RI Opinion+: Juan Espinoza & Melissa Cruz

Welcome to another episode of RI Latino News Opinion+ where we talk about major issues the Latinx and other underrepresented communities face in the state of Rhode Island. This week we spoke with Communications & Development Manager Juan Espinoza and Community Programs Manager Melissa Cruz from the RI Coalition To End Homelessness

The RI Coalition to End Homelessness has a variety of responsibilities across the state, such as being the lead agency for the Homeless Management & Information System (HMIS) and the Coordinated Entry System (CES) Call Center. 

The organization’s main areas of focus also include policy and advocacy work, training and support for service providers, along with educating the public on reasons why people experience homelessness to diminish existing stereotypes.

“Our commitment is to ensure that no Rhode Islander experiences homelessness,� Espinoza said. “We promote and preserve the dignity and quality of life for men, women, and children by pursuing comprehensive and cooperative solutions to the problems of housing and homelessness. And this is accomplished through advocacy, education, collaboration, technical assistance, and selective direct services.�

The HMIS is a shared database used by all homeless service providers in Rhode Island that tracks people who are experiencing homelessness across the state. 

“HMIS is basically the data repository for the Continuum of Care (CoC)…so it’s partnered with 47 agencies with over 200 projects that we are serving persons and households that are experiencing homelessness or [who were] formerly homeless,â€� Cruz explained. 

The CES helpline is available 24/7 and connects residents who may be experiencing homelessness to a shelter or other services related to housing and homelessness. 

“You can either call or send an email and that will connect you to an agent who will look at what are the available options to get you into shelter,� Espinoza told RI Latino News. “Now, shelter is not guaranteed as there is limited shelter in the state of Rhode Island, but they can put you on a waiting queue…the waiting queue has grown, unfortunately.�

RICTEH, among other local advocacy groups, has urged the government to declare a state of emergency for homelessness as this would prioritize homelessness as an issue. Although, enacting a state of emergency is a relatively new tactic in addressing homelessness, according to Espinoza. 

“It has not been a very common strategy, but…declaring a state of emergency for homelessness [would] reduce bureaucratic barriers, such as bypassing zoning requirements… which allows for a quicker ability to use city-owned property to open and maintain shelters, so it’s not just for housing, but also for shelter,� Espinoza said. “Declaring that would really mean more funding, more collaboration, and less bureaucratic red tape…�

Resources mentioned in this video: 

  • RI Coalition to End Homelessness Website: https://www.rihomeless.org
  • The CES helpline: 401-277-4316
    • Learn more and/or contact the helpline online at https://www.rihomeless.org/ces 
    • Available agents speak English, Spanish, Portuguese, & Haitian Creole 
  • Check out local resources available through the U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development at https://www.hud.gov/states/rhode_island/homeless 

Community Advocates Call for Expanded Multilingual Learner Support

Through decades of academic and professional achievements, memories of being penalized for speaking Spanish at school have stayed with Delia Arellano-Weddleton of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. 

“I know that we can do better for our bilingual children,� Director of Engagement & Partnerships Arellano-Weddleton stated. “To do so will take intentional steps, including passing and implementing policies, allocating financial resources, nurturing mindsets and environments that value multilingual children and their families.�

About 11% of Rhode Island students from Pre-K to grade 12 were multilingual/English learners (MLL/EL) during the 2020-2021 school year—nearly double from a decade ago.  

Multilingual/English learners that school year spoke 92 different languages, although 81% spoke Spanish. Around 70% of these students attended school in Central Falls (45%), Providence (33%), Pawtucket (16%), and Woonsocket (11%), according to a new publication.

RI Kids Count released Multilingual Learners in Rhode Island Monday afternoon in a virtual event. Watch the full presentation HERE.   

The publication explores common challenges that multilingual and English learners face across Rhode Island along with state-wide recommendations to effectively support these students and address educational disparities. 

Community leaders at the event discussed the alarming gaps in high school graduation and college enrollment rates between multilingual/English learners and their peers. 

In the Rhode Island Class of 2021, 84% of all students had graduated high school in four years while 69% of MLL/ELs had graduated in four years, according to the publication. 

About 59% of the entire Class of 2021 were immediately enrolled in college, while 33% of MLL/ELs were immediately enrolled in college. The majority of MLL/EL students enrolled in college two-year college programs rather than four-year programs. 

“I think, overall, our programs need to think about centering multilingual learners as the norm across all of our education programs,� Rhode Island College Assistant Professor Erin Papa said.

Papa pointed to partnerships between the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), the Office of Postsecondary Education, and all higher education institutions to continue addressing barriers that prevent or discourage multilingual students from entering undergraduate and graduate programs.

In 2020-2021, dropout rates were the highest among Multilingual/English Learners at 18% dropping out—compared to 8% of all students—according to the publication. 

