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									THIS WEEK at the George Wiley Center
& the Rhode Island Campaign to Eliminate Childhood Poverty                              Issue LXIV
A Newsletter for Friends and Supporters of the George Wiley Center               March 10, 2005
  & the R.I. Campaign to Eliminate Childhood Poverty.
Your comments are welcome. 728-5555 or e-mail:       Editor: Bill Flynn

                   Annual Action Conference Issue
Legislative Action Will Be Required
Affordable Energy Plan Believed Near Completion                                                      Since early
November the Wiley Center has participated in the deliberations of a broad based community coalition formed
to draft a state affordable energy plan to reduce shutoffs of low-income households. After numerous meetings
and much discussion, that group appears poised to present a plan to be incorporated into legislation. This
coalition, formed as the direct result of the Wiley Center’s organizing and advocacy, also includes RI Kids
Count, the Poverty Institute, the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island Foundation, United Way, State Energy
Office, Narragansett Electric, New England Gas, and the R.I. Oil Dealers Association, ACORN, RI Community
Food Bank, and RI State Council of Churches.

By mutual agreement among the participants, exact details of the proposed plan must remain confidential. Basic
components are likely to include coverage for oil heat customers, a provision to pay down back bills, and a
“percentage of income payment arrangement” for customers below a certain income level. The most difficult
task for the group has been to figure out how to raise several millions of dollars needed to supplement federal
LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) in funding the program.

Legislative Leadership is Interested: Another very positive sign for enactment of this plan has been the
interest and involvement of members of the General Assembly’s Senate and House leadership. Because
legislation will be required to implement any plan, it is helpful that Senate President Joseph Montalbano and
House Speaker William Murphy are aware of the issue and have agreed to try to seek a solution.

Annual Action Conference Generates Energy: Over 280 members of
the R.I. Campaign to Eliminate Childhood Poverty and affiliated groups gathered at the Rhode Island
Convention Center on Saturday, February 5. For the fourteenth year in a row, hundreds of Rhode Island’s
concerned citizen-activists gathered to discuss critical problems keeping many of our state’s households locked
in poverty. Recent snowstorms and chilly temperatures formed a backdrop for the Conference’s special focus
on the need for a state Affordable Energy Plan.

Keynoter Calls for Community, Nonviolent Action: Keynoter Reverend Duane Clinker brought the
audience to their feet with a rousing address demanding social justice. Duane was one of the “State House
Four” ministers whose sit-in and arrest in 2002 forced Governor Almond to release $5 million in affordable
housing subsidies that he had impounded. Clinker began by saying that “the Jesus tradition and the Campaign
walk down the same path” of placing children’s well being as a measure of one’s society. He decried the “false
religion of materialistic, individualistic greed” that he believes has replaced a sense of community and a
commitment to caring for our neighbors. He closed by reminding how many movements for justice flowed from
the example of “tough, organized, persistent, militant love” promoted by Martin Luther King and the Civil
Rights movement.
(Conference Summary continued on page 2)
(Conference Summary continued from page 1)
Awards Presented: Special awards were presented to Providence Attorney John Lawlor and consultant
John Howat of the National Consumer Law Center for their generous contribution of pro bono professional
work in assisting low-income people with energy shutoffs and in helping develop an affordable energy plan.
Campaign South County Chapter leader John Glasheen received an award for his years of hard work in
promoting development of affordable housing in an area of the state where it’s badly needed.

“Maggi for P.U.C. Commissioner” As the afternoon session on affordable energy was about to start, a
group of “demonstrators” staged a campaign rally urging Governor Carcieri to appoint Campaign leader Maggi
Burns Rogers to a vacant position on the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission.

