• As CD1 race heats up, these are the issues Newport County leaders want candidates to focus on

    As CD1 race heats up, these are the issues Newport County leaders want candidates to focus on

    Zane Wolfang
    Newport Daily News

    Though many voters might still be more focused on their jampacked summer schedules than on the impending election to replace U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, election day is fast approaching.

    The deadline to register to vote in the Democratic primary is Aug. 6, the deadline to register for a mail ballot is Aug. 15 and early voting starts on Aug. 16. The Primary Election itself is on Sept. 5.

    The Newport Daily News asked the CEOs, presidents and executive directors of some of Newport County’s most impactful organizations what the candidates should be focusing on as they compete to represent RI’s 1st Congressional District in Congress, and a few cogent themes emerged.

    RI reps should deliver federal funding for healthcare, housing crises

    Rilwan K. Feyisitan Jr. is president and CEO of East Bay Community Action Program (EBCAP), which offers a variety of programs and services to individuals and families who live at or below the poverty level. He told the Daily News  RI’s congressional leaders must make it a priority to develop viable, equitable solutions to the state’s housing crisis.

    “I believe the most important issue that needs to be addressed is the lack of affordable housing in Newport County and surrounding communities. We know that stable housing contributes to healthier lifestyles, improves educational outcomes, and creates better job opportunities. Affordable, safe housing also benefits entire communities and strengthens local economies,” Feyisitan said in an email statement.

    Jamie Lehane, president and CEO of Newport Mental Health, made a more specific call for  CD1’s next rep to prioritize securing federal resources to address what he called “escalating mental health and substance abuse crises” in Newport County and across the state, explaining R.I. is one of 15 states currently competing for 10 places in a federally funded behavioral health program called Certified Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHC) which will provide over $75 million to expand community-based mental health services to children, families and adults to address issues including increasing rates of suicide, overdose and emotional crisis in Newport County. 

    Lehane said, “The results for the first 10 pilot states that have adopted CCBHC have had tremendous outcomes of increased access and higher quality outcomes,” and noted the decision on which 10 states will receive the CCBHC funding will be made on July 1, 2024. 

    Business leaders call for candidates to prioritize Newport County’s small businesses, travel industry

    Evan Smith, CEO of Discover Newport, noted some topics germane to the travel industry, such as short-term rental regulations, are for the most part handled at the state level. He advocated for some very specific actions R.I.’s congressional delegates could take at the federal level which would positively and directly impact the travel industry in Newport County:Swift action on the FAA reauthorization bill to revamp what he called “an underfunded and understaffed air traffic control system.”  

    Restructuring the country’s non-visa waiver program. He noted first-time visitor visa applicants in the program are currently facing interview wait times of 400-800 days, which he called “a de facto border closure given the excessive wait” and claimed came at a projected cost to the U.S. economy of nearly $7 billion in traveler spending in 2023.
    Attention to the federal Department of Labor’s failure to process H-2B visa labor certifications in a timely manner, which Smith says hampers local employers’ efforts to secure seasonal workforce needs throughout the travel industry.

    Erin Donovan-Boyle, president and CEO of the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber specifically wants candidates “to be well versed in the challenges facing our region that impact small businesses and hinder economic development opportunities, and then offer support through policy solutions and advocacy to increase access to federal resources.” 

    She said the Chamber would like to see the candidates focus on the following areas:

    workforce housing
    small business support programs
    workforce development
    education to prepare students for the future of work

    Newport leaders advocate for social justice and equity across racial, cultural and socioeconomic fault lines

    Rex Lebeau, who describes themselves as “nonbinary, asexual, neuroqueer, and a long-time advocate for the local LGBTQIA+ community,” listed in an email statement to The Daily News a litany of issues that are present in but certainly not unique to Newport County including affordable housing, skyrocketing rents, racism, queerphobia, food scarcity and police brutality, and said:

    “All people must be given the means to survive, thrive, and be cherished just for existing. These candidates will need to start with those on the receiving end of the most oppression, particularly BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and disabled people…candidates could implement practices to encourage behavior that will create social justice, such as cracking down on hierarchical systems, breaking up monopolies, putting people before profits, and fostering mutual aid.”

    Heather Hole Strout, CEO of the MLK Center on Marcus Wheatland Boulevard, echoed Lebeau’s inclusive sentiments, saying, “The next CD1 Representative must understand the complexity and diversity that exists here. Very wealthy and very poor people live here. People speak English, Spanish, Portuguese, Ukrainian and more. People of many different races live here. Some people are working, some are retired. Some are able-bodied, some are disabled. The costs of housing, utilities, and food are crushing families and seniors. People of lower incomes need to be able to afford to live and actually thrive here.”

    She noted the nonprofit MLK Center distributed over 800,000 meals to hungry people in Newport County last year despite receiving very little government funding.

    “Our community is only as strong as the most vulnerable among us, and we see thousands of vulnerable people each year,” she said. “People are in real need, some desperately so. We need a representative who will work for everyone in this community and prioritize basic human needs.”


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