AARP to Governor McKee: APRA Fund Allocations Should

Address the Needs of Rhode Islanders of All Ages and Abilities

 

State’s proposed “2030 Plan” requires public input and refinement in the areas of

healthcare, housing, public transportation and long-term care and protection

of home and community-based services essential to older Rhode Islanders

 

(PROVIDENCE, RI) AARP Rhode Island today responded to Gov. McKee’s plan for spending $1.8 billion dollars in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds with a promise to work with his administration to guarantee that the monies will serve older Rhode Islanders

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“The governor’s Rhode Island 2030 framework includes the top two priorities that AARP Rhode Island has identified as critical,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Catherine Taylor. “Investing in the future of healthcare and housing in Rhode Island is vital to ensuring that citizens of all ages have a brighter tomorrow. We look forward to working with state leaders to advance these two priorities as decisions are made on spending ARPA funds.” AARP Rhode Island articulated these concerns in a July letter to the governor and legislative leaders (full text below).

 

AARP Rhode Island is pleased to see a rebalance of long-term care from the most restrictive and expensive services toward prevention and home and community-based services listed in the plans for Health Care and Wellness. We are committed to creating to affordable and accessible housing solutions in Rhode Island. AARP has long advocated for increasing the accessibility of Rhode Island’s housing stock for older adults and those with disabilities and implementing policies that provide healthier housing.

 

AARP Rhode Island especially agrees with the governor’s plan that municipal barriers for Accessory Dwelling Units need to be removed in order to create more affordable and accessible housing in our town and cities.

 

That said, AARP Rhode Island is concerned by a lack of inclusion for older Rhode Islanders in many sections of the plan.

 

Considering that the vast majority of Rhode Islanders want to live independently in their homes and communities, the plan needs to include protecting the HCBS workforce employed by many small businesses, safeguarding the financial stability of HCBS providers, and accelerating meaningful reform of long-term services and supports.

 

To support healthy and accessible housing, AARP Rhode Island calls for increased funding for property owners to make improvements to existing housing, including weatherization, lead abatement, and disability access. In our July letter to the governor and state leaders, AARP Rhode Island recommended expanding the funding of the Livable Home Modification Program in order to increase our accessible housing stock. Demand for this program continues to rise, often resulting in a waitlist by mid-fiscal year.

 

In 2018, AARP Rhode Island worked to pass legislation that would remove barriers to creating Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). AARP Rhode Island believes ADUs would help to create more affordable and accessible housing for older Rhode Islanders and increase the financial stability of families throughout the state. Removing zoning restrictions on ADUs and incentivizing their construction would open the door for increasing affordable and accessible housing throughout Rhode Island.

 

AARP Rhode Island advocates strongly for investing in transportation to help create livable communities where residents of any age are able to connect with the services and amenities they want and need. Creating communities that are accommodating to people of all ages and all modes of transportation is vital to allowing people to age in their own homes, within their own communities.

 

“AARP Rhode Island is committed to working with state leaders to make certain that ARPA funds are invested in a way that ensures that Rhode Islanders of all ages and abilities can recover and thrive,” said Taylor.

 

 

Below is the full text of the July 15 letter sent to Governor McKee, Lt. Governor Matos, Senate President Ruggerio, Speaker Shekarchi, members of the Senate Finance Committee and the House of Representatives ARPA Task Force.

 

July 15, 2021

 

“AARP Rhode Island, on behalf of our 132,000 members, would like to thank you for your efforts and leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We recognize that while the worst of this unprecedented time may be behind us, many issues which disproportionately impact older Rhode Islanders have surfaced during the pandemic that require continued action from our state.

 

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) presents the state of Rhode Island with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in our future. As you prepare to budget and appropriate funds from the American Rescue Plan Act and consider the thoughtful recommendations of the Make It Happen Steering Committee, AARP Rhode Island encourages you to address these challenges by strengthening Rhode Island’s health, housing, long-term care, and public transportation infrastructure.

 

HEALTH:

The American Rescue Plan Act funding provides an opportunity for the state to make meaningful progress in areas of long-standing need which were worsened by the pandemic. We urge the state to closely examine its health care capacity, behavioral health support, telehealth availability, and other areas impacting health care to determine how the new federal funding could best help. While we commend the deliberative, forward-thinking approach of the Make It Happen Steering Committee, the behavioral health care needs of Rhode Islanders after the many traumas of the past 15 months are of particular urgency, and warrant consideration of deploying a portion of ARPA funds quickly.

 

In addition, because the pandemic has unequally impacted certain populations, the American Rescue Plan Act allows states to address health disparities and social determinants of health through funding for community health workers, public benefits navigators, and other supports. We strongly encourage the state to examine the factors that contribute to increased health risks among low-income populations and people of color. These individuals have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic in Rhode Island and ARPA gives us an opportunity to address these factors so that all Rhode Islanders enjoy a fair and just opportunity to lead longer, healthier lives.

 

HOUSING:

The affordability and supply of housing in Rhode Island has been strained in the last year as a result of the economic impacts associated with the pandemic.

 

Many Rhode Islanders struggle to pay their rent or mortgage, find themselves living in units that are inaccessible or isolated, and are anxious for solutions that will help them stay housed in the future, particularly as national, state or local eviction moratoria come to an end. Recently announced ARPA-funded programs – including the Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) funding, the Emergency Rental Assistance program (ERA) that has been provided under two tranches (ERA #1 & ERA #2), and the new Homeownership Assistance Fund program (HAF) – represent important opportunities for Rhode Island to protect renters and homeowners from eviction and can be used to fund programs and supportive services to allow people to safely age in place. A perfect example of this type of transformative investment is the inclusion of the Livable Home Modification Grant Program in your FY22 budget, and which you recently signed into law.

