Elected Leaders, Advocates and Parents Launch 2022 RIght Start Agenda of Early Childhood Education, Family Health and Budget Priorities

RIght from theStart Campaign rolls out 2022 legislative and budget priorities to help ensure that ALL Rhode Island young children and families get off to the right start in life.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Today via Zoom conference, elected leaders including Governor Dan McKee, Speaker Joseph Shekarchi, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey, advocates, and families came together to launch the 2022 RIght Start Agenda, a package of legislation and state budget investments (see below) designed to ensure that 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 — its many health, child care, and service program disruptions —  and emerge even stronger on the other side.

“As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the supports that are essential to our youngest learners and their parents are stressed to the breaking point,” said Leanne Barrett, Senior Policy Analyst at Rhode Island KIDS COUNT and coordinator of the RIght from the Start campaign. “That is why our RIght Start Agenda is calling for long-term investments in systems that support the health, development, learning, and well-being of our state’s babies, young children, and their families.”

Continued Barrett: “This includes covering all kids through Medicaid, regardless of immigration status. It means extending Medicaid coverage for new moms through 12-months post-partum. It means supporting expanded eligibility and improved rates for the Child Care Assistance Program so more families can access high-quality, reliable, and affordable child care. It means permanent increased Medicaid rates for Early Intervention programs that serve infants and toddlers with developmental challenges who are now on a waiting list due to program staffing challenges. We appreciate the support of Governor McKee and the General Assembly who have already made ARPA investments in child care and Early Intervention, and we look forward to working together during the legislative session to enact sustainable state policy and budget improvements that will improve the lives of our state’s young children and families for the long-term.”

“The future of Rhode Island depends upon the future of our young people,” said Governor McKee. “We must support our children and families and make sure our state is one where they can thrive, especially amidst the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. That is why my Administration prioritized children and families in our RI Rebounds plan by investing in early education, Early Intervention, and pediatric care. But that is just the beginning – we must move forward with the bold proposals I included in my FY2023 budget, including expanding eligibility for the Child Care Assistance Program and for Medicaid. Let’s work together to address these issues and make Rhode Island a better place for our children.”

“The General Assembly has been listening to the families and advocates who are sounding the alarm about the crises we are facing in child care and Early Intervention,” said Speaker Shekarchi. “We have already made more than $50 million in immediate investments to support children, families, and social programs, but we know that these issues require comprehensive, long-term solutions. As we build back better from the pandemic, we know that if we want to get people back to work, good quality child care is essential.”

President of the Senate Dominick J. Ruggerio said, “Ensuring Rhode Island’s children get the right start in life is squarely at the center of our priority list this session. From shoring up our child care system and putting us on a path to universal pre-k, to ensuring that every child in the state has access to health care, we are working to invest in the systems that provide children and families the supports they need, right from the start.”

“I cannot say enough about how working with an Early Intervention specialist helped my son Hakeem overcome speech delays and muscle tightness issues,” said Moraya Muritala of Providence. “Early Intervention has really helped my son make progress to reach developmental milestones, and today he’s absolutely thriving. I want Early Intervention to be there for all of Rhode Island’s young children experiencing developmental delays, and that means making long-term investments in our state’s network of Early Intervention providers and Early Intervention specialists. I am urging the Governor and General Assembly to make Early Intervention a priority in the year ahead.”

“Rhode Island’s child care providers and the young children and working families we serve have been stretched to the breaking point by COVID-19,” said Khadija Lewis Khan, Executive Director of Beautiful Beginnings Child Care Center in Providence. “From increased costs to comply with health and safety regulations, to closed classrooms, to losing staff to better paying industries, child care is in crisis. And when child care is in crisis, it’s hard for parents to find the reliable, affordable, quality care they rely on to get to work. Child care is essential. I want to thank Governor McKee and the General Assembly for utilizing ARPA funds to help our child care sector ‘keep the lights on.’ In the year ahead we must have meaningful rate reform so that Rhode Island’s child care providers are on sustainable footing and can continue to be there for our state’s young children and working families. We also need to make child care more affordable for families, and that means increasing Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) eligibility, while reducing copays.”

“Rhode Island has been a leader in providing workers with job protected paid leave, and last year the General Assembly adopted legislation expanding Temporary Caregiver Insurance to 5-weeks this year and 6 -weeks next year,” said Rachel Flum representing the Economic Progress Institute. “This expansion is an important step, particularly as so many families are caring for loved ones impacted by COVID. But we know our families need further modifications to the program so they can access TCI, whether they need support to care and bond with a newborn or take care of a loved one with an extended illness. 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.”

“Every child in Rhode Island deserves access to quality, affordable health care, especially during an ongoing pandemic,” said Marcela Betancur, Executive Director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University. “That is why legislation to Cover All Kids regardless of immigration status through Medicaid is so important, particularly as our state’s Latino community has been hit hard by COVID-19. We can also help improve maternal health outcomes by expanding Medicaid coverage for new mothers, again regardless of immigration status, to 12-months post-partum. Let’s make 2022 the year we address these crucial health equity issues and improve the health of all Rhode Island kids and new mothers.”

Recording of 2022 RIght Start Agenda kickoff Zoom event.

RIght Start 2022 Agenda:

  • RI Child Care is Essential Act: Help more families access high-quality, reliable, affordable child care through the Child Care Assistance Program. Increase rates and expand eligibility for the Child Care Assistance Program. Safe, healthy, and high-quality child care options are essential for parents to work and for children to thrive.
  • RI Early Educator Investment Act: Develop goals and strategies to improve early educator compensation in child care, RI Pre-K, family home visiting, and Early Intervention programs. Stagnant and uncompetitive wages are causing staffing challenges and reducing access to high-quality child care, Early Intervention and family home visiting services.
  • RI Pre-K & Head Start: Prepare to expand high-quality preschool in diverse delivery settings (child care, Head Start, and public schools) so all 3- and 4-year-olds will be able to participate.
  • Early Intervention & First Connections: Update Medicaid rates that have been frozen for 20 years so programs can retain and recruit skilled staff, eliminate waiting lists, and serve infants and toddlers with developmental challenges.
  • Paid Family Leave program (Temporary Caregivers Insurance): Add weeks and improve wage replacement rates to help new parents. All new parents need adequate time and income to care for newborns, adoptive, and foster children at home for at least 12 weeks.
  • Cover All Kids: Ensure all children in Rhode Island have health insurance, regardless of immigration status
  • Maternal Health Care: Extend Medicaid through 12-months postpartum, regardless of immigration status, so new moms can have consistent health care.
  • Infant/Early Childhood Mental Wellness: Develop Medicaid strategies to improve screening, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of infant/early childhood mental health challenges (birth through age 5).
  • Revenue for Rhode Island: Increase state general revenue to fund programs that young families and children need.
  • Let RI Vote: Let’s make it easier for Rhode Island’s busy parents to vote by mail or early in-person.

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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

RIght from the Start Steering Committee: Beautiful Beginnings, Economic Progress Institute, Latino Policy Institute, Parents Leading for Educational Equity, Rhode Island Association for Infant Mental Health, Rhode Island Association for the Education of Young Children, Rhode Island Head Start Association, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT