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Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Rep. Spears initiatives included in budget

More than one way to get things done 

Rep. Tina Spears is applauding significant funding in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget for programs she championed.

“In my first year as an elected Representative, I brought my experience and energy to deliver results for my constituents,” said Representative Spears (D-Dist. 36, Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown, New Shoreham). “I’m proud many of the issues I advocated for are funded by the final budget and will make the lives of Rhode Islanders better. I thank Speaker Shekarchi and my colleagues in the General Assembly for their support and my constituents for their confidence in me.”

Representative Spears introduced several bills to benefit individuals with developmental disabilities. One bill (2023-H 5996) Representative Spears introduced would remove income limits for people with developmental disabilities to qualify for Medicaid. Currently, most individuals with developmental disabilities qualify for Medicaid. But if they earn more than 250% of the federal poverty level or have more than $10,000 in savings, they lose their insurance. That, critics say, disincentivizes work and condemns individuals with disabilities to a life of poverty.

While the bill did not pass, Representative Spears advocated for its inclusion in the budget and was successful.

“This is a huge win for our neighbors with developmental disabilities. No longer do they need to worry about losing health insurance because they have $10,000 saved for retirement,” Representative Spears said.

A second bill Representative Spears introduced (2023-H 5633) would increase the personal needs allowance for individuals with disabilities living in group homes from $20 to $45 per month. That increase was also included in the budget.

Representative Spears, along with fellow South County legislator Sen. Victoria Gu (D-Dist. 38, Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown), introduced legislation (2023-S 0516, 2023-H 6119) to increase Medicaid reimbursements for ambulance services. The budget more than doubles that funding.

Another issue which Representative Spears advocated for was a sliding scale for state benefits. Many individuals who qualify for benefits such as child care assistance, Medicaid or nutritional assistance can be dropped from those benefits if they get a raise or work too much overtime. That so called “benefits cliff” often forces workers to limit their income or hours worked, keeping them in poverty and contributing to short staffing.

Representative Spears introduced a bill (2023-H 5998) to instruct the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) to develop a sliding scale so that individuals who make up to 250% of the federal poverty level would have their benefits reduced slowly rather than face a cliff. The bill did not pass, but the budget includes instructions for EOHHS to study the issue and report back to the General Assembly with its findings.

On the subject of environmental protection, Representative Spears served on the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. She introduced a bill (20023-H 6056) to create a Chief Resilience Officer to help municipalities and state departments prepare for climate change. That position was created by executive order and fully funded in the state budget. She also helped create a commission to study how to reduce plastic waste and litter while increasing the state’s recycling rate. The commission will also research how best to implement a so-called “bottle bill.”

“I am really proud of all we were able to get done this year,” said Representative Spears. “From making housing more affordable for people of all income levels to protecting our environment to improving health care delivery, we made significant strides this year on the issues that matter to Rhode Islanders. I look forward to continuing this work.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: When I worked in DC, I had one job where the main task was getting a piece of legislation passed. It was an amendment to the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act that would protect wells from damage from underground coal mining. It had NO chance of passing as a free-standing bill, but it was enacted into law as a rider attached to the annual appropriations bill. Sometimes you do whatever you have to do to get the right thing done.      - Will Collette