community member: How do Rep. Morales and Sen. Sam Bell think that ARPA funds should be invested? 

    • Rep. Morales wants the City of Providence to allocate $1 million dollars to each respective City Council Ward for the purpose of sidewalk repairs 

      • It would allow the city to hire more workers and do jobs more efficiently than what is currently being done 

 

  • Rep. Morales talked about Childhood Lead Action project’s proposal to invest $500 million to replace water service lines contaminated with lead free of cost to property owners

    • Someone said this is a great proposal, he spoke to a lot of people in Providence that had this issue with lead pipes- people can not afford to fix the pipes

    • Sen. Bell said lead poisoning had serious effects, link between lead poisoning and providence test scores

    • Someone said they have lead in their water at home but no one checks for the lead, a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to fix their pipes or know lead is in them in the first place

 

  • Rep. Morales and Sen. Bell discussed the need for Low-to-Moderate Income Housing development

Special Legislative Fall Session: 

  • A neighbor asked about the possibility of the legislature returning in the fall and Rep. Morales explained how the Senate President, House Speaker, and Governor could not come to a consensus on several key bills that were originally supposed to be addressed during the Fall Special Session (Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights, Cannabis, Drivers Licenses for Undocumented Humans). Because of this, the 

    • The State Senate is anticipated to come back in the Fall to confirm new judges, but it is unlikely they will address any bills 

 

Presentation from Reclaim RI, local advocacy group:

  • They are proposing the State invest ARPA funds towards focusing on affordable housing and housing related programs

  • They propose 3 policy ideas: expansion of Rent Relief program, acquiring existing vacant buildings, and turning into affordable housing, and develop new affordable housing units 

  • Question from Community Member: When the government acquires properties, who is the owner? 

    • A Public Benefit Corporation is responsible 

Ideas from the Community:

  • An expansion of RIPTA Bus Lines

    • Rep. Morales says it is important that RIPTA be expanded in rural areas. He also stated that it is important the State Legislature pass existing legislation that would make RIPTA services free of cost while increasing the frequency/expansion of lines.

  • Land Conservation focused on State DEM and the Parks Department as they are understaffed since maintenance funds are difficult to come by,

  • Someone asked if there are restrictions on funding regarding land conservation? State DEM, Parks Department, understaffed, maintenance funds are difficult to come by, 

  • Someone said some money should go towards the Superman building to save it through a public benefits agreement

    • City is already looking into eminent domain (can the city buy it)? Will some of it be housing, will some of it be retail? 

  • If we want to do something, how will we know how much it costs? 

    • General Assembly has a policy analyst office

  • Affordable Housing!

  • Do the police have crisis counselors and social workers to go out with them? 

    • We don’t have something like that at the state level but it should be a program that we invest in 

  • Concerns about shutting down women’s prison and legislation regarding that, are there rehabilitative programs that are actually functional in the prison system? Women have a lack of access to those programs, can we increase community support between prison and getting back into housing, back onto their feet. Wants real rehabilitation, putting people in prison without teaching them is pointless. Wants increased funding for these resources