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Rhode Island Is Facing a Huge Budget Shortfall: Summary of the governor’s June 3 press conference

Governor Gina Raimondo, DOH director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, and DOA Director Brett Smiley held the COVID-19 press briefing today at 2:30pm from The Vets in Providence. 

Today’s COVID data is as follows: there are 107 new cases. As the governor noted, the positivity rate statewide is under 5% as it has been the past few days. Some areas continue to be above 10% positive rates, hard hit communities like Pawtucket, Central Falls, North Providence and parts of Providence. There are 189 people are hospitalized in the Ocean State from COVID-19. Of those people, 144 are in the ICU, and 30 of those people are on ventilators. DOH also reported today 12 new deaths from the coronavirus since yesterday. Two people were in their 70s, two in their 80s, and six were in their 90s.

Governor Raimondo today took pains to reassure Rhode Islanders the Crush COVID RI app they launched a few weeks ago was safe to download. People should not be concerned the app will harvest your private information or phone contacts. Any information that could be used to identify you is not kept with your list of locations or people you came into contact with. The app will always be opt in and you can opt out of it at any time. Approximately 45,000 people have downloaded the app since its launch last month. 

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Starting on Friday’s #BlackLivesMatter protest, DOH employees will be on site for future protests. They will be providing either verbal or flyer information that will help attendees keep cautious and safe during the time of coronavirus. “The virus is ever present,” said Raimondo. DOH will also distribute masks during protests.

“I am begging you,” said the governor of peaceful protesters, “to exercise extreme caution out of concern for the loved ones you have at home who could get very sick or worse.” She noted she cannot suspend the constitutional right to assembly, and said she would never tell someone not to protest or advocate for change. She did recommend attendees of protests to exercise extreme caution. The governor added she might attend the rally on the outskirts on Friday, and does support the effort.

Today the governor announced state employees in the executive branch would be allowed to participate in a federal workshare program. Department of Administration Brett Smiley gave a rundown on how it will work. Employees would see a 40% reduction in hours. For someone working five days a week, they’d be reduced for three days a week and collect a salary for only those three days. The other two days they could collect a type of federal check akin to UI, with the $600 federal boost to benefits being made available. Smiley acknowledged some of the lower paid employees would come out a little ahead, but only until those federal benefits ran out at the end of July. 

The program itself is scheduled to last for 12 weeks. Some groups of state employees are eligible, first line responders, most people doing work related to COVID, and a few other exceptions. Everyone else, around 4,000 state workers, would be eligible to participate. The state is seeking a minimum of 25% participation and a maxim of 50%. Government could save $5 million if they reach their minimum goal of 1,000 workers participating.

The state of Rhode Island is currently facing a budget shortfall of $800 million from lost revenue due to the state shutdown. Raimondo and other state leaders have emphasized state government would look a lot different on the other side of that budget without federal aid, cuts to essential services unfathomable to any living Rhode Islander. The governor remains hopeful of more stimulus legislation coming out of Congress and is reassured by her communication with other governors (including those of red states) and our own federal delegation. 

Massachusetts announced earlier they would allow some form of outside visitation for nursing homes. When asked for comment, the governor said she was erring on the side of caution. It does not change her thinking, she said, nor does she think Governor Baker is wrong. The reason for the delayed start time today was actually a phone call from the White House. White House officials were leaning on governors to lean on nursing homes to handle infection control and inspections much better. Nursing home deaths account for the majority of fatalities in Rhode Island.

The governor has repeatedly identified the rioters from Monday’s overnight looting as out of state agitators. Motif reporters have looked at the data, and the overwhelming majority of those arrested were from Rhode Island. When asked for comment about this from Motif, the governor said, “We don’t know. It’s an active investigation.” She said she found the tactics used in Providence mirrored other protests, suggesting some kind of coordinated effort from outside the state.

Tomorrow’s press conference is at 1pm. As a reminder, next week the press conferences will drop down to three times a week: Monday/Wednesday/Fridays at 1pm. You can watch them on local news, Facebook Live, or Capitol TV. Motif will have the summary up later that afternoon, as well as any other press conferences related to the Monday night lootings or COVID crisis.

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