For the past 13 years the Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty has held its Annual Fighting Poverty with Faith Vigil in the rotunda of the Rhode Island State House at the beginning of each legislative session, to propose and promote legislation that would help ease the burden on the state’s most economically vulnerable. This year, due to COVID-19, the State House is closed and the two chambers of the General Assembly are meeting remotely, so the vigil went online. In some ways it was very ffferent, in other ways it was much the same. As David Veliz, the Executive Director of the Interfaith Coalition noted, the acoustics wee better online than in the rotunda.
As has been the tradition, the vigil opens with the blowing of the shofar, followed by an opening prayer, a song, and introductory comments. Delbert Collins performed his original song.
“Maybe someone said to you there are many religions,” said Dan Latif Howard from the Shadhiliyya Sufi Community of Rhode Island leading the opening prayer. “But know that from the eyes of God there is only one: The religion of love, of mercy, and politeness.”
“This past year has been brutal, there’s no other way to say it,” said Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo. “As we end the year and begin the new year, there are more Rhode Islanders on the brink, really, than any time that i can remember. On the brink of losing their home, on the brink of losing their job, the mental illness that has come due to the isolation, children trying to learn at home – the amount of suffering and sadness and darkness is pretty overwhelming…
“We have to work harder. That means investments in housing, I’d like to see us raise the minimum wage again, I’d like to see more money in pre-K and in childcare… I’d like to make sure that companies provide healthcare for their employees. They shouldn’t be so poor such as to be on food stamps and Medicaid. There’s an awful lot to do…”
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Governor Raimondo’s full comments are below:
“We have to love Rhode Islanders enough to be honest about race, economics and education,” said Reverend Chontell Washington, Executive Director of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches. “We have to love Rhode Islanders enough to increase the minimum wage again and to ensure that veterans are receiving the appropriate benefits that they need.
“We have to love Rhode Islanders enough to avoid cutting fiscal line items that help the people who are poor.
“We have to love Rhode Islanders enough to create affordable housing and then allow people access to those opportunities, recognizing that they may have jobs, and they may have records, and they may have two parents in the household, and that these factors should not prevent them from accessing help to get out of poverty or to get back on their feet.
“We have to love Rhode Islanders enough to be uncomfortable every time we a person economically encouraged to stand on a street corner holding a cup in order to survive just one more day.
“Each one of us has to be spurred into love and good works, in order to be part of the changes needed in this new world of ours. Policies and budgets need to give attention to how they affect the marginalized.”
“Our top priorities in the Senate this legislative session will be the following,” said Rhode Island State Senator Maryellen Goodwin (Democrat, District 1, Providence) standing in for Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (Democrat, District 4, Providence), who has spoken at this event since assuming his position. “Education, housing and the cost of prescriptions, just to name a few…
“Early in this session we will be examining legislation to create an eviction and foreclosure moratorium… The Senate will also work to create a dedicated funding stream to support affordable housing. Additionally, each year the Senate has passed legislation banning housing discrimination based on source of income…
“The Senate has also consistently worked to support an increasing minimum wage. This year we will work to create a statutory path to create a $15 minimum wage.”
Senator Goodwin also noted the Senate’s efforts to pass a group of bills to fight rising prescription costs.
During the vigils of years past there would be a reading of the names of all Rhode Island elected officials. This year this was done virtually, by listing the names on screen as music played.
Towards the end of the video is a list of bills the Interfaith Coalition will work to pass this year. Links are to previous iterations of the the bills, this year’s bills may be different:
- The Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act
- Ending Source of Income housing discrimination
- Increasing the Rhode Island Works benefit, which goes to low-income families with children. That benefit has not been raised since the early 1990s.
- Drivers Licenses for undocumented residents
- A new progressive tax structure and new taxes on the richest Rhode Islanders
- Raise the minimum wage
- Protect access to affordable healthcare for all
- End utility shut offs
- Fight systemic racism
The closing prayer was from Rabbi Rachel Zerin of Temple Emanu-El of Providence.
Director Veliz spoke more about the importance of the campaign to increase safe staffing levels at nursing homes.
The closing song from Kaitlyn Tarro: