Investments now will help Rhode Island’s young children and families weather the COVID-19 pandemic and emerge stronger on the other side.

Watch recording of event here.

Today via Zoom conference (click here for recording), elected leaders, advocates, and families came together to launch the 2021 RIght Start Agenda, a package of legislation and state budget investments (see below) designed to ensure all Rhode Island children get off to the right start in life, and that our young children and families are able to weather the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and emerge even stronger on the other side.

“COVID-19 has further exposed just how critical it is for Rhode Island to invest in affordable, quality child care options, early education opportunities for our children, and policies that support parents and working families,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT. “We know that the COVID pandemic has hit working moms particularly hard, with many having to reduce hours or leave jobs due to a lack of affordable child care options. This limits children’s early learning opportunities and holds back Rhode Island’s economic rebound. Families of color have been hardest hit by the pandemic. That’s why this year it is more critical than ever that we continue to make strategic investments in Rhode Island’s infrastructure of child care, early learning, maternal and child health, and family support programs. The 2021 RIght Start Agenda is all about helping our young children and families weather this crisis and emerge stronger on the other side, and we look forward to working with our elected leaders to pass this package of legislation and investments.”

“Impactful programming for children and their families does not begin with kindergarten; in fact, it begins much earlier in life,” said Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick). “There is a clear link between socio-economic status and early childhood development, and these disparities can best be closed by investments in community-based maternal health, childcare and early education. Let’s use the fierce urgency of now to redesign and recommit to getting every child in Rhode Island off to a strong start in life.”

“The pandemic has further intensified and laid bare the struggles that working families face. Now is an opportunity to re-examine our priorities as a state, to say we want every child to have access to the resources they need to start life strong and that it takes support to be able to work and raise a family. We can continue to do better, and it will make our state stronger,” said House Majority Leader Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence).

“Because I’d lost two previous pregnancies, being pregnant and giving birth to my beautiful daughter Amarie during COVID was a big challenge. But thanks to the support of my doula, I felt supported and empowered at every step,” said Wilmaris Sotos-Ramos of Pawtucket. “Doulas are an important part of our maternal health system, and it’s time for Rhode Island to pass legislation that covers doula services through Medicaid and private health insurance. I also strongly believe Rhode Island needs to expand paid family leave, so new moms, like me, have more time to bond with our beautiful newborns. These are smart policies to support families and help all Rhode Island children get off to the right start in life.”

“Finding quality, affordable child care was a challenge before COVID, and now the pandemic has placed even more stress on working parents and Rhode Island’s child care providers,” said Pawtucket State Senator Sandra Cano. “As a working mom, I know this struggle personally, and have been fortunate to have child care options for my daughter Ariana. But I know many Rhode Island families are not as lucky as I am, and that’s why we must continue to invest in our child care infrastructure. That means ensuring that our child care providers have the resources to pay their bills, including covering wages of staff during repeated quarantines that require staff and children to stay home. It also means finding a way to pay our early childhood educators the worthy wages they deserve as some of our children’s first teachers.”

“Rhode Island has been a leader in supporting high quality child care and early learning opportunities like Head Start and Pre-K, but COVID has exposed just how critical these programs are to our children and families,” said Providence State Representative Grace Diaz. “Now is the time to step-up and provide the resources our child care providers need to safely remain open so they can continue to serve our kids and families. That’s why I support the RIght Start Agenda and why I’ll be sponsoring legislation to increase Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) rates, further expand quality child care options, and invest in our early childhood educators.”

“While Rhode Island has been a leader in providing workers with job protected paid leave, families often need more than the current four weeks provided to care for a new baby or seriously ill family member” said Rachel Flum, Executive Director of the Economic Progress Institute of Rhode Island. “That’s even more true today as so many families are caring for loved ones impacted by COVID. That’s why we support the RIght Start Agenda and legislation to improve our paid leave program by increasing the amount of time and benefits available. Let’s help our families better balance work and family obligations, particularly during this incredibly challenging pandemic.”

“Rhode Island’s Latino community has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that’s why it’s more important than ever that our leaders invest in programs and policies that support our children and families right from the start,” said Marcela Betancur, Executive Director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University. “On March 2nd, we have a great opportunity to support more stable housing opportunities for families by voting for the Question 3 Housing & Community Development bond, and to help our child care providers upgrade learning spaces for our kids by voting for the Question 5 Childcare Facilities bond. Combined with supporting the 2021 RIght Start Agenda in the legislature, we can make real strides for Rhode Island’s young children and families so they can make it through this pandemic and be poised to thrive when it comes to an end.”

About the RIght from the Start Campaign
RIght from the Start is a legislative and state budget campaign to advance policies for young children and their families in Rhode Island. During the COVID-19 crisis, it has become even more clear that policies and programs that help families with young children are essential for a strong economy and public health. Investments now will help our state and Rhode Island’s young children and families weather this crisis and emerge stronger on the other side.. RIghtFromTheStartRI.org – Facebook: @RIghtFromTheStartRI – Twitter: @RIghtStartRI

2021 RIght From the Start Legislative and Budget Agenda

Enact strong state and federal revenue policies to maintain, expand and improve essential programs that are a lifeline for babies, young children, and families. We support the Revenue for Rhode Island proposal and other equitable strategies to increase state and federal resources that will help families with young children.

Pass the Rhode Island Child Care is Essential Act to make the increased rates for the Child Care Assistance Program permanent, to promote children’s access to high-quality programs, and help providers meet minimum wage requirements. Safe, healthy, and high-quality child care options are essential for working parents and for children to learn and grow.

Pass the Rhode Island Early Educator Investment Act to establish goals for early educator wages. Early educators, almost all of whom are women and many are people of color, are among the lowest paid workers in the state. Child care, preschool, family home visiting and Early Intervention programs struggle to recruit and retain excellent staff. We should ensure educators that have earned early childhood credentials and demonstrate effective practice are rewarded with increased wages, comparable to similarly qualified K-12 educators.

Improve our state’s paid family leave program (Temporary Caregivers Insurance) to match national benchmarks by increasing wage replacement rates and extending the number of weeks. We need to improve Rhode Island’s paid family leave policy so all parents, and especially lower-wage earning parents, can have adequate income to remain at home with newborns, adoptive, and foster children for at least 12 weeks.

Cover community-based doula services through Medicaid and private health insurance. Invest in building, supporting, and sustaining the doula workforce and infrastructure in the state as a strategy to reduce racial and economic disparities in maternal and child health outcomes.

Address the staffing crisis for the RI Early Intervention program and our network of voluntary Family Home Visiting programs by increasing Medicaid rates and allocating adequate state funds as a Medicaid match to reach more families.

Maintain full state funding and children’s access to RI Pre-K and Head Start. Both are high-quality programs that help get children on track for school success.

Vote to pass Question 3 and Question 5 on the March 2, 2021 ballot to expand access to affordable housing and help early learning programs improve their facilities.