New budget tackles rising costs by investing in families, children and seniors | Opinion

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K. Joseph Shekarchi, a Democrat from District 23 in Warwick, is the Speaker of the House. Christopher R. Blazejewski, a Democrat from District 2 in Providence, is the House Majority Leader.

Around kitchen tables in every community, people are talking about higher prices and fewer available services. Whether at the grocery store or the doctor’s office, whether through higher rent or growing child care expenses, rising costs are impacting Rhode Island families everywhere. The state budget recently passed by the Rhode Island House of Representatives addresses rising costs and puts the issue front and center. From education and housing to health care and human services, the budget makes critical investments to help families, children, and seniors lower their costs and get the services they need and deserve.

First, the budget targets the housing crisis by providing fresh resources to build more affordable housing and lower housing costs for homeowners and renters. Decades in the making, the housing crisis will not be solved overnight, but it can be solved. We have asked the voters to approve an additional $120 million in funds to increase affordable housing production while providing increased assistance for people experiencing homelessness. This robust investment in lowering housing costs – the largest affordable housing bond in Rhode Island history – is designed to build on legislation passed over the last three years to increase housing production and affordability. By increasing our state’s production of affordable housing, we will lower the cost of housing for everyone.

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Second, the budget accelerates our commitment to raising Medicaid reimbursement rates for services to care for our most vulnerable neighbors. We allocate over $200 million from all sources to fully fund Medicaid and other provider increases for behavioral health, children’s services, and home and community-based services. These investments will increase care for seniors, children, and people living with disabilities while raising pay for workers who provide those critical services. The Medicaid reimbursement rate increase will stabilize our health care and human service provider networks to ensure that these services are available and affordable when people need them, while ensuring that care workers are paid a fair wage.

The House chamber at the Rhode Island State House.

Third, the budget strengthens our support for high-quality education, from early childhood learning to elementary, secondary and higher education. We fully restore the core instruction funding for Rhode Island public schools, adding $71 million to support student learning. We also include enhanced funding for multi-language learners as part of the education funding formula. We extend the state’s support for early childhood education, child care services and pre-kindergarten. We direct additional state resources to career and technical education, as well as providing meals for qualified students during school and throughout the summer. To support workforce development, we continue to fund tuition-free college education at CCRI and RIC and have asked voters to approve funds to build a biomedical sciences facility at URI and a cybersecurity center at RIC. Through these investments, we expand our commitment to provide Rhode Islanders with free or lower-cost educational opportunity at all stages of learning.

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Fourth, the budget directs additional resources to help seniors impacted by rising costs. It provides tax relief to seniors who rely on retirement income, raising the exemption to $50,000 for qualified single filers and $100,000 for joint filers. It also repeals the suspension of annual cost of living adjustments for retirees in the state pension system who retired before 2012 and moves up the timeline for resumption of COLAs for other state retirees. It fully funds Medicaid rate increases for home care and other services that help seniors age with dignity in the community and stay in their homes if they so desire, and also increases support for services provided in nursing or assisted living settings.

In addition to addressing rising costs, the state budget passed by the House includes many targeted investments to improve quality-of-life for Rhode Island residents – for example, increased funding for public transit, an arts bond to help facilities with shovel-ready projects, and a green bond supporting open space, forest and farmland protection. These quality-of-life investments, combined with our robust commitments to budget priorities focused on supporting families, children and seniors, will help make Rhode Island a better place to live for everyone.

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: From education and housing to health care and human services, the budget makes critical investments.