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A society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. What do you say about a society that leaves its most vulnerable behind?

Here in Rhode Island, we have a program called Early Intervention — a social program to make sure newborns and toddlers with developmental disabilities get the help they need early in life. It is physical therapy. It is speech therapy. It is the only help parents have navigating our complicated health care system during the worst moments of their lives. It is the only reason my daughter is still alive for me to hold in my arms and tell her I love her. Without their hard work and guidance, my daughter would have never been able to swallow her food, setting her up for a host of deadly complications. For our most vulnerable, they can be the line between life and death. Unfortunately, the program is facing a major funding crisis.

As reported by Eli Sherman of WPRI-12, providers have seen the program struggle to maintain financial viability for years. Our longtime neglect of Early Intervention was exacerbated when the pandemic hit. Providers in the program could not afford to keep their workers, which has created a backlog of hundreds of children in Rhode Island waiting for life-changing services. The same workers who keep kids alive are not paid a living wage. There is, however, an action that our lawmakers can take to address this problem.

A group of providers in the program, the HHS Coalition, has called on our leaders to allocate approximately 10% of the federal ARPA funds currently available to our state to rescuing Early Intervention with efforts to pay health and human service workers a competitive, living wage and ensure the system has the capacity to meet the needs of the community.

To be clear, this should have been fixed long before now. It never should have become an emergency. It is imperative that our leaders listen to the heroes working in Early Intervention and allocate the necessary funds immediately. As a parent of a child dependent on Early Intervention, I can guarantee you — if their kids were in the same position, our legislators would not be waffling on whether to return to session.

Write to our leaders: the governor, your state senator, your state representative. Tell them this crisis is unacceptable. Tell them we need to treat our most vulnerable as our most precious.

Tell them what kind of society you want Rhode Island to be.

Michael Niemeyer

Westerly

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