High School students who are chronically absent have higher chances of dropping out, emphasized University of Rhode Island Associate Professor Rabia Hos. Around 44% of MLL/ELs were chronically absent, the highest of any subgroup in the 2020-2021 school year.

The new publication also highlighted that multilingual/English learners are more likely to live in low-income households and attend high-poverty schools than their peers. 

“Studies show that it is not the home language, it’s not the fact that you’re a multilingual learner—it’s the poverty rate associated when you are a multilingual learner that is a more significant predictor of your academic achievement than anything else. So, it’s poverty levels,â€� explained Senior Policy Analyst Jessica Vega of RI Kids Count. 

The Blueprint for Multilingual Learner Success

Wednesday morning, March 1, state leaders announced that $322,899 in Multilingual Learner Success Grants would be awarded to ten local education agencies—kicking off the second phase of the Blueprint for Multilingual Learner Success

In 2001, RIDE first partnered with community-based organizations to develop the Blueprint for MLL Success, according to RI Kids Count. The final version was released in 2021.

As a part of the Blueprint, RIDE planned to spend 2021-2023 focused on engagement, expanding dual-language programs, revising regulations and policies, along with strengthening parent and community partnerships. Starting this year, RIDE looks to fully implement these policies by 2026.

Governor Dan McKee has also proposed to increase funding for multilingual learner support by $7.8 million in his #RIReady FY24 budget proposal.

Dual Language Programs 

Across the country, dual language programs have expanded as new initiatives to support the nation’s growing bilingual and multilingual student population. 

“Dual language programs…have so much potential,� Vega said. “Dual language programs are a way to teach students that will honor and celebrate their home language.�

In these programs, students learn and engage in two different languages: students will spend half of the day communicating in one particular language and then, for the second half of the day, continue with the same material in a second language. 

Schools in Central Falls, Pawtucket, and Providence currently offer dual-language programs—all involving either Spanish or Portuguese and English. 

“The goal is, if we have an increased pipeline of dual language teachers who are certified and world language teachers, then we’re able to open up more dual language programs throughout the state,� Vega explained. “And it’s really important that students who come from low-income communities have access to these programs because studies show, if you support a student’s proficiency in their home language, it actually improves their English proficiency as well.�

In 2020-2021, 5% of all Rhode Island public school teachers and instructional coordinators held an active Bilingual, Dual Language, or English to Speakers of Other Languages certification, according to RI Kids Count. 

One proposed policy, the Multilingual Educator Investment Act, looks to increase the number of multilingual educators in urban communities through an annual two-million dollar scholarship fund for teacher employment. 

Other recommendations in the Multilingual Learners in Rhode Island publication include improving data collection to identify MLL/EL students, providing high-quality early childhood care to MLL/EL students with developmental delays or disabilities, proactively responding to the challenges and needs of Newcomers, and enhancing assessment tools to effectively support Newcomers.

Available at www.rikidscount.org, the Multilingual Learners in Rhode Island publication includes further context and recommendations on resources for multilingual/English learners and Newcomer students across the state.
Hear more about RI Kids Count’s work in RI Latino News’ Opinion+ Interview with Deputy Director Stephanie Geller below.

Cultural Competence in Hispanic Heart Healthcare

February is American Heart Month, which calls attention to our heart health and risk factors for Cardiovascular disease—the leading cause of death in the U.S. and a leading cause of death for Hispanic and Latino residents across Rhode Island

Heart disease causes 1 out of every 5 deaths in the U.S. In 2020, it was responsible for about 15.8 percent of deaths among Hispanics, according to the CDC.

National research conducted in 2021 showed that Hispanic individuals continue to have higher rates of hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, and diabetes—all risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

However, racial disparities in heart health are nothing new. The American Heart Association issued a scientific statement back in 2014 that called for more culturally competent prevention efforts aimed toward Hispanics/Latinos. 

“Healthcare professionals and researchers need to consider the impact of culture and ethnicity on health behavior and ultimately health outcomes,â€� reads the statement. “There is a need to tailor and develop culturally relevant strategies to engage Hispanics in cardiovascular health promotion…â€�  

“Hispanic/Latino adults in the United States have high prevalence and awareness of vascular risk factors but low adherence to secondary stroke prevention strategies,â€� according to the 2021 study.   

As Rhode Island’s Hispanic population continues to rapidly grow, accessible and culturally informed services and resources on heart health are crucial. 

Over the past decade, the Hispanic or Latino population has increased by nearly 40 percent, according to the US Census Bureau.

“When healthcare providers are fluent in Spanish and demonstrate cultural understanding of the Hispanic culture, an ideal communication and emotional connection between patients and providers is established, fostering trust and empathy,â€� according to Dr. Jorge M. Balaguer of Stony Brook Medicine.  

Medical experts emphasize the importance of prevention and education on heart health. Individuals can greatly lower their risk for heart complications through maintaining healthy lifestyles and monitoring their blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. 