                                                              Campaign members Jessica Buhler

                                                              and Dawn Nardi express their support

                                                              for Maggi Rogers’ candidacy for the

                                                              R.I. Public Utilities Commission

                                        Conference Summary
Plenary Session on Affordable Energy : The afternoon plenary session
featured two nationally known experts on affordable energy. Leading off was Sonny Popowsky, the State of
Pennsylvania Consumer Advocate. Highlights of his presentation were:

General Principles: (1) Many households cannot afford utilities at present rates. (2) The deregulation of the
energy sector, an attempt to create retail competition and lower prices, has failed. There are not competing
companies and rates have not come down. (3) Rates must be reasonable for basic service, and there must be
additional support for low-income people who cannot afford those rates. (4) Federal LIHEAP (Low Income
Home Energy Assistance Program) funds to help pay low-income households’ energy bills are inadequate. In
Pennsylvania only 50% of eligible customers apply and receive help---Rhode Island is similar. Therefore state
action is needed.

Pennsylvania Energy Programs: Pennsylvania’s deregulation laws for electricity and gas mandated special
assistance to low-income consumers. (Not so in RI). Pennsylvania has programs developed by utilities that only
come into play when customers fall behind on their bills.

                                      (Conference continued on page 3)
(Conference continued from page 2)

A good example is the Columbia Gas Customer Assistance Program (CAP) –Very low-income customers pay
up to 7% of their income for energy; low-income customers pay 9%. The program is funded by all residential
customers, who pay a monthly fee ranging from $1 to $5, depending on usage. Results are good: 73% of CAP
customers pay on time, only 5% flunk out of the program. Now 87% of low-income customers pay monthly
bills in full, only 45% paid in full previously. Big savings in collection and termination costs have resulted.
There is also a “weatherization” component and additional assistance subsidies from private giving to aid those
in extreme financial hardship.

Areas for Improvement: This system’s provision for assistance only to “payment-troubled” customers makes
little sense. Why should we wait until someone can no longer pay their bill before helping them? A “backlash”
to the program’s success has resulted in regulations making it easier to shut off non-payers, even in winter.

Rhode Island’s Affordable Energy Coalition: Elizabeth Burke-Bryant of RI KIDS COUNT outlined
progress an affordable energy plan being developed by a coalition of community groups including the Wiley
Center, philanthropic groups, state energy officials and the utility companies. She hoped that a final plan would
be announced within one week.

Key Factors in an Affordable Energy Program: John Howat of the National Consumer Law Center, a
consultant to the Wiley Center, made the final presentation. His main points were: (1) Payments must be
affordable. If monthly payments are too high, low-income customers continue to fall behind and the system
falls apart. (2) The system must deal with back bills (arrearages). (3) The funding mechanism must be adequate.
Advocates must “sell” the benefits as well as the costs. 25 states currently have some kind of a program. Some
charge all rate payers, others only charge residential customers. Charges are based on usage.

Political Action Needed: Speaking from the audience, State Representative Tom Slater (D-Providence)
urged that everyone work to help muster the political support to enact legislation for an energy plan. He said the
General Assembly’s leadership was sympathetic to the need, but was concerned about overall cost and fearful
of implementing a funding mechanism that would negatively affect the state’s business climate.

Eliminating Hunger Workshop A well-attended workshop sought to generate
specific ideas to improve the utilization of food programs. An overview of hunger statistics showed a mixed
picture: 38.5% increase in utilization of food programs, and increased food bank participation. However,
hunger is growing faster in RI than in New England and the rest of the country. RI’s food stamp program is still
lagging in terms of percentage of those eligible participating. If the federal food stamp, school breakfast and
summer feeding programs were fully utilized, Bernie Beaudreau of the RI Community Food Bank estimated
an annual inflow of an additional $20 million in federal funds to the state’s economy. The workshop broke out
into 4 groups that reported back as follows:

Increasing Participation on the Food Stamp Program: Three strategies were proposed: (1) Increasing
monthly food stamp benefits; (2) Reducing administrative barriers to improve access and participation; and (3)
Developing outreach strategies to increase awareness and encourage participation. Increased benefits would
probably require federal action. Low benefit levels, especially the $10 maximum for seniors and other single
adults in subsidized housing, are a major barrier. Reducing administrative barriers would include bilingual
applications, increased staffing levels, and modifying documentation and verification requirements. Developing
outreach strategies would require the use of ad campaigns, collaborations with food retailers and emergency
food providers, and providing more information at schools, businesses and churches.
(Hunger continued on page 4)

