Providence–On a cold, crisp winter day, faith leaders from across the state journeyed to the State House for the beginning of the 2018 legislative session to implore local legislators to renew the state’s commitment to address poverty here in Rhode Island.

 

The sound of the shofar echoed throughout the State House as well as the names of each and every legislator slated to begin work on Wednesday January 3, 2018. The Rhode Interfaith Coalition and its supporters turned out in strength, with hundreds in attendance, to issue a prayer for the legislators, a prayer that asked for the legislators to govern with wisdom and compassion and to remember those most vulnerable Rhode Islanders as they make decisions in the new year.

Maxine Richman, Member of the Advisory Committee to the Coalition, welcomed the crowd stating, “Today we are celebrating our 10th vigil. Since our inception in 2008, the RI Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty has worked for bills and budgets that will achieve economic security for all Rhode Islanders. We are proud to have shared in that work over the years with so many of you. But sadly, we are not yet where we need to be: 12.8% of Rhode Islanders and 17% of our children are still living in poverty– that’s nearly one in five children. As people of faith and as anti-poverty advocates, we find those numbers simply unacceptable.”

Joining the event was Governor Gina Raimondo who remarked, “On this ten-year anniversary of the Fighting Poverty with Faith Vigil, I am proud to join with my fellow elected officials to commit to leading with care, compassion and wisdom. We’ve made progress over the last decade, but we must do more to help our neighbors and reduce poverty across Rhode Island.”

President of the Senate Dominick J. Ruggerio added, “The Senate is grateful to the Interfaith Coalition for their work each year to focus our attention upon those Rhode Islanders most in need. For the tenth year, we begin the legislative session with this appropriate reminder that the decisions we make as policymakers can make a real difference for those struggling with income insecurity. Working together, we have been able to address important issues such as the

 

 

restoration of free bus passes for low-income seniors and disabled individuals.  I am hopeful that we will continue to make progress to break the cycle of poverty in 2018, through actions such as

prohibiting income discrimination in housing.”

Keynote speaker Reverend Nikita McCalister, Senior Pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Pawtucket, called the crowd to action exclaiming, “Standing here surrounded by more than 60 clergy persons reminds me that faith leaders participated in the ratification of the US Constitution and the Declaration of Rights from the seventeenth century. And now, we continue to affirm the separation of church and state while attesting to the power of faith to shape the contour and framework of our government, institutions, mores and values of our society.  Yet, faith has eternal answers to the questions of our time.  As chronicled in the Holy Writ through the prophet Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

The Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty was formed in the summer of 2008 as part of a national effort, “Fighting Poverty with Faith,” endorsed by 40 national faith-based organizations and co-chaired by Catholic Charities USA, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the National Council of Churches. The goal of the national project is to elevate the issue of poverty. The premise of the national effort is based on the belief that poverty can be solved with political leadership powered by a citizen movement.

Their goal is a simple one, to ensure that Rhode Island legislators address issues of poverty as they govern. The Interfaith Coalition wants to make sure that every Rhode Islander is given the same basic rights regardless of their race, religion, or economic status. This annual vigil, held at the beginning of the legislative season, is meant to raise awareness among legislators that every Rhode Islander shall have:

 

  • A decent, safe and affordable home
  • Adequate food and nutrition
  • Equal access to affordable and quality health care
  • Equal and quality education for all children
  • Decent work with adequate income

 

As a coalition of faith communities, they are committed to helping their neighbors when they are in need. At the same time, the Interfaith Coalition believes that there is a vital role that Government must play in assuring that all Rhode Islanders are protected against economic deprivation and are afforded opportunities to achieve economic security.

 

The Interfaith Coalition called on Rhode Island’s public officials to preserve and enhance programs and policies that ensure that all Rhode Islanders are able to meet basic needs and that establish pathways out of poverty through education and job training.

 

The Interfaith Coalition works in collaboration with other organizations and coalitions who share the same values, goals, and support, their efforts to impact public policy to achieve economic well security for all Rhode Islanders.

 

At today’s Vigil the Interfaith Coalition released its Advocacy Platform for the coming legislative session, which includes working with their partners on the following principles and policy initiatives:

 

(1) Enact legislation that will prohibit housing discrimination based on a tenant’s lawful source of income.

(2) Expand access to quality childcare and other early learning opportunities

  • Increase the eligibility limit for the Child Care assistance program to 200% of the federal poverty level from the current 180%
  • Increase the rates the state pays child care providers
  • Continued expansion of Pre-K and Head Start

 

(3) Support safe roads by allowing qualified Rhode Islanders to obtain driver licenses regardless of their immigration status

 

(4) Monitoring federal actions regarding the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicaid

 

“We gather here to wish the legislators a productive session,” concluded Richman. “We are also here to offer them our support with the understanding that alleviating poverty must be a top public policy priority. As they face the difficult decisions this legislative session will bring, we urge them to please take the voice of wisdom and compassion as their guide. All Rhode Islanders need and deserve a pathway out of poverty and a road to economic security.”