Local Resources Include … 

The Immigrant Coalition of Rhode Island highlights a variety of healthcare services available to immigrants across the state on their website

Included on the list, Clínica Esperanza in Providence has multilingual staff and volunteers who provide culturally-informed medical care to uninsured adults in Rhode Island. The free clinic offers management of chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. 

For more informational resources of heart health and its connection to diabetes, Progreso Latino offers educational videos, screening tests, and other services like its Diabetes Prevention Program.

General Informational Links 

Addressing Juvenile Justice System Disparities

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day from RILN; today reminds us of the progress we have made and the progress that lies ahead in intersectional racial equity in areas such as the U.S. adult and juvenile justice system.

Historic civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested 29 times in his lifetime. His time spent in prison shed light on the racial disparities within the criminal justice system – disparities that persist 60 years later. 

“Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress,� he wrote in 1963, Letter from Birmingham Jail.

While there’s been in-depth research and discussions on the unequal representation of Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous people in the U.S. criminal justice system, advocates are calling attention to the power behind juvenile justice entities. 

“Without that recognition that children and youth have unique needs or will understand and respond differently than adults, we miss a huge opportunity to rehabilitate and promote the future well-being of our youth and communities,� RI Kids Count wrote in Centering Youth Voice in Juvenile Justice Reform.

In the United States, about 1,995 youth are arrested every day, according to The State of America’s Children 2020 report

These youth may be placed on probation or removed from their homes and sent to correctional institutions or other residential facilities. Experts have pointed out major issues with juvenile facilities including exposing youth to further violence and maltreatment, a pervasive overreliance on confinement, along with glaring racial and ethnic disparities. 

“Youth commit only a small portion of the nation’s crime…[and] has also been going down for many years,� according to the Campaign for Youth Justice. “Despite this drop, the United States has the highest rate of youth confinement of any developed country. In 2010, there were 173 youth for every 100,000 in confinement. However, 39% of those who are in confinement are there due to a technical violation of probation, drug offenses, public order offenses, status offenses, and low level property offenses.�

Various reports have all found that youth of color and those with disabilities, along with LGBTQ+ youth are highly overrepresented in the juvenile justice system. 

As of 2021, “Black youth are nine times more likely than white youth to receive an adult prison sentence, American Indian/Alaska Native youth are almost two times more likely, and Hispanic youth are 40 percent more likely,â€� according to the Children’s Defense Fund.   

Research experts estimate between 30 percent to 85 percent of incarcerated youth have a learning disability, making students with disabilities almost three times more likely to be arrested than their peers. 

LGBTQ+ youth make up five to seven percent of the youth population, but 13 to 15 percent of the juvenile justice population, according to the Center for American Progress

RI KIDS COUNT REPORT: Key Findings & Recomendations

Last month, RI Kids Count published Centering Youth Voice in Juvenile Justice Reform. The report highlights the experiences and perspectives of Rhode Island youth (14 to 21 years old) who have come into contact with the juvenile justice system. 

An event to explore and discuss the report’s findings was hosted on Dec. 11 and is available to watch HERE.

Major takeaways included the need to address “the trauma many youth have experienced and continue to experience… unequal access to legal representation and the ability to pay fees…[and] racial and ethnic disparities at all points in the juvenile justice system.�  

Youth participating in the focus groups said they felt intimidated by the entire family court process and did not have a voice in their own case. 

“I think each judge needs to understand that they are talking to a kid…this kid doesn’t know you, so they are uncomfortable,â€� said one youth participant. “They don’t know you and then they’re being watched by other people too. So, it puts you in a place where you don’t really feel like answering.â€�

A community-based alternative to family court are Juvenile Hearing Boards, a process that promotes restorative justice.

“The open dialogue afforded by restorative justice opportunities gets at the root cause of a youth’s actions by centering their voice in the narrative,â€� according to the 2022 report. 

All nine focus group participants identified as youth of color. The groups spoke on experiencing racism in encounters with policing, courts, detention, and probation. 

“We should all be equal and the consequences should all be equal. It shouldn’t be based on your skin or how the judge is feeling that day,â€� said one participant. 

The publication’s recommendations include that more people of color are recruited in all areas of the system and objective screening tools such as the Risk Assessment Instrument are considered at arrest. 

Overall, participants who have been to the Rhode Island Training School said the experience was counterproductive and harmful to their wellbeing—especially to their mental health.

“When I went in there, I wasn’t even 18… but it did change me,â€� said one youth participant. “That’s why I changed, because I was by myself a lot like I couldn’t be around nobody no more…I was just… in my room, depressed, by myself, just like, damn. Then I started being anti-social…â€� 

Child advocates worry that such programs restrict youth’s development instead of providing effective rehabilitation. 