(Hunger continued from page 3)

Encouraging Increased Political Support for Food Programs: A comprehensive strategy must be
developed that includes a unified message, accurate information and a plan for involvement that is “multi-
tiered” to fit people’s different skills and time. Redefine the issue as one of “healthy communities” from a
public health perspective. Illustrate the costs of not addressing the issue---document the long-term effects of
poverty and hunger on our communities. Once a message and strategy is developed, contact everyone from
local (city & town) level to state and federal legislators.

Increasing School Breakfast and Summer Food Program Participation: For school breakfast, get
PTO’s involved, as well local youth organizations such as the Y’s and Boys & Girls Clubs. Develop a flier to be
shared with school districts. For summer food programs, “get the word out” to potential sponsors, perhaps via a
kickoff. Seek federal support to lower the threshold for “open” sites (all kids eat for free) to 40% eligible for
free/reduced lunches.

Increasing Public Awareness: Use libraries and schools to make potential participants aware of programs.
Raise public support by “putting a human face” on hunger, as was done in the book “Faces of Poverty” by Art
Simon. Set up food stamp information tables in supermarkets.

 *       *       *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *          *
Jobs & Income Workshop This workshop focused on examining the adequacy of
existing programs in Rhode Island to create decent-paying jobs for long-term unemployed people and welfare
recipients. Ellen Frank, economist for the Poverty Institute, led off with the question “do corporate tax breaks
really work?” She said that nationally “best practices” were increasingly including “clawback” provisions for
states and localities to recapture tax benefits when business beneficiaries didn’t fulfill their job creation
promises. She said that in Rhode Island there are few strong agreements with community accountability in tax
break deals offered by the state or municipalities.

Frank Tabela, a former human resources and training manager at Fleet Bank, and Anne Meyerson of Boston’s
Training, Inc., described several training and placement programs operating in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Many were two months or less in duration. Kathy Pardington of the RI Department of Labor and Training
described her agency’s “One-Stop Centers” that along with its primary focus of job placement, each One-Stop
also offered some on-the-job training and short-term training. Donalda Carlson of the RI Department of
Human Services explained her department’s efforts to place welfare recipients in employment. She noted that
78 recipients had been hired for state jobs in 2 years. Representative Tom Slater explained he and Senator
Harold Metts introduced legislation to increase the state Refundable Earned Income Tax Credit maximum
benefit to $210 from its current $50. (Jobs & Income continued on page 5)
 (Jobs & Income continued from page 5)

Moderator Will Collette, research coordinator for the New England Laborer’s Union, spoke of numerous
openings with unions, particularly in the construction industry and related trades.

Questions & Answers A lively series of audience questions and panel responses followed, including:
Q. How does expanding the economy benefit the condition of greed, waste and pollution?
A. State economic development strategies have focused on “we must give them something” to have companies
locate in RI, while it should work more on providing a good place to live. There must be a balance between
environmental and economic issues.

Q. I have exhausted my unemployment benefits. Am I eligible for federal WIA funds for training?
A. WIA is a program that has many restrictions and very limited funding.

Q. Is anything being done to hold companies accountable for producing jobs?
A. The House Finance Committee is now requiring the RI Economic Development Corporation (EDC) to show
proof of companies’ compliance with their job creation commitments.

Q. Why isn’t an EDC representative here?
A. We received a last-minute call that their scheduled representative would not be able to attend.
(A signup sheet was then distributed for anyone wishing to attend a follow-up meeting with EDC. Such a
meeting was held and ongoing discussions with EDC are under way).

