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R.I. General Assembly leaders commit to McKee’s plan to spend 10 percent of the state’s ARPA funds

The governor calls his plan a “down payment on Rhode Island’s recovery.” On Monday, the state’s house speaker and senate president pushed back on questions about why Rhode Island has been so slow to use the federal funding

Governor Dan McKee speaking at the State of Rhode Island Veterans Day Ceremony at the Rhode Island Veterans Home.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

PROVIDENCE — Leaders in the Rhode Island General Assembly announced Monday said they are committed to bringing the governor’s downpayment plan to spend 10 percent of the state’s $1.13 billion in American Rescue Plan to vote in the finance committees next week. Governor Dan McKee said the plan is a “down payment on Rhode Island’s recovery.”

“That’s a down payment. That’s a start,” said McKee Monday.

McKee initially announced his downpayment plan in October, but Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, a Warwick Democrat, and Senate President Ruggerio, a North Providence Democrat, said Monday that it’s “a process” and pushed back on questions that asked why Rhode Island is one of the slowest states in the northeast to administer federal dollars.

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“You don’t just back up to the state house and we hand the money to you... It’s a process to go through. It’s been a very timely process. It’s been fair and open,” said Shekarchi.

The funds in the governor’s original plan will invest $32 million in small businesses that have been hit hard by the pandemic, $38.5 million in social support services and addressing the child care workforce shortage, $29.5 million in affordable housing and housing stability, and $13 million in tourism, hospitality and event industries.

Housing advocates across the state have pressed the governor and General Assembly to get money out to families, businesses, and nonprofits.

While the governor was inside the State House speaking to reporters, Senator Cynthia Mendes, a candidate for lieutenant governor, and advocates have been sleeping outside the building in tents for days in the cold, calling on leaders to address the homelessness crisis. Mendes told the Globe last week that she’ll continue sleeping outside “until she’s sure the state’s homelessness crisis is resolved.”

“We did our job and the General Assembly did their job,” said McKee, who refused to address questions related to the timing of the funds on Monday.

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The governor also said that Shekarchi and Ruggerio have pledged to add an additional $6 million to address the state’s child care needs. McKee also said that he plans to direct $57.4 million toward workforce investments to help 4,500 home health care providers to help recruit and retain workers. About 85 percent of the funds will be administered to workers in the form of hiring bonuses, increased hourly wages, enhanced benefits, shift differentials, wrap around benefits and training or support.

“After several hearings, our House Finance Committee will soon consider an initial investment of $119 million for affordable housing, children’s and family services, child care, and assistance for small businesses and the tourism and hospitality industries,” said Shekarchi. “We could not wait until mid-January.”

In addition, the administration plans to immediately invest $3.64 million in leftover CARES Act funds to support Early Intervention which provides “early childhood development services that support healthy outcomes of children.”

“We have many stakeholders that have ideas,” said Shekarchi. “The good thing is that the federal government has given us three years to spend this money. But we aren’t going to take three years.”





Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.