“…treating kids like little adults obviously always does nothing but tarnish them and hurt them and not give them [a] chance to change while their brains are still developing, and their emotional responses are still growing,â€� one caseworker told RI Kids Count.

On crime prevention, participants called for more accessible after-school activities, career entry opportunities, and adult role models from their communities who can relate to them. 

“…The reason why kids are getting into trouble right now, because they don’t have…well everything runs on money… you have to pay for the YMCA, Boys & Girls Club…we don’t have money…we don’t have a job…all we can do is get into trouble,â€� said one youth participant. 

Learn more about the publication’s findings and recommendations for juvenile justice reform at rikidscount.org. 

Winter Raises Concern For Families Of Color Experiencing Homelessness

RI Latino News produces stories focused on the responses to the social determinants of healthEconomic stability means that people have the resources essential to a healthy life. Factors affecting economic stability include affordable housing; employment that provides a living wage; things that support employment, like worker protections, paid sick leave, and child care; and access to reliable transportation.

PROVIDENCE—As over a thousand Rhode Islanders experience homelessness this winter, recent research shows that Hispanic-Latino and Black families disproportionately make up this statistic.

Although Hispanic-Latino residents make up 17.1 percent of the state’s population, they represent 38.6 percent of families living in emergency shelters and transitional housing. About 42.9 percent of unsheltered RI residents identify as Hispanic or Latino, according to 2022 data collected by the RI Coalition to End Homelessness.

The same study showed that Black residents represent 8.8 percent of Rhode Island’s population, but they make up 30.6 percent of families living in emergency shelter and transitional housing and 19.6 percent of families are living without shelter.

“As of November 3rd, there were 1,339 people in Rhode Island who were homeless, including 213 families who were waiting for a place in shelter and 507 people who were sleeping outside—a particularly worrisome statistic as the weather gets colder,� said Deputy Director Stephanie Geller of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT

Individuals and families seeking shelter or affordable housing should contact the RI Coordinated Entry System at (401)277-4316. The helpline currently offers assistance in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole.

“People can call if they’re at risk of being evicted, if they’re living in an unsafe situation and the people at the other end of the line can help connect them with a shelter, apply for affordable housing opportunities, or try to help them brainstorm other immediate solutions to their crisis,� Geller explained on RILN Opinion+.

Extensive research has shown that historically marginalized groups tend to be more vulnerable to experiencing homelessness. Some factors contributing to these disparities include higher unemployment rates, lower incomes, less access to healthcare, and higher incarceration rates among residents of color. 

“The reasons for the disparities are many and varied but tend to fall under the umbrellas of racism and caste,� according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “Throughout American history, private actors have contributed to the status quo, but so has government via actions and inactions resulting in limited housing opportunities, suppressed wages, and other unhelpful outcomes.�

Although Rhode Island has reserved a total of $250 million of the 2023 fiscal year budget to increase affordable housing and homelessness prevention efforts, the state currently lacks sufficient shelter. 

$35 million of the investment is specifically reserved for developing housing solutions for people experiencing homelessness, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. 

The largest obstacle to providing emergency housing is securing spaces for the construction of emergency shelters, as towns and cities continually resist the building of such shelters in their communities. 

Local advocates continue to demand that Rhode Island declare a state of emergency regarding homelessness, which would prioritize the construction of shelters and bypass zoning regulations standing in the way, according to The Brown Daily Herald.

“I know I’ve seen frost on the ground for the first couple of times this week,� Geller said. “I have a lot of concern for people who are trying to survive outside in their cars, or in tents, or in other places where people are not meant to be living, especially if they’re with children.�

RILN sees the public as more than just the audience; you are contributors. To that end, please take our brief survey to help shape our coverage in producing stories on the social determinants of health: healthcare and quality, neighborhood and built environment, education access and quality, social and community context, and economic stability.


RILN Opinion+: Stephanie Geller

Welcome to another episode of Rhode Island Latino News Opinion+, where we talk about major issues the Latinx and other underrepresented communities face in the community.

This week we spoke with Deputy Director Stephanie Geller of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT about youth homelessness, children’s mental health, and educational support for multilingual learners within Rhode Island. 

RI Kids Count is a nonprofit organization based in Providence that has served children, youth, and their families across the Ocean State since 1994. 

Deputy Director Geller first discussed RI Kids Count’s research and efforts to support children and youth experiencing poverty & homelessness across the state.

RI Kids Count published a report this fall that shared data on poverty, income, and health insurance coverage throughout the state. 

Last April, Rhode Island was declared to be in a state of emergency in child and adolescent mental health care. Geller spoke on RI Kids Counts’ recommended steps—published in this report—to address the issue, which included addressing the workforce crisis.

