PROVIDENCE — A coalition of religious leaders from several faiths marched to the Rhode Island Statehouse on Wednesday to urge state lawmakers to do more to fight poverty.
The group supports proposals to raise the minimum wage, boost spending on food pantries, affordable housing and homeless shelters, and do more to connect low-income residents with education, workforce training, childcare assistance and health care. Their rally at the Statehouse, coming on the second day of the legislative session, was timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty speech.
“How can it be that 50 years later, here in Rhode Island, 13.7 percent of our residents — 19.5 percent of our children — and 9.2 percent of our seniors live in poverty?” said Maxine Richman, of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island. “How can it be ... that the General Assembly’s community grant to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank has been reduced by half since 2008?”
Gov. Lincoln Chafee and several lawmakers including House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed spoke at the event.
Paiva Weed, a Newport Democrat, said poverty is directly linked to the state’s weak economy. With a 9 percent jobless rate, Rhode Island is tied with Nevada for the nation’s highest unemployment rate.
“There’s a lot more to be done,” Paiva Weed said. “We can’t continue to leave individuals and families behind.”
Lawmakers are expected to consider several measures this year designed to help the state’s low-income residents. Homeless advocates are seeking nearly $3.5 million for rental vouchers. The Community Food Bank will ask lawmakers to reverse years of cuts that saw funding from the General Assembly drop from $384,000 in 2007 to just under $173,000 last year — even as the number of people relying on food pantries doubled.
Other proposals now being drafted would direct more money to workforce training and expand early childhood programs for poor children.