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Keeping the Heat On

Art Handy wrote a great op/ed piece on Rhode Islanders battling utilities during the winter months and the My Home Energy Rate Affordability Act which will help those who need it.

Every fall, families throughout Rhode Island struggle to pull together enough money to get their utilities turned on before the cold months. Each winter, we hear about another fire caused by a family keeping warm with their oven after losing their heat. More and more we hear about children struggling at school because they can’t sleep in their frigid apartments. Emergency rooms deal with the consequences of a system that allows children to go months without heat and electricity.

In the last year, over 30,000 homes – a record high – had either gas or electricity shut off. While many shutoffs are in the cities, the affluent communities are also affected: in Westerly 612 homes were shut off. East Greenwich had 270, Barrington 118, Newport 811, even Little Compton had 30. This problem isn’t happening somewhere else; it’s in your community.

Currently, all winter long, even if they can make payments, few families can keep up with their current bills and even fewer can make headway into eliminating the old debt. The result is that most end the winter in even greater debt and have their utilities shut off again when the moratorium ends.

A side effect of this cycle is that most available heating assistance is aimed at paying just enough to get utilities restored before winter. There is simply not enough money to help customers become current. Each year rising energy costs and the growth of that debt mean it costs more for the customer to reach the point where power is restored. This hopeless cycle leaves more than 30,000 Rhode Island households exposed to the risk of a cold, powerless winter every year and exhausts public assistance funds.

Read the full article here or after the jump.
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Stimulus money to pay interest on some RI school bonds

According to the ProJo, RI’s government has, “approved the allocation of $44.4 million in interest-free bonds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.”

The districts approved to issue interest-free bonds allocation are:
Central Falls, $7.8 million
Chariho, $4.8 million
Compass Charter School, (South Kingstown) $1.6 million
South Kingstown, $78,000
Warwick, $3.9 million
and Westerly, $3.9 million

Providence was not forgotten as it received a “separate interest-free award of $22.3 million, an award based on its size and poverty level.”

Le plein article

Foreclosures Force Ex-Homeowners to Turn to Shelters

PETER S. GOODMAN | New York Times

CLEVELAND — The first night after she surrendered her house to foreclosure, Sheri West endured the darkness in her Hyundai sedan. She parked in her old driveway, with her flower-print dresses and hats piled in boxes on the back seat, and three cherished houseplants on the floor. She used her backyard as a restroom.

The second night, she stayed with a friend, and so it continued for more than a year: Ms. West — mother of three grown children, grandmother to six and great-grandmother to one — passed months on the couches of friends and relatives, and in the front seat of her car.

But this fall, she exhausted all options. She had once owned and overseen a group home for homeless people. Now, she succumbed to that status herself, checking in to a shelter.

“No one could have told me that in a million years: I’d wake up in a homeless shelter,” she said. “I had a house for homeless people. Now, I’m homeless.”

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Poverty and Income Inequality

by: Brian Hull

The U.S. Census Bureau released data today showing that 118,556 Rhode Islanders were living in poverty in 2008.  The data is based on a 3 million person sampling in the United States called the American Community Survey, and shows that Rhode Island’s poverty rate in 2008 stood at 11.7%.  This is lower than (although statistically insignificant to) last year’s rate of 12%.  Rhode Island ranked 31st highest in the nation, below the national average.  When compared to the other New England states, however, Rhode Island had the second highest level of poverty, after Maine.

The wealthiest 10 percent of Americans — those making more than $138,000 each year — earned 11.4 times the roughly $12,000 made by those living near or below the poverty line in 2008, according to newly released census figures. That ratio was an increase from 11.2 in 2007 and the previous high of 11.22 in 2003.

Nationally, the poverty rate for 2008 stood at 13.2%, an 11-year high.  This represents a total of 39.8 million people (14 million of which are children) living in poverty.  There have not been this many people living in poverty since 1960.

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The Real Misery Index: Unemployment Increases the Hardship

Marcus Baram The Huffington Post

The rise in unemployment continues to prolong the hardship for millions of Americans, according to the latest update of the Huffington Post’s Real Misery Index.

The index rose to 32.2 in August 2009, after peaking at 29.2 in July, largely due to the increase in the U6 unemployment rate, which tracks part-time workers looking for full-time employment and those who’ve given up looking for work. The index would be even higher if it weren’t for a slight rebound in housing prices.

Rising unemployment — and the accompanying increase in the number of Americans who have been out of work for more than 6 months (5.4 million as of September) — threatens to diminish the chances of a speedy recovery.

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New Report: Middle Skill Jobs, the Backbone of Rhode Island’s Economy, Will Account for 42 Percent of State’s Job Openings in 2016; State Workforce Not Ready to Meet Demand

Rhode Island’s Economic Recovery Tied to Preparing Workers for Jobs Requiring More than High School Diploma, Less than College Degree; Rhode Island Must Use Economic Downtime to Boost Skills of Workforce.

PROVIDENCE, R.I., Oct. 6 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — In what will play a major role in Rhode Island’s economic recovery, 42 percent of all job openings projected for the state by 2016 are “middle-skill” – jobs that require more than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree — concludes a new study released today by The Workforce Alliance and the Skills2Compete-Rhode Island campaign, an affiliate of the national Skills2Compete campaign. But to unleash the full economic benefits of these openings, Rhode Island will need to invest in proper training and education for its embattled workforce.

While the recession is stifling current employment growth, more than 68,000 “middle-skill” job openings (including new jobs and replacement) would account for 42 percent of all Rhode Island job openings between 2006 and 2016. Low- and high- skill jobs will account for 26 percent and 32 percent respectively.

The report, which for the first time tracks Rhode Island’s jobs at the middle-skill level, notes that federal funds from the recovery bill are also expected to create thousands of new jobs — particularly in industries dominated by middle-skill occupations, like environment/energy, construction, healthcare, manufacturing, and transportation.

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