“We’re seeing long waiting lists for a lot of different social services including mental health because we don’t have enough of mental health providers because we’re not adequately paying them,� Geller explained. “So, we really need to look at those fees and make sure we provide adequate payment so that we can have access to more providers in our communities.�

The same report by RI Kids Count found that youth of color were more likely to have their mental health impacted by the pandemic and they were much less likely to receive mental health treatment. 

“One barrier is that there’s a lack of culturally competent and linguistically competent providers so we need to provide access points for more diverse mental health providers to enter the field and for us to provide mental health providers [who] speak all languages that children and families need access to,� Geller said.

Rhode Island’s Hispanic child population grew by 31% between 2000 and 2010, according to a 2021 report by RI Kids Count: Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Children’s Economic Well-Being in Rhode Island. 

“We really need to look at diversity as an asset but we also need to be aware of the disparities we see in children’s economic well-being, educational outcomes, etc. by race and ethnicity and really be honest about the reasons for those disparities and then try to topple them,� Geller said.

Geller also discussed the importance of looking at access to college and generally supporting multilingual students as the state has seen lower rates of high school graduation for multilingual learners than primarily-English speakers.

“Only 23% of Latino students in the class of 2021 went directly to college, compared to 46% of white students,� Geller shared. “So, we really need to think about giving people the financial opportunities, and the guidance cousel[ing] they need, and providing them the support if they’re learning English…so they can succeed because we know education is the primary way out of poverty for many families.�

Resources mentioned in this video:

Democracy in RILN: Voter Access Across New England

Hispanic and Latino Americans are the fastest growing racial and ethnic group in the U.S. electorate, with about 34.5 million Hispanics and Latinos eligible to vote in 2022 – around 62% of all new eligible voters nationally since 2018 are Hispanics and Latinos. 

While the turnout for Hispanic and Latino voters nationwide has increased over the past decade, they still fall behind other groups. Hispanic and Latino voters face a variety of barriers, but efforts to limit voter access are increasing across the country.

Democracy doesn’t properly work when people and communities are blocked or prevented from participating within local, state, and national elections. 

Expanding voting access across the country ensures that communities are accurately and justly represented by its elected officials. 

Advocating for and increasing voting access includes expanding early voting, online voter registration, and same-day voter registration. 

In Rhode Island, three significant barriers to voting were recently removed through the Let RI Vote Act, which was enacted in June. 

The act “allows residents to vote by mail without an excuse, drops the requirement that mail ballots be signed by two witnesses or notarized and makes permanent early in-person voting that was introduced because of the COVID-19 pandemic,� according to The Center for Public Integrity

However, democracy activists argue that the state’s strict voter ID requirements still create a roadblock, especially for voters of color. 

Studies over the past years have found “that voters of color in states across the country lacked access to the needed IDs to vote in their state…Using county-level turnout data around the country, researchers demonstrated that the racial turnout gap grew when states enacted strict voter ID laws,� the Brennan Center reported

In 2020, non-traditional voting — all types of non-election day voting including vote-by-mail and absentee voting — accounted for about 69.4% of the vote, according to Deliver My Vote Executive Director Amanda Pohl.

“Vote-by-mail programs and any early-voting program does provide greater access to the ballot and that supports the basic foundation of our democracy,� Pohl said.

“We had the highest turnout election in modern history,� she added. “We had more people of color [and] young people voting…and more people accessing the ballot who otherwise,� would have not be able to.

Nonprofit leaders at the Vote Local Day discussion on Vote By Mail & Voter ID’s emphasized that the rate of vote-by-mail has increased over the years. They also spoke on how early-voting, vote-by-mail, and absentee ballots have led to greater and more diverse participation throughout the country. 

“Those accessible programs do increase access to voting for disenfranchised communities, especially, and we have some research that we released in February that also shows that young voters and especially voters of color are more likely to vote if they’re given vote-by-mail options,� Pohl said in the discussion.

Although data has found that expanding voter access results in higher participation rates among communities, officials across the U.S. are working to backtrack some of these laws.

“As soon as those things happened, we immediately saw states starting to clamp down on voting methodologies…We’re also seeing backlash from legislatures that don’t want to see that increased participation,â€� Pohl said. 

Since May, almost 400 restrictive bills have been introduced in legislatures across the nation. Some restrictions deny assistance to voters with limited English proficiency, according to the Brennan Center

“Over the past 18 months, there has been a wave of anti-voter bills introduced and passed across the country, many of them designed to undermine the growing political power of Latinos and other communities of color,â€� wrote the Brennan Center. 

Research by the Brennan Center would support the idea that the ongoing increase in voter restrictions are strongly motivated/influenced by “racial backlash�.

“Racial Backlash� is a theory that “describes how white Americans respond to a perceived erosion of power and status by undermining the political opportunities of minorities,� according to the Brennan Center.  

Important Reminders 


RI residents can no longer register at this time. Voter registration by mail, in person, and online ended on Oct. 9. 

