The Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence (RICADV) is celebrating the 2021 legislative session in Rhode Island, where several critical victories will pave the path to improving conditions in our state to be more supportive, safe and healthy for domestic violence survivors and their families – especially as we rebuild Rhode Island to be a more equitable community responsive to the needs of Rhode Islanders as we begin to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The needs of survivors of intimate partner violence and their children were heightened during the pandemic, as risks of abuse and the economic crisis intensified. The passage of the RICADV’s priority bills helps support all Rhode Islanders – particularly those in domestic violence situations.
PASSED: Fight for $15 and Fair Pay
The $15 minimum wage increase legislation and Fair Pay Act were both finally enacted this session! This is a victory for all our communities, and was made possible after years of tireless advocacy and dedication from members of SOAR (Sisters Overcoming Abusive Relationships), and economic justice-focused community organizations we are in coalition with across Rhode Island. The gradual minimum wage increase will be fully implemented by 2025. Noting that R.I. women are currently paid 84 cents for every $1 paid to men - and the pay gap is even worse for women of color - the new fair pay/pay equity law will help close the gender and race-based wage gap and increase economic stability while improving quality of life for R.I. children and families, and reduce barriers to leaving abusive relationships.
Executive Director Tonya King Harris expressed the RICADV's strong support for the
and Fair Pay bills, saying, "We are excited survivors of abuse will no longer have to choose between economic security and safety for themselves and their children. Poverty and income inequality are some of the root causes of domestic violence, and disproportionately impact women and people of color - particularly affecting their health. We can't eliminate domestic violence without addressing the effects of poverty. A livable wage and Fair Pay law takes us one step closer in our efforts to address poverty and end all forms of violence in our community."The passage of this economic justice legislation creates a path toward a more equitable, healthy community for all Rhode Islanders, especially victims of domestic violence.
Specifically, the pay equity bill:
- Ensures all employees are paid fairly and equally, regardless of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or other protected class
- Provides that if an employer violates the law, employees may be eligible to collect back pay, unpaid wages and damages
- Allows a job applicant, employee, or former employee to seek relief from an employer’s unlawful pay practices at the R.I. Department of Labor and Training or in court
- Evens the playing field for job applicants and employees who are negotiating wages and salary with an employer, as the legislation requires more transparency from employers regarding wage ranges and protects applicants and employees from potentially damaging wage history information
PASSED: Safety and Health Care Confidentiality for Survivors
The Confidentiality of Health Care Communications and Information Act also passed this year, which allows people to request their insurance company send health communications directly to them instead of a parent or spouse via a safe, alternate email, address, or phone number. Privacy between health care providers and patients is essential to the health care relationship, especially for survivors of domestic abuse. The RICADV and the R.I. Health and Privacy Alliance, which includes a wide variety of health care provider organizations, privacy advocates and domestic violence and sexual assault prevention advocates, worked together to pass this law after more than three years of advocacy.
This new law will prevent breaches of confidentiality that can occur in health insurance communications, including Explanations of Benefits (“EOB’s”) sent home by insurers. Such breaches can hurt vulnerable populations including young adults on their parents' plans, survivors of domestic violence and adolescents seeking services like mental health care or STD testing. This is even more important after witnessing the risks for domestic violence, substance use and mental health risks spike during the pandemic, including historic surges in calls to our statewide Helpline and domestic violence hotlines during the COVID-19 pandemic. To hear direct testimony from impacted patients and domestic violence survivors who were affected by this health-confidentiality and safety issue, check out this Zoom press event the RICADV hosted via Facebook Live.
PASSED: Raising RI Social Safety Net Benefits
We are thrilled that after 30 years of no increases to the RI Works cash assistance benefit in R.I., the General Assembly included a 30% increase to the monthly RI Works benefit in the state budget! Many survivor parents rely on this basic needs assistance to stay financially secure and safe after escaping an abusive situation with their children. This means a family of 3 (one parent with two children) will see their monthly benefit increase from $554 to $721. The benefit will increase from 30% of the federal poverty level to almost 40%.
How will Rhode Island compare to neighboring states in New England? We will now be second-highest in terms of the monthly benefit amount for families living in poverty, instead of last, where R.I. was before passing this much-needed increase:
PASSED: Increasing Access to Safe, Healthy and Affordable Homes
Everyone deserves a roof over their head, and a place to lay their head at night. Access to affordable housing for survivors and their children remains a top priority for the RICADV. The “source of income” fair housing legislation passed this year, a bill the RICADV has supported for several years along with our partners at Homes RI. This legislation prohibits housing discrimination against those who receive government assistance to pay rent, such as Section 8 housing vouchers or other forms of economic supports or benefits, including child support. A 2019 study by SouthCoast Fair Housing found that although voucher recipients can afford more than one-third of listed R.I. apartments, they are ultimately rejected from 93 percent of apartments listed. Over 9,300 R.I. households rely on such vouchers to afford safe housing options. This legislation was signed into law by Governor Daniel McKee. The Rhode Island state budget also includes new, important affordable and fair housing laws and funding sources, including Rhode Island’s first-ever dedicated funding stream for affordable housing and a pilot program to create supportive housing for chronically homeless people. The Pay for Success pilot program we supported will create permanent supportive housing for 125 chronically homeless Rhode Islanders.
PASSED: Safe Staffing for Equity and Elder Justice
Nursing home workers deserve to be recognized as the heroes they are – particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Safe Staffing & Quality Care Act was signed into law this session by Gov. McKee, which establishes a minimum standard of 3.8 hours of nursing home individual resident care per day and provides a minimum wage for nursing home workers of at least $15 per hour. The bill was backed by Raise the Bar on Resident Care, an alliance of advocates for patient care, racial and gender equity, fair labor standards and economic justice, including the RICADV. The need for fair standards and treatment with dignity for frontline workers such as nursing home staff, who are predominantly women of color, was magnified during the pandemic when the virus spread ruthlessly in nursing homes. This law is a much needed step forward after the pandemic, and will address equity and health in our communities.
We thank our supporters, SOAR members, member agencies and statewide advocates for their tireless commitment to advocating for these crucial public policy changes. We also thank the bill sponsors of all of this legislation and the R.I. Senate and House leadership for passing these bills, and Gov. McKee for signing these bills into law. Domestic violence is a community issue, and it deserves a community response – thank you for stepping in to help us create a Rhode Island without domestic abuse.
Today we celebrate! While there is still more work to be done, together we can continue paving the path toward a Rhode Island where all are free from abuse and oppression. We have the power to rebuild our state, to meet the needs of survivors of abuse and create an environment where all can thrive.