Q. Are unions helping new immigrants?
A. Unions have been very helpful to new immigrants in a variety of ways. In Boston, the Private Industry
Council, a federally funded consortium with significant labor involvement,, worked extensively with ESOL

*      *       *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *         *

Education & Training Workshop Panelists were Heidi Collins of RI Parents for
Progress, a welfare rights group, Linda Katz of the Poverty Institute, and Ron Lebel, Acting Director of the RI
Department of Human Services (DHS). The workshop presentations and discussion centered on Rhode Island’s
Family Independence Act, in particular DHS regulations and policies regarding work requirements for welfare
recipients. With some exemptions, all recipients must participate in 30 hours per week of a “work activity”.
Current DHS regulations allow recipients to count full time education or vocational training as a work activity
during their first two years of receiving assistance.

Heidi Collins said that DHS does a poor job of explaining the “rules of the game” to recipients, who are often
told only that they must go to work. For many who lack higher level skills, “work first” typically leads to low-
wage jobs with no benefits. This contradicts the state’s stated policy goal of achieving family independence.
Parents for Progress this year is supporting legislation to make education and training more flexible. The
“20/10” bill would allow recipients, at any time during their 5-year limit on assistance, to work 20 hours and
engage in education or training for 10 hours.

Linda Katz, a principal architect of the Family Independence Act, said the state must do everything possible to
make sure that all recipients get better jobs. Communications between the Dept. of Labor & Training,

(Education continued on page 6)

(Education continued from page 5)
Economic Development Corporation and DHS need to improve in order to get parents the services they need.
More state funding for transportation, ESOL and adult education is also needed. Rhode Island has the highest
rate of adult illiteracy in New England and the lowest level of state investment in addressing that problem.

DHS director Ron Lebel responded that both federal and state funds for welfare are decreasing, and we need to
prioritize. While flexibility in interpreting the “2-year limit” is a priority, it may cause decreased funding in
other areas. He pointed out that if someone enters an education or training program during the first 24 months,
then that activity may be extended beyond two years. He pledged to work with Parents for Progress and other
community groups to do a better job of disseminating information and clarifying areas of confusion.

Questions & Answers:
Q. Why is it that when trying to leave welfare and start a new job, you may not get paid for 20 days?
A. (Lebel) Sometimes companies can hold back pay for 2 weeks, depending their payroll systems.

Q. If large employers are getting tax breaks, why can’t they give in-house training before hiring?
A. (Lebel) Sometimes they do, but most outsource their job training. Most will hire and provide training

Q. But what about the tax breaks—why is it up to the company? Shouldn’t training be a requirement?
A. (Lebel) There is some sort of tax break for employers who hire RI residents.
   (Katz) FIP regulations require EDC and DLT to provide information to DHS about job openings. There
needs to be better communication between these departments. Holding companies accountable is a great idea.

Q. I work at a literacy agency; a lot of FIP recipients are illiterate. What about these people, especially
when they’re asked to leave class and enter work?
A. (Lebel) An individual with literacy needs is exempted from the 24-month rule. If you know anyone who
needs help on that issue, please give me his or her name and number.
(Collins) Parents for Progress wants to help---take our flier and contact us if you know anyone in that situation.

Q. What if someone has passed the 24 months and now needs ESOL and literacy?
A. (Katz) Most social workers don’t know the exceptions to the work requirements. We should have a single
sheet with rules and exceptions. There is an obligation on the part of ESOL training to provide some kind of
vocational training with their services.

Q. Why wouldn’t FIP want to educate recipients before the 5 years are up, to help them find a career as
opposed to getting them into a job that may be temporary?
A. (Lebel) I was involved in writing FIP and there were different schools of thought on whether someone
should stay on welfare until a solid job was found or just any job is worthwhile. We think people need to take
small steps.

Q. Will DHS support the 20/10 bill?
A. (Lebel) I think the key points in the bill are good. I cannot at this point say I support it, but that’s not a no. I
commit to discussing it.

In a closing statement, Heidi Collins of Parents for Progress urged everyone to get more information about the
20/10 bill, and to turn out to support by calling their legislators and attending hearings.