Check your registration status at: https://vote.sos.ri.gov/Home/UpdateVoterRecord?ActiveFlag=0&?ref=voteusa_en 

Early Voting

Early voting is available from Oct. 19 to Nov. 7. Learn more at:


Submitting an Absentee Ballot: 

Any voter could have requested a ballot by mail before Oct. 18. 

Ballots by mail must be recieved by Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. EST either by mail or in-person to be counted. 

Track your mail-in ballot at: https://ballottrax.sos.ri.gov/voter/ 

Voting Day:

On Nov. 8, RI Polls are generally open 7a.m. to 8 p.m. (any resident standing in line at the polls at 8 p.m. is able to vote.) Find specific hours by municipality at: https://elections.ri.gov/voting/pollhours.php 

Locate a polling place near you at: 




Additional Resources 


Be The Ones English Local Voter Guide 

Be The Ones Spanish Local Voter Guide 

Vote.org Poll Locator – https://www.vote.org/polling-place-locator/ 

Rhode Island

Common Cause RI Website – https://www.commoncause.org/

3 Questions With Executive Director John Marion Episode – https://rilatinonews.com/category/3-questions-with/ 

Publisher’s note: RI Latino News, under the Latino News Network umbrella, has put together this informational guide with the help of our partner Be The Ones, to help voters make informed decisions not only at the polls, but in their engagement with democracy going forward. 

Collaboration and inclusion are best practices LNN adopted from the Democracy SOS fellowship. LNN is one of 20 U.S.-based newsrooms elected to participate in the Hearken and the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) fellowship, committed to building understanding, trust, and engagement.

Addressing Voting Barriers Among the Latinx Electorate

General local and state elections are quickly approaching so it’s crucial that residents feel informed and motivated to vote on Tuesday, November 8.

While election guides and resources are plentiful in the fall – such as our New England Voting Guide–  many organizations like Common Cause Rhode Island are dedicated to promoting and educating people on local and national democracy all year-round. 

Common Cause is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization committed to upholding democracy across the U.S. with a presence in 30 states and Washington, D.C.

Common Cause RI Executive Director John Marion was this month’s guest on the Latino News Network podcast, “3 Questions With…â€�. 

Marion first spoke on national efforts to address voting misinformation and disinformation, which continues to disproportionately reach Hispanic and Latino communities online. This leads to confusion and frustration among potential Hispanic-Latino voters, possibly turning them away from casting their ballot. 

“We, nationally, have a program called social media monitoring where we recruit volunteers among our supporters and we give them training [on] how to spot misinformation and disinformation,� he told RI Latino News.

The program also shows volunteers how to either fix the factually incorrect information on the social media platform or “how to elevate it so that, ultimately, in some instances it can be reported to the platform itself.â€� 

Marion said the program is always looking for volunteers, particularly Spanish speaking volunteers. 

“Much of [misinformation and disinformation] has been targeting the Spanish language population in the United States and they’re especially vulnerable because platforms haven’t been as good in dealing with [misinformation from] non-English speakers on the platforms.�

For Election Day, residents can sign up as a nonpartisan Election Protection volunteer at ProtectTheVote.net. Anyone with a Rhode Island zip code would be directed to Marion so he can schedule them a one-hour online training session. 

“Once they’ve gone through that training, we assign them to a polling place and they’ll ask them to do a three hour shift on Election Day,â€� Marion explained. These volunteers stand outside with informational English and Spanish literature, looking for voters who might have questions. 

Marion also shared multilingual resources across Rhode Island that aim to support the state’s diverse communities in voting.

“Rhode Island has four communities that under the federal Voting Rights Act have to provide bilingual election services to voters…because of the size of the Spanish language populations in these communities,â€� he explained. 

Providence, Pawtucket, Central falls, and Woonsocket “have to provide ballots in English and Spanish as well as all other voting materials and they’re also supposed to have poll workers who can speak Spanish so they can assist voters.�

“Our Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea has been fantastic in developing resources in multiple languages,� Marion said. Residents can visit Secretary Gorbea’s website — vote.ri.gov — for a variety of information on voting available in English and Spanish

Rhode Island has taken steps, institutionally, over the past decade to get young people registered to vote but Marion emphasized the importance of local organizations and groups to motivate young people to cast their ballots. 

“That is, to me, really the gateway to civic participation: through working with other people that care about issues you care about,â€� he said. 

“Young people need to get involved with organizations that are working on issues they care about,â€� Marion explained. “Whatever issue you care about, find the group that is working on that and start showing up and I think you’ll find like minded people and then you’ll find that politicians are paying attention to your group.â€� 

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Labor Issues Are a Concern Among Central Falls’ Diverse Workers

CENTRAL FALLS AND PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Issues concerning worker’s rights spread across the globe, but in Rhode Island, two cities in particular—Central Falls and Pawtucket—have workers, advocates, and organizations advocating for solutions to wage theft, labor exploitation, low wages, and insufficient healthcare. 

