RI Office of Healthy Aging Director Rose Jones Explains the weR1 Rhode Island Fund

The campaign aims to help families who can't access or benefit from federal or emergency relief programs during the Covid-19 pandemic.
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The effects of Covid-19 have been drastic across the country, leaving many in urgent need of support for the future in numerous ways. In our small state of Rhode Island, we’ve seen slow, yet steady progress towards rebuilding our community, whether through statewide efforts or smaller scales. But we wanted to focus on one of the new initiatives working to support the most vulnerable members of our community the weR1 Rhode Island Fund; a collaborative effort between the government, community and philanthropic organizations raising the necessary funds to distribute to Rhode Islanders struggling with Covid-19-related issues. We talked with Rose Jones, director of the RI Office of Healthy Aging, who is helping to lead the campaign to learn more about its founding principles, process, future goals and how you can help or qualify for eligibility.

 

RI Monthly: Can you tell us a little about your work at the Office of Healthy Aging in RI? 

Rose Jones: The Office of Healthy Aging’s mission is all about empowering Rhode Islanders to age strong. We are all united in the aging process but our core constituents are people over the age of fifty-five, adults living with disabilities and family caregivers, so that’s about one third of the population.

 

What led you to helping lead the campaign?

Those at greatest risk [of Covid-19] are folks with underlying health conditions and older folks. [Since the pandemic], our work has taken on some heightened significance, and we had to very quickly mobilize at the state level with many partners. Thankfully Governor Raimondo has established ten workstreams to guide our response (contending with testing, PPE, contact tracing.) One of those workstreams is supporting those in quarantine and isolation, which I led. We’re still continuing to try and meet the needs of those who need help the most, and that’s where weR1 comes into play. A lot of families are locked out of federal programs intentionally, specifically because of immigration status or they can’t benefit from emergency relief programs. weR1 is how we begin to address that. It’s not a magic pill, but we hope it’s going to help a bit by providing cash assistance.

 

How does the program work and what has been accomplished so far?

We don’t feel that it’s right [that some folks can’t benefit from certain programs,] and we felt we had to do something to support one another. All Rhode Islanders have been impacted in some way, but there are certain communities that have just been devastated, like essential workers (where many undocumented Rhode Islanders work). There is no unemployment compensation, no income replacement for these workers. You can’t pay rent, can’t feed your kids…

Our initial goal was to privately raise 3 million dollars. We launched the fund with $575,000, crowdsourced nearly $200,000 and raised the remainder through major gifts. We’re definitely thrilled, especially because so many people have stepped forward offering to help and we’re continuing to fundraise. We partnered with the Rhode Island Foundation, Dorcas International (our primary community partner) and many other community groups. We’re not just relying on one. We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. Our mindset is very much working with the community, not for. We wanted an opportunity also to support a diverse group of nonprofit organizations, fifteen in addition to Dorcas.

[What we’re providing now are] no-fee $400 debit cards to approximately 7,000 households in Rhode Island, which is half of the undocumented households in Rhode Island. We’ve distributed about 300 cards in our first week. We choose debit over cash or credit because speed of execution is the goal: we need to preserve privacy, prevent fraud and abuse, and have a way of tracking purchasing trends. We’re all about getting the money out in a streamlined eligibility process.

 

How does one claim eligibility for a debit card?

We have three basic criteria: you must be a Rhode Island resident, be financially impacted by Covid-19 and currently not eligible for unemployment or other public benefits. To apply, contact Dorcas or our other community partners, and they’ll walk you through the application process and then review the forms. The card will be loaded at the distribution point to the person with a unique pin. The goal here is that folks feel safe and supported in coming forward and requesting assistance. This is a community-driven process, not state run, but state-supported. We wanted to stress that the applicant’s personal information is not shared and will be destroyed sixty days after it is received.”

 

What are your future goals you hope to achieve with this program within the state of Rhode Island? Will this be a long-standing fund?

We’re only a few weeks in, but we already hit our initial fundraising goal and now our mindset is the sky’s the limit. We want to serve as many people as possible, so as long as there are people in need, we’ll continue to fundraise.

 

How do I donate?

We’re very happy so many Rhode Islanders are coming forward to help in any way possible. People can donate by texting weR1 to 27126 and you’ll get a link to donate. You can also go to the Rhode Island Foundation or Dorcas website to donate, or send a check. Donations are very much still accepted and appreciated.

 

 

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