Brown and McKee tussle over homelessness and social services jobs

As the candidates offered closing remarks at the end of the 90-minute forum, Brown focused on the homelessness crisis in Rhode Island, reminding attendees that he and Senator Cynthia Mendes, running for lieutenant governor, slept in tents outside the State House for 16 years. days to pressure McKee to do more about homelessness.

He said the McKee administration ended up creating 400 winter shelter beds, but he claimed McKee “had no plans for what to do after winter” and said that Hundreds of people were living on the streets while more than a billion federal government dollars, including emergency relief funds, went unspent.

“It’s a political choice,” Brown said. He challenged the governor to commit to creating “500 non-collective emergency accommodation beds so that our people don’t sleep outside?

McKee said he’s glad Brown asked the question because there’s “misinformation everywhere.”

He pointed out that “I am the governor who put $5 million on the table three weeks before the camp in front of the State House” and noted that McKee said he had budgeted $250 million for housing.

“We’re going to leverage that for $1 billion in housing,” he said. “I made a commitment, and I keep my commitments, to build a shelter as a first step for the coldest day of the year.”

Another Democratic candidate, Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz, chimed in, calling Brown’s encampment at State Hosue “performative” and asking “Who was in the rental assistance clinics?”

Another exchange took place when the contestants were asked about the state’s Department of Social Services, which is responsible for food stamps, child care assistance and other crucial programs.

McKee said the department “certainly has skeletons in its closet,” citing the state’s public assistance computer system known as the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP). Deloitte Consulting designed the ailing system, which cost more than $600 million, and its 2016 rollout under former Governor Gina M. Raimondo was plagued with technical issues, leading to thousands of delays in distribution food stamp benefits.

“We inherited that,” McKee said. But he said his administration has assembled a team to address Medicaid issues that are critical to the department. “We will be prepared. We’re not going to go through another UHIP.

McKee said he came up with a budget that calls for additional staff in the Department of Human Services. “We have budgeted for 40 new hires,” he said. “We have about 80 more people to hire to make sure we’re ready.”

But Brown noted that the governor “left 100 vacancies” in February.

“Now you’re talking about privatizing 48 unionized senior worker positions at Deloitte – the company at the center of the UHIP crisis,” he said. “You talk about the UHIP skeleton – you bring the skeleton back to life.”

Meanwhile, Rhode Islanders “are not getting the services they need, all because you couldn’t bother to show up and do your job,” Brown told McKee. “The offices have closed. People are waiting four hours to get food aid for themselves and their families.

Asked after the forum about using Deloitte to fill positions in the state, McKee said, “I think we are not able to hire in all of the positions that need to be hired. We need staff in place. We’re basically reapplying Medicaid benefits, and we’re going to make sure we have the staff there.

The state has struggled to hire for those positions “based on the hiring practices that are put in place,” he said. “We would like the union to give us the power to hire now, and if they did, we wouldn’t have to go through the bumping procedures that slow down the process.”

Matthew Gunnip, president of SEIU Local 580/Rhode Island Alliance of Social Service Employees, denounced the decision to use Deloitte to fill these 48 vacancies in the state.

“It’s a slap in the face for frontline workers who are understaffed and have the institutional knowledge,” he said. “Hiring a private contractor who was responsible for RAMU and many of the problems they already have there is irresponsible. Public social services must be non-profit. Hiring a for-profit contractor is unacceptable.

Gunnip said McKee’s statements about the union slowing down the hiring process are nonsense. He said the union has weekly meetings with the administration and that the administration has been slowing things down by not posting vacancies and not bringing HR officials to meetings between the governor’s office and trade unions.

The forum began with five candidates explaining how they would ensure an influx of federal and state funding produces affordable housing across the state as only six of 39 cities meet the goal of ensuring 10% of their housing stock is low. or modest housing.

“I’ll tell you what I won’t do,” said Ashley Kalus, the only Republican candidate on stage. “Unlike the current governor, I will not give contracts to my friends, family members or insiders. We need to ensure that contracts are awarded based on merit.

Kalus said she would create a council to work with local leaders in cities and towns that fall short of the 10% affordable housing target. “They are the ones who know their communities best,” she said. “The expectation is that once we figure out what the problem is, we work together on the solution.”

McKee said shortly after taking office last year, he proposed a state budget that, for the first time, gave Rhode Island a dedicated stream of funding for affordable housing, and he called the General Assembly to approve its request for $250 million for housing.

The Democratic governor said he had success with his affordable housing initiatives when he was mayor of Cumberland, and as governor he said he had weekly meetings with city leaders and understood the issues zoning and planning involved.

Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea, the former executive director of HousingWorks RI, looked around the room saying, “It’s almost like a family reunion for me. I have worked with so many of you to meet the challenges of building affordable housing.

Gorbea, a Democrat, said she was glad the House this week passed a bill to elevate the position of Commerce Undersecretary for Housing to a cabinet-level position in the governor’s office. “That’s how important this question is,” she said. “Housing is key to solving so many of our problems, to moving so many agendas forward.” For example, a child who moves twice in a school year due to housing issues will struggle to catch up in school, she said.

Munoz. a Democrat, said he grew up in poverty in Central Falls and experienced homelessness. “It’s different when you’re going through something because then you realize things haven’t changed for a reason,” he said.

Elected officials and organizations must do more to create affordable housing in Rhode Island, Muñoz said. “The governor must be the state’s activist, the governor must be the state’s educator, and the governor must be the first to act when these issues arise. And this problem has persisted since I was a child in this state.

Brown called for removing bans on multi-family homes found in many communities. He called for funding for 10,000 “green and really affordable homes”. And he criticized a bill that would allow municipalities to count “two-bedroom apartments costing up to $2,500 a month” as affordable housing. “It’s ridiculous,” he said.

Former CVS executive Helena B. Foulkes, a Democrat, did not attend Friday’s forum because she tested positive for COVID-19 Thursday evening.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.

Richard F. Gandhi