DHL courier and union member Rasche Brown is one of those workers. Brown attended the Teamsters Local 251 Union strike at the DHL Express ServicePoint in Pawtucket on September 9. 

Please Note: The audio of Brown’s interview in the clip below was captured just before the strike had become violent. Police used pepper spray on protestors and five people were arrested and charged. For more on the events of the strike check out reporting by ABC6.

Rasche Brown, a DHL courier and union member, explained the protestor’s demands and why they personally chose to participate in the Teamsters Local 251 Union strike.

“We’re fighting for affordable healthcare and fair labor,� Brown said. “We’re working for peanuts…I have to have open-heart surgery and I can’t have it right now because I need affordable healthcare and working paycheck to paycheck is not helping at all. I’m being dead serious. If you ask anybody they’d say I was supposed to have open heart surgery last Thanksgiving. I can’t afford it and if I don’t get the surgery I’m going to die.�

In nearby Central Falls, Community Coordinator David Molina-Hernandez of Fuerza Laboral said two significant issues his organization is trying to end are “labor exploitation and wage theft, especially among vulnerable communities, especially Latino and immigrant communities.â€� 

Fuerza Laboral is a local nonprofit organization that advocates for workers’ rights within Central Falls, Rhode Island.

Central Falls is home to one of the largest Latino populations in Rhode Island. Hispanics and Latinos make up the largest ethnic group in the city at 69.3% of its total population, according to 2021 census data.

Fuerza Laboral Community Coordinator David Molina-Hernandez at his work station in Central Falls, RI.
Fuerza Laboral Volunteer Jhonny Mendosa is from Venezuela, he’s helping out at the organization while he’s in the U.S. these next few months.

Specifically pertaining to who’s more vulnerable to wage theft, Molina-Hernandez said, “It’s very common in which employers will not pay what’s legal or fair to their employees because they will be undocumented.�

Undocumented immigrants, including those that make up the Latino population in Central Falls, are more vulnerable to wage theft due to being afraid of immigration enforcement and thinking they can’t speak up to their employer because they believe they “don’t have a full book of rightsâ€� as a U.S. citizen would, said Molina-Hernandez. 

A common situation of labor exploitation and wage theft Fuerza might see is when an employer in a field like construction takes advantage of an undocumented latino employee by not providing sufficient pay for the hours they work, Molina-Hernandez said. The employer might pay for 40 hours when the employee worked 80 hours, all without providing any health insurance.

Misclassification of employees is an issue too. People that should be considered employees, employers treat as independent contractors so they can avoid paying certain taxes or can fire them without justification.

Governor Dan McKee speaks at Teamsters Local 251 Union strike at DHL Express ServicePoint in Pawtucket. “Our number one goal in the state of Rhode Island right now is to increase people’s incomes and that’s why you’re standing here today: benefits and incomes,� said McKee.

Central Falls resident Raul Ortega, while not in the labor industry, had experienced a form of wage theft at a car dealership he worked for in Massachusetts. 

“[Wage theft] happened to me in a past job where the company wasn’t paying out in overtime what they were supposed to be paying,� said Ortega.

Ortega is currently unemployed and said he wants to start his own car dealership. 

Both Molina-Hernandez and Brown had suggested asking local politicians how much they know about worker’s rights issues in the area and how they might try and help workers in the two cities out.

A partial solution RI State Senator Jonathon Acosta and RI State Representative Joshua Giraldo mentioned for worker’s rights issues was supporting the development of cooperatives in the state. 

Cooperatives are “businesses owned by ‘member-owners’� and they are “democratically controlled by their member-owners and unlike a traditional business, each member gets a voice in how the business is run. Services or goods provided by the co-op benefit and serve the member-owners,� according to the University of Alaska Anchorage.

“I think the cooperative bill is one way, it’s one step but it’s also about making sure that we have the bureaucratic capacity to enforce the labor regulations that we have on the books,â€� RI State Senator Jonathon Acosta said. 

RI State Senator Jonathon Acosta (Democrat, District 16 Central Falls, Pawtucket) discussing his thoughts on how supporting co-ops can help with labor issues in Rhode Island.

“I was a big supporter of the bill put forth from the attorney general’s office that would make wage theft a felony…I feel like it really compliments the initiative I have,â€� RI State Representative Joshua Giraldo said. 

RI State Representative Joshua Giraldo (Democrat, District 56, Central Falls) discussing his support of bill S 2775 to make wage theft a felony in Rhode Island; it is currently classified as a misdemeanor.  

Ortega said he thought Acosta supporting the development of co-ops was a good idea. “That’s definitely the right move to do,� said Ortega. “It’s an equal thing. Everybody gets a piece of the pie.�

“With co-ops, since everybody’s their own bosses and their own workers, you will be fighting labor injustice in that way,â€� said Molina-Hernandez. 

