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COMMENTARY

The Lieutenant Governor of Rhode Island reflects on her first 100 days in office

Through critical investments in health and infrastructure, we can uplift families and close the digital divide, she says

Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos during a press conference in March 2021.
Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos during a press conference in March 2021.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

One hundred days ago, Rhode Island was at a turning point. We were rounding the curve on COVID, the economy was ramping up, and our students were walking back into school, one year after they said “see you soon” to their friends and teachers.

One hundred days ago, I was sworn in as Lieutenant Governor, and I couldn’t be more proud of what we have accomplished together.

I’ve always been taught that talking is one thing, but doing is another. Rhode Islanders are tough, no-nonsense. We expect action from our public leaders, not empty promises. I’ve taken this spirit of action to the Statehouse — because every piece of legislation matters, every fight is noble, and every person has the right to live safe and happy, free from the looming anxiety of low wages, student debt, and public health crises.

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Across the world and in Rhode Island, the pandemic has brought to light a different kind of public crisis: housing insecurity. Millions of families in America are one paycheck away from losing their home, and in our state, that number tragically includes hundreds of veterans, families, and children. As the economic impact of the pandemic echoes into today, RentReliefRI, a program designed to help renters and landlords alike, has brought much-needed stability to families in Rhode Island.

COVID was a turning point for many families facing housing insecurity. Even after the pandemic is behind us, the most vulnerable in our communities will still be at risk. I’ve made it a primary initiative of mine to tackle homelessness head-on. Through a series of virtual summits beginning this month, we will uplift the stories of the homeless and those who have found a path out. We will hear updates from government officials committed to preserving the inalienable right every Rhode Islander and American have to a safe place to call home. Together, we are setting the tone to bring Rhode Island to “functional zero” homelessness — because no one in the wealthiest country on Earth should sacrifice their own health and wellbeing to pay the rent.

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Just as the pandemic exposed how vulnerable our neighbors are to homelessness, it also helped change how we define critical infrastructure — especially broadband internet. We live in a world where the internet is no longer a luxury — like the highways we drive on to get to work every day, having reliable access to high-speed internet is critical to business, our economy, and during the past year, our children’s education. I’ve been a proud advocate for the federal emergency broadband relief program, and it has been an honor to communicate with families in English and Spanish about the benefits available to them, including internet service discounts and access to critical pieces of technology. I’ve seen the power of programs like these to lift up families and close the digital divide, and with thousands of families in Rhode Island still without internet, this need is more important than ever. For Rhode Islanders, help is coming, and I am excited to fight for all infrastructure — including broadband access — so that every family has an equal shot.

We must also invest in generational support for families in Rhode Island through continued support for patients suffering from long-term progressive diseases like Alzheimer’s, and their caregivers who give their heart and soul every day to see that their loved ones are supported and comfortable. Alzheimer’s has affected all of us in some way; we all know the stress and anxiety that accompanies progressive disease. We all know the financial strain it takes to be a caregiver, and we see the toll it takes on our mental health. As chair of Rhode Island’s Long Term Care Coordinating Council and leader of the Alzheimer’s Executive Board, it has been an honor to help grow our research and planning capabilities to create a blueprint for tackling this growing crisis. We’ve secured thousands in grants and funding to understand the disease, research treatment options, and support caregivers and families through critical investments in dementia-capable infrastructure and services. Together, we are building a better foundation for patients and families struggling with this disease. The burden of caregiving is one rooted in love and compassion, and as Lieutenant Governor, I hope to bring the same sense of service to caregivers and patients alike.

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This country was built on the sacrifice and service of our military. For the families of 29 Rhode Island service members who have lost their lives since 9/11, raising funds to honor their children with a permanent memorial is not only a noble effort, but a profoundly personal one. I have been proud to help raise funds for gold star families seeking a permanent place to honor and find peace in the ultimate sacrifice given by their children. It is the honor of a lifetime to fight for them.

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Through critical investments in health and infrastructure, we can uplift families and close the digital divide. By supporting caregivers and patients suffering from progressive disease like Alzheimer’s, we can lessen the burden of care so that families can focus on what matters most: their loved ones. And by honoring our service members with a permanent memorial for gold star families, we reaffirm our respect for their sacrifice and the families who have suffered their loss.

We have a real chance to help families by simply investing in them, ensuring they are healthy, supported, honored, and respected. I’m invested in you, Rhode Island, and I’m excited to continue the good fight.

Sabina Matos is the Lieutenant Governor of Rhode Island.