Representative Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown)

STATE HOUSE – Two proposals introduced by Rep. Deborah Ruggiero — one extending services to foster children up to age 21 and another providing grants to senior centers — were included in the 2019 budget bill passed by the House of Representatives today.

“These are two initiatives that I feel each go a long way to help some segments of our population that we really should be supporting better, and they’re cost effective,” said Representative Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown). “Senior centers are valuable community resources for older Rhode Islanders, providing important services and giving them social connections that enable them to remain an active part of their community longer. And in the years since we stopped extending services to foster children to age 21, we’ve found that not only were their outcomes predictably poorer, we weren’t even saving the state money. Helping them cross that bridge into adulthood is the right thing to do for them and taxpayers alike.”

The state budget bill (2018-H 7200Aaa) incorporated a proposal Representative Ruggiero introduced earlier this session establish a community senior services grant program to provide financial assistance to municipalities and nonprofit organizations that operate senior centers and/or senior programs. As she proposed, the budget provides $400,000 in funding for the grants in 2019.

The grant program would provide financial assistance and incentives to local governments and nonprofit agencies to operate senior centers and other senior services programs that help older residents to remain living in the community. Such services may include outreach, social services, health promotion, physical fitness, recreation, life-long learning, transportation assistance and caregiver support services for persons age 65 and older.

Representative Ruggiero introduced the program in January as a separate bill (2018-H 7098). She also introduced the bill last year.

Also included in the budget bill was the program she proposed in another bill (2018-H 7110) to allow young people who are in the care of the Department of Children, Youth and Families on their 18th birthdays to elect to remain in DCYF care until they turn 21.

The legislation creates a voluntary, age-appropriate, court-supervised program of services and resources specifically designed for young adults to maximize their self-determination and support their movement toward self-sufficiency. The bill does not hold young adults in the same system that they were in as children, but incorporates national best practice to meet their needs as emerging young adults.

Rhode Island allowed the voluntary extension of care to age 21 until 2007, when it was eliminated in the state budget. Twenty-five states including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Nebraska, Ohio, and California have extended their systems of care to 21 with similar initiatives.

“How many 18-year-olds are prepared and able to get an apartment, pay rent and take care of themselves?  And yet, that’s what we’re asking of foster children, who have already experienced terrible struggles,” said Representative Ruggiero. “Besides the impossible odds for these young people, the societal costs are high, with increased welfare expenditures, higher costs of incarceration, lost wages due to unplanned pregnancies and homelessness. It’s about doing what’s right for kids and no longer paying for failure.”

The budget bill passed the House today, and will be taken up by the Senate next week.