 

Rhode Island has been allotted $200,000,000 under ERA #1 and $152,000,000 under ERA #2. The  ERA funding is available to help renters, and also simplifies documentation requirements, allows payments to be made direct to tenants, and expands the eligible uses to include relocation expenses. According to the Department of Treasury, Rhode Island’s assistance to households expenditure ratio under ERA #1 as of August 31 is 9%. It is important for Rhode Island to increase the ratio to 65% or at least submit a plan to Treasury to expend the funds by November 15, 2021, failing to do that same will result in the state losing the unexpended money under ERA #1. Rhode Island has not expended any funds under ERA #2. It is important that the funding under ERA is used effectively.

 

The HAF was created to prevent mortgage delinquencies and defaults, foreclosures, loss of utilities or home energy services, and displacement of homeowners experiencing financial hardship after January 21, 2020. Rhode Island has been allotted $50,000,000 under HAF. We encourage you to make full use of these programs, and actively communicate to Rhode Islanders how they can avail themselves of the assistance.

 

LONG-TERM SERVICES AND SUPPORTS:

On May 13, 2021, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued guidance to states on the temporary enhanced funding for Medicaid Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) under the American Rescue Plan Act. The State Medicaid Director Letter (SMDL #21-003) provides guidance to states regarding the implementation of the temporary increase to Rhode Island’s federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP) of 10 percentage points for certain Medicaid HCBS expenditures under the ARP Act.

 

This temporary FMAP increase is available to states beginning April 1, 2021 through March 31, 2022, and the guidance provides that state funds freed up (i.e., state funds equivalent to the amount of federal funds attributable to the increased FMAP) can be used through March 31, 2024 to improve HCBS in the state (specifically to enhance, expand, or strengthen HCBS). Examples include increasing access to HCBS for Medicaid beneficiaries, protecting the HCBS workforce, safeguarding the financial stability for HCBS providers, and accelerating meaningful reform of long-term services and supports. Given a vast majority of Rhode Islanders want to live independently in their homes and communities, AARP Rhode Island applauds the spending plan submitted to CMS on July 12 by RI Medicaid Director Ben Shaffer to take advantage of this unique opportunity.

 

AARP Rhode Island looks forward to working with your administration to explore innovative uses for the enhanced FMAP. For example, we have written to Director Shaffer requesting that he explore with CMS the possibility of using expanded Medicaid funds to support an Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) initiative to increase opportunities for Rhode Islanders to age in place with the support of HCBS. The development of ADUs and minimization of permitting restrictions are a promising component of solving the shortage of affordable, accessible housing for older adults and people with disabilities.

 

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION:

AARP believes all people need access to a variety of travel options, regardless of characteristics such as age, ability level, income, race, and ethnicity. ARPA funds provide a unique opportunity to expand and improve affordable and accessible public transportation programs, which not only address the needs of Rhode Islanders who cannot or choose to no longer drive, but also those who benefit from a robust and affordable transportation network that serves the needs of all. Funds made available through ARPA (as well as prior funding allocations in the CARES Act and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of December 2020) should be considered for use in ways that enable service providers to offer service levels that meet demand and encourage ridership.

 

In particular, AARP encourages you to consider using the funds to: maintain and increase investment in improved public transit systems; actively promote the use of public transportation; require public transit systems to implement and enhance safety regulations and mechanisms; encourage transit authorities to reduce fares for people with disabilities and older adults with low incomes, including policies to implement free public transit where appropriate; and encourage ride-sharing, volunteer programs, and other low-cost programs to help meet older adults’ transportation needs.

 

The pandemic exposed the economy’s reliance on public transit, particularly among essential workers who depend on public transportation to access jobs. While transit ridership fell sharply during the pandemic, it appears to be picking up in the wake of increasing vaccinations.

 

We would like to thank you again for your service to our state and for your leadership during these challenging times. AARP Rhode Island is committed to working with you to make these critical improvements in our state. If you have questions or wish to discuss these items further, please contact me or AARP Rhode Island’s Advocacy Director, Matthew Netto, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 401-834-0524.

 

(Updated data to reflect 10/20/2021) Rhode Island has been allotted $200,000,000 under ERA #1 and $152,000,000 under ERA #2. The ERA funding is available to help renters, and also simplifies documentation requirements, allows payments to be made direct to tenants, and expands the eligible uses to include relocation expenses. According to the Department of Treasury, Rhode Island’s assistance to households expenditure ratio under ERA #1 as of August 31 is 9%. It is important for Rhode Island to increase the ratio to 65% or at least submit a plan to Treasury to expend the funds by November 15, 2021, failing to do that same will result in the state losing the unexpended money under ERA #1. Rhode Island has not expended any funds under ERA #2. It is important that the funding under ERA is used effectively.

 

 

 

About AARP

AARP is the nation's largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering people 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. With a nationwide presence and nearly 38 million members, AARP strengthens communities and advocates for what matters most to families: health security, financial stability and personal fulfillment. AARP also produces the nation's largest circulation publications: AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin. To learn more, visit www.aarp.org, www.aarp.org/espanol or follow @AARP, @AARPenEspanol and @AARPadvocates, @AliadosAdelante on social media.

 

 

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