Providence, RI – The Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC) and United Way of Rhode Island (UWRI) are pleased to announce the release of a joint study of the Social Safety Net in Rhode Island on Thursday, August 20, 2009. This comprehensive research, the first of its kind in Rhode Island, is entitled “Social Safety Net Study for Rhode Island: Data Analysis Summary and Conceptual Framework”. The Study provides an in-depth look at the range of services that comprise the Social Safety Net and the populations served. It also examines enrollment and cost trends and provides information on comparisons to other New England states.

“All of us around the table agreed that the most desirable outcome of a social-service system is to help as many people as possible to sustain themselves and their families,” said UWRI President and CEO Anthony Maione. “The Social Safety Net should help people be as independent as possible and support those who are unable to care for themselves.”

“The findings in the report illustrate that we need to rethink what we are trying to accomplish with the Social Safety Net programs,” said RIPEC Executive Director John Simmons. “The current safety net programs have evolved other time and we need to set a common vision and purpose for what the Social Safety Net should accomplish.”

Among the findings of the report are that Social Safety Net programs have a significant impact on the State’s budget. In the enacted FY 2010 budget, grants and benefits account for 46 percent of total spending in Rhode Island. While spending on these initiatives has always constituted a significant portion of the State’s budget, the composition of this spending has changed over time across the nation. Spending on low-income families has shifted from non-health to health programs, such as Medicaid.

In Rhode Island, of the growth in spending for social service programs between 1992 and 2006, the most recent year for which data were available from the Census for national comparisons, 90.0 percent went to support Medicaid. However, there is a significant difference in average annual Medicaid costs per year across beneficiary categories: based on Rhode Island Department of Human Services (DHS) data, in FY 2006, approximately 30.0 percent of Medicaid beneficiaries (elderly, adults with disabilities, and children with special health care needs) accounted for 79.0 percent of total spending in Rhode Island.

Other key findings note that support and services fall short for people in crisis as well as those seeking long-term assistance. The study calls for improved follow-through and continuous assistance such as stronger workforce development and stabilization maintenance. There should be consistency – a continuum of services – so that people who emerge from great need are assisted through the entire process from finding and keeping employment to maintaining their self-sustainability.

In addition, social and health programs administered by State agencies to those in need are arduous and complex. They require applicants fill out multiple applications. Several Rhode Island State offices oversee the same programs, and even within agencies there are redundancies.

The report recommends that an initial assessment of anyone in need should occur only once, and the case should be followed by that same entity from crisis or dire need to self-sustainability. The study proposes implementing a “holistic” approach, and a coordinated, streamlined effort among State agencies. Additional principles to improve the assistance provided to those in need include:

  • As the components of the current Safety Net have evolved over time, there does not appear to be a vision of what society is trying to accomplish with these programs. Hence, improved accountability associated with government spending would be desirable.
  • As participant income rises, government supports should be withdrawn gradually, in order to maintain the provision of basic needs.
  • Consideration of the relative responsibility of individuals, families, nonprofit organizations and faith-based groups should be included in government’s planning for services. The Social Safety Net Study for Rhode Island only examined federal and State-government-funded programs. However, it brought to light that nonprofit and faith-based organizations play a critical safety-net role to those in dire need. They are the first-responders, and, in many cases, the only assistance some receive.
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