Make it Happen: Investing for Rhode Island's Future

Make it Happen: Progress Report

Read on for an update from Neil D. Steinberg, the Foundation's president and CEO, regarding Make it Happen: Investing for Rhode Island's Future.

Dear Friend,

I’m excited to write today with an update regarding the Make It Happen: Investing for Rhode Island’s Future initiative that we launched earlier this year. Our goal, working with a diverse, experienced, 15-member steering committee, the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC), and the Economic