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12th Annual Fighting Poverty with Faith Vigil launches anti-poverty legislative agenda



“We come because we share a passionate concern for those entrapped and oppressed by poverty in our state,” said keynote speaker Reverend Tom Wiles. “These are our neighbors. They are members of our congregations and parishes. Many of them are personal friends and some are family. Sadly, most of them remain nameless and faceless in a society that both devalues and ignores them… We are here to call for justice; economic justice and yes, legislative justice.”

The 2020 session of the Rhode Island General Assembly began with a visit from religious leaders representing a range of faiths taking over the State House rotunda to announce their legislative priorities as part of the 12th Annual Fighting Poverty with Faith Vigil. Governor Gina Raimondo and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (Democrat, District 4, Providence) addressed the assembled faith leaders. Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) declined to speak at the event.

A legislative agenda was announced at the event, which includes:

  • Banning housing discrimination based on renters’ source of income;
  • Increase state funding for housing;
  • Enacting a $15 minimum wage;
  • Increasing the state’s earned income tax credit;
  • Increase pay for direct care staff in nursing homes and increasing staffing levels;
  • Increasing the benefit paid to families receiving RI Works cash assistance;
  • Increasing access to food at schools and in communities;
  • Increase quality child care and pre-Kindergarten; and,
  • Allow Rhode Islanders who are “undocumented” to qualify for driver’s licenses.

The event began, as it has every year, with the blowing of a shofar, followed by singing:

“We are assembled here at the State House as our legislators begin their 2020 session,” said Rabbi Michelle Dardashti of Brown University Hillel, who delivered the opening prayer. “We come together to remind our lawmakers and elected officials, and to remind ourselves, of our responsibilities towards those most vulnerable.”

“Poverty is understood in terms of shame, powerlessness, homelessness and humiliation,” said Reverend Santiago Rodriguez of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. “We have no option but to continue fighting because being indifferent to the reality of poverty is a perversity.”

“The Senate shares many priorities with the Coalition,” said Senate President Dominick Ruggerio. “We will continue working to end discriminatory housing practices, increase educational opportunities at all levels, starting at early childhood, and improve income security.”

Ruggiero said the Senate will be particularly focused on education, housing issues and the high cost of prescription drugs.

“There are still too many Rhode Islanders struggling to make ends meet,” said Governor Raimondo. “This year I’m proposing that we raise the minimum wage once again. I’ll also prioritize affordable housing, because we know that the high cost of housing is a financial barrier for countless families.”

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Raimondo said that she wants to grant driver’s licenses to the undocumented and that the minimum wage should have been raised last year, but that she will work to do so this year.

Here’s the keynote speech from Reverend Tom Wiles of the American Baptist Churches of Rhode Island.

As is tradition the names of elected officials are read aloud, and they are asked to govern with “wisdom, care and compassion.”

Wendy Manchester Ibrahim from the Rhode Island Council for Muslim Advancement delivered the closing prayer.

Closing music:

Rabbi Michelle Dardashti
Reverend Santiago Rodriguez
Representative Arthur Corvese (Democrat, District 55, North Providence)
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio
Governor Gina Raimondo
Wendy Manchester Ibrahim

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.