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Latino Policy Institute director weighs in on long lines for COVID-19 tests, 2022 legislative priorities

Marcela Betancur calls for Governor McKee to propose budget providing health coverage for all children, including 400 undocumented youth

Marcela Betancur, director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University.Handout

PROVIDENCE — On the Rhode Island Report podcast, the director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University said it has been “heartbreaking” to see long lines of people, including young children, waiting hours for COVID-19 tests in hard-hit communities such as Central Falls.

Marcela Betancur, who grew up in Central Falls and began leading the Latino Policy Institute three years ago, said her parents were among those who went for tests in Central Falls after experiencing symptoms. (Their tests came back negative.).

“The fact that anyone is standing in line for hours is unsettling,” she said. “It should be unheard of, especially in our cities that have been impacted.”

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Betancur called for ensuring that home testing kits are made available for every resident. “Finding rapid tests, at least in Providence County, is incredibly difficult,” she said. “We need to act fast because the next month is going to be really, really difficult for our communities.”

Betancur also called for ensuring that testing sites have flexible hours. “If we live in a community where people may work a second shift or a third shift, are we tailoring the times around where these people are working?” she asked.

With the General Assembly beginning its 2022 legislative session on Tuesday, Betancur said the Latino Policy Institute’s priorities include legislation aimed at ensuring that all children, regardless of immigration status, qualify for health insurance under the state’s “RIte Track” healthcare program.

Representative David Morales, a Providence Democrat, has said there are about 3,000 uninsured children in Rhode Island, including 400 who cannot get coverage because of their immigration status. It would cost $1.1 million to provide coverage for those 400 undocumented children.

“We’re actually asking Governor McKee to include this in his 2023 fiscal year budget as the Executive Office of Health and Human Services has actually proposed,” Betancur said. “As we’ve seen, public health is something that impacts all of our communities. So this is a really important program that we’re really hoping to push.”

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The institute also is backing legislation that would provide driving privileges to undocumented drivers, Betancur said. She questioned the estimate that the bill would require as much as $7 million for the Division of Motor Vehicles.

“Ensuring that an individual has access to identification and a driver’s license will help us not only know who is on the roads, but also people will be able to get insurance,” Betancur said. “It is an issue when people get into accidents. It is also an issue because people may be driving already without a license. You know, this is a barrier to get their children to school, to the hospital, to work themselves. And so it is an important issue that we have to address finally.”

Hear more by downloading the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him @FitzProv.