The following was written and submitted by Representative Lauren Carson (District 75, Newport).
To the Editor:
The Coronavirus has taken a gruesome human and economic toll on the country, our city and our state.
Although most of us are at home this summer, when I see people in Newport they always ask me what’s going on at the State House? Due to the virus, very little right now but the most important thing we still need to do in the very near future is to pass the 2021 State budget. So what’s the status of that?
Along with the entire nation, the Rhode Island General Assembly awaits action from the Congress to provide aid. Like the rest of the states, Rhode Island is waiting to see what additional COVID support we will receive from the Federal government. It is so disappointing that the President and the Congress cannot come to an agreement in these very difficult times, but without real clarity on that financial support, we really cannot settle on a new budget.
It will come as no surprise to you that the upcoming budget cycle will be full of difficult choices. As a state and as a country, we are facing varied and overlapping challenges—including the ongoing public health emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the associated economic recession and staggering jobless numbers, and the nationwide epidemic of racism and bias. Given the uncertainty of federal aid and anticipated revenue shortfall, every agency is expected to submit a constrained budget equal to a 15 percent reduction for FY 2021.
Rhode Island remains subject to a state of emergency declared by Governor Raimondo in March pursuant to Article IX of the Rhode Island Constitution. This is necessary to ensure the health and safety of Rhode Islanders, and also to continue our eligibility for critical federal funding to help cope with the massive heath and economic crisis caused by the virus.
The General Assembly met in June and July to balance the budget for the previous fiscal year and to finalize numerous measures that had been pending before the COVID-19 crisis. The legislature is not currently physically meeting due to the need for social distancing and restrictions on large gatherings. However, our work continues in earnest by finding alternate ways to accomplish actions that are legislative in nature but require immediate attention.
During this ongoing state of emergency, the waiting period for unemployment benefits was eliminated, utility shutoffs were prohibited, a special health care enrollment period was made temporarily available and certain election procedures were adapted to promote safety. Through frequent zoom meetings and virtual hearings, I have met extensively with state and local leaders, department heads and policy makers as well as members of the community on the extensive reach of the COVID crisis; particularly with respect to schools, businesses, healthcare, safety compliance and jobs.
As developments warrant, the General Assembly will return as soon as it is safe. When that happens, I am very ready to return to work. Until that time, we are continuing to conduct hearings grappling with a difficult state budget, and have addressed cash flow challenges in the short term.
We are all standing together on shifting ground, and the legislature is working hard to help our constituents. Please contact me with your concerns, ideas and insight, or if I can assist you during these difficult times. Whenever possible, please support Newport businesses and restaurants that are keeping our neighbors employed and our community intact. Most importantly, stay safe and healthy.
Representative Lauren Carson
House District 75 – Newport