Editorial & Opinion

Michael Niemeyer: My Baby’s Healthcare Can’t Wait

If you are fed up with our legislators sitting on our money and not doing their job, sign our petition and join us on Saturday, November 13th at the State House to demand that the General Assembly and Governor Dan McKee make a plan to spend our full $1.13 billion, call a special session to start spending it now, and spend it rescuing our communities.
Photo for Michael Niemeyer: My Baby’s Healthcare Can’t Wait

Published on November 8, 2021
By Michael Niemeyer

What do you say about a society that leaves its most vulnerable behind? 

Here in Rhode Island, we have a program called Early Intervention – a social program to make sure newborns and toddlers with developmental disabilities get the help they need early in life. It is physical therapy. It is speech therapy. It is the only help parents have navigating our complicated health care system during the worst moments of their lives.It is the only reason my daughter is still alive for me to hold in my arms and tell her I love her. Without their hard work and guidance, my daughter would have never been able to swallow her food, setting her up for a host of deadly complications. For our most vulnerable, they can be the line between life and death. Unfortunately, the program is facing a major funding crisis. 

A program that serves babies and toddlers with life threatening disabilities doesn’t have the corporate donor base to be a priority for our state lawmakers. Without meaningful funding from the state, Early Intervention can’t pay its workers a living wage, forcing workers to leave the program. There was a 33% turnover rate for Early Intervention providers in 2019. The same year, most workers reported having looked for a new job in the past six months, and 82% said they would leave if their salaries didn’t improve. And this was before the pandemic. The woman who works with my daughter told me in tears that she effectively hasn’t had a raise in twenty years. It’s no coincidence that 97% of these underpaid workers are women. 

We are facing a crisis of worker, gender, and disability justice. 

But Rhode Island has the money to fund Early Intervention. This year, the state had a $51 million budget surplus, $115-150 in additional federal healthcare funding, and $1.13 billion in ARPA funding. Not a penny has been spent on keeping EI afloat. In fact, Rhode Island is the only blue state that hasn’t spent any ARPA money at all. Instead of giving these healthcare workers their first pay raise in 20 years, our state government was busy giving tax breaks to Exxon Mobile, cutting the health department’s funding, and hosting fundraisers with corporate lobbyists.

Recently, the senate announced it would go into session one month early and begin to host hearings on how they would spend the ARPA money. Although the House is the body that actually allocated the money, House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi has yet to call the House back in session. Furthermore, the state government has yet to produce a plan on how to spend all $1.13 billion. To be clear, this funding gap should have been fixed long before now. It never should have become an emergency. But now that it is, it is more important than ever that Speaker Shekarchi, Senate President Dominick Ruggiero, and Governor Daniel McKee listen to the heroes working in Early Intervention and allocate the necessary funds immediately. As a parent of a child dependent on Early Intervention, I can guarantee you – if their kids were in the same position, our legislators would not be waffling on whether to return to session.

When it’s your daughter’s life on the line, waiting is not an option.

If you are fed up with our legislators sitting on our money and not doing their job, sign our petition and join us on Saturday, November 13th at the State House to demand that the General Assembly and Governor Dan McKee make a plan to spend our full $1.13 billion, call a special session to start spending it now, and spend it rescuing our communities.

Michael Niemeyer is a working dad and candidate for Senate District 38.

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