Co-founder and Executive Director of LUNA Community Care Casey Gallagher supported the idea of developing cooperatives throughout the state. LUNA is the first disabled workers cooperative in the United States, Gallagher said. 

“In a workers cooperative, we’re able to really teach everybody the basics of the business and work off of people’s strengths, but also take care of one another,â€� said Gallagher.  

LUNA Community Care Co-founder/Executive Director Casey Gallagher (far left), Co-founder/Worker-Owner Tara L. Boulais (mid-left), Worker-Owner Jeremiah Rainville (mid right), and Worker-Owner Sy Bedrick (far right).

In this audio slideshow, Gallagher provides more info on LUNA Community Care. The cooperative held a ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday, September 26, to celebrate the full opening of its programming, which includes classes, support groups, and special interest clubs, Gallagher said.  

“It is really a space where all disabled workers have equity… to give and receive support to one another, engage in special interests, [and] meet other community members,� Gallagher said.

In this audio slideshow, Gallagher provides more info on LUNA Community Care. The cooperative held a ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday, September 26, to celebrate the full opening of its programming, which includes classes, support groups, and special interest clubs, Gallagher said.

Publisher’s Notes: This story is from Latino News Network’s partnership with Roger Williams University in supporting students’ community-driven elections coverage, possible by grants from the Center for Cooperative Media’s Democracy Day and the American Press Institute.

Latino News Network and Be The Ones Announce Partnership

Latino News Network (LNN) and Be The Ones are proud to announce their partnership to help constituents be well informed and prepared to participate in down-ballot races (local & state races) this November. The multi-layered communication and education campaign equips voters with accessible, clear, factual information to better understand which positions are on the ballot and how these officials impact issues like reproductive justice and voting access. 

While 32 million Latinos are eligible to vote in the U.S., only 53.7% cast a ballot in 2020. Research shows lack of easy to understand and accessible information is a barrier to participation. Local civic & voter education is essential if we want to increase participation. 

State and local officials shape our lives. They make decisions impacting everything from kids’ education, immigration policies, expanding healthcare, and voter access. With 99% of elections this year being state & local positions, we have an opportunity to meet people where they are and help them see the value their vote has in their community. 

Be The Ones is a nonpartisan organization working to increase local civic participation through accessible education campaigns. This fall their work is centered around educating voters on 10 local & state positions through their bilingual Local Voters Guide & hosting Vote Local Day on Saturday, October 8th. 

“Be The Ones is thrilled to work alongside Latino News Network to help make sure the voices of our communities are heard in this very important election. We know voting is just one tool in our toolbox that impacts access, opportunity and freedom. While our work is currently focused on preparing folks for November, we look forward to expanding our partnership with Latino News Network as we continue to strengthen the Hispanic-Latino community’s participation in our democracy,â€�  says Cate Mayer, Founder & Director of Be The Ones.

Hugo Balta, Owner, and Publisher of LNN commented on the partnership, saying, “We’re excited to work with an organization that aims to equip voters with clear, factual information that will help them confidently elect the local leaders they want to represent them and their community. Our newsroom takes a collaborative approach to prioritize communities through solutions-focused reporting rather than problem-focused.�

This partnership is part of a project called Democracy Day, in which newsrooms across the country are shining a light on threats to democracy and what action is needed to protect it. At Rhode Island Latino News (RILN), as it is with all of our sister news outlets under the Latino News Network banner , we’re not neutral about democracy. It fuels our commitment to serve the public, our belief in empowering an active citizenry.

Collaboration and inclusion are best practices LNN adopted from the Democracy SOS fellowship. LNN is one of 20 U.S.-based newsrooms elected to participate in the Hearken and the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) fellowship, committed to building understanding, trust, and engagement.

About LNN

The Latino News Network (LNN) oversees five independent statewide coverage, Hispanic-Latino editorial focus English language news and information websites in New England and the Midwest.

LNN’s mission is to provide greater visibility and voice to Hispanics-Latinos, amplify the work of others in doing the same, give young journalists mentoring and real work experience, and apply the principles of solutions journalism in its investigative reporting.

Learn more about our work: https://latinonewsnetwork.com/, Twitter: https://twitter.com/LatinoNewsNet_ / Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/latino-news-network/

About Be The Ones

Be The Ones is a nonpartisan organization working to increase local civic participation through accessible education campaigns. We blend technology, community partnerships and storytelling to rally Americans to be more informed and ready to participate in local civic activities – from the ballot box to the pesky pothole down the street. 
Information and knowledge are power. When we provide information that’s easy to understand, engaging and relatable, constituents become actively invested in the future of our communities. Learn more about our work and join us: www.BeTheOnes.org / Instagram: @LetsBeTheOnes  / Twitter: @LetsBeTheOnes

Cover Photo Courtesy: Dan Dennis on Unsplash