Religious leaders ask politicians to work to reduce poverty

By Jennifer McDermott, Jan. 7, 2020

Religious leaders in Rhode Island asked the state’s politicians Tuesday to pass bills this year to address poverty.

Members of the Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty marched to the Statehouse and gathered in the rotunda, prior to the opening of the new legislative session.

Rabbi Michelle Dardashti, of Brown University, said the coalition reflects the diversity of the state and its members went to the Statehouse “to remind elected officials and ourselves of a responsibility toward the most vulnerable.”

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo and Democratic Senate President Dominick Ruggerio greeted the group, pledging to work with them.

The annual rally “focuses our priorities in the right place, on the least fortunate among us,” Raimondo said. The governor said she was not only troubled by poverty, but also by a rise in intolerance nationwide. She asked those who had gathered to stand up against divisiveness and hate.

The interfaith coalition wants the Rhode Island General Assembly to raise the minimum wage, prohibit landlords from refusing to rent to people who receive housing subsidies, increase state funding for affordable housing, continue offering more public pre-kindergarten slots and allow people living in the country illegally to obtain a driver’s license, among other legislative priorities.

Raimondo, Ruggerio and Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello have said they expect to consider raising the state’s minimum wage, currently set at $10.50, to keep pace with other states.

Ruggerio is looking to reduce barriers to building more housing in the state, and Raimondo is exploring ways to create a permanent funding stream for affordable housing. Raimondo also wants to offer more public pre-kindergarten slots.