Affordable Housing Workshop This workshop focused on three topics: (1)
Increasing state affordable housing subsidy funding to $7.5 million for the Neighborhood Opportunities
Program (N.O.P.); (2) Increasing funding for the RI Low Income Housing Tax Credit program to aid the non-
elderly, and (3) Strategies for organizing in support of affordable housing in suburban towns.

N.O.P. Funding: RI Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Noreen Shawcross presented a powerpoint
display and narrative about some of the 500 housing units subsidized by existing N.O.P. funding. These units

encompass both transitional housing for homeless individuals and family housing. She explained that the
importance of N.O.P. funds was that they provide “deep subsidies” so that individuals on SSI and SSDI and
working families earning minimum wage could afford rental of new units. She urged support at the General
Assembly for increasing N.O.P. funding from $5 million, where it’s been for three years, to $7.5 million.

Low Income Housing Tax Credit: this program provides a tax credit of up to $250 for low-income
homeowners and renters to help offset their local property tax burden. Initially available only to the elderly, this
program was made expanded to include non-elderly due the Wiley Center’s efforts several years ago. However,
non-elderly funding was limited to whatever remained after all elderly applications were processed. As a result,
last year the average benefit to non-elderly was only $17.00. Governor Carcieri proposed eliminating the
benefit for non-elderly. Representative Elizabeth Dennigan explained that she would support legislation to
increase total funding for this program by $4 million and retain it for non-elderly.

(3) Promoting Affordable Housing in the Suburbs: Ben Gworek of the Housing Network and Rebecca
Dove Kent of the Mass. Affordable Housing Association discussed their projects to organize potential
beneficiaries of affordable housing to support affordable housing initiatives. Gworek stressed the need to reach
out beyond traditional “liberal” groups and individuals. Kent said they were working to reach low- and
moderate-income graduates of homeowner education programs.

                Action Conference Follow-up Meeting
                  WEDNESDAY, March 23, 7:00 PM
                St. Patrick’s School, 244 Smith Street, Providence
                           (2 blocks west of State House)

Number of Households with Energy Shut Off & Restored in 2004 in the School
Breakfast Program
New England Gas *           Narragansett Electric
Shutoffs:      11,169       10,015
Restorations:   4,456        8,248
Net shutoffs
As of 12/31/04: 6,713         1,480
* Winner of “shutoff king” award

              R.I. Campaign to Eliminate Childhood Poverty
         Northern RI Chapter          Thursday, March 17 @          Woonsocket Public Library, 303
                                      6:30 PM                       Clinton St., Woonsocket
         Blackstone Valley            Thursday, April 14 @          George Wiley Center, 32 East Ave.,
         Chapter                      6:30 PM                       Pawtucket

        South County               Tuesday, March 15,          Peace Dale Congregational Church,
        Chapter                    @ 7:00 PM                   261 Columbia Road, Peace Dale
                                   Monday, March 28, @         J.O.N.A.H., 830 Oakland Beach
        Central Chapter
                                   7:00 PM                     Ave., Warwick
                                   Wednesday, March 16,        Knight Memorial Library, 275
        Providence Chapter
                                   @ 6:00 PM                   Elmwood Ave., Providence
                                   Thursday, March 17,         Florence Gray Center, 1 York St.,
        Aquidneck Chapter
                                   @ 1:00 PM                   Newport
                                   Tuesday, March 29 ,         Riverside Congregational Church,
        East Bay Chapter
                                   @ 7:00 PM                   15 Oak Avenue, Riverside

Other Wiley Center News:
 Campaign Members on S.K. Housing Collaborative: Three of the seven people appointed to South
Kingstown’s Affordable Housing Collaborative, including Taylor Ellis, the Vice-Chair, are members of our
Campaign’s South County Chapter. This body is the official town advisory committee on affordable housing.

 City of Pawtucket Finally Sets Up Homeless Shelter: After a long battle led by the Wiley Center and
participants from a local soup kitchen, the City of Pawtucket provided support for a homeless shelter for
homeless single men and women that opened at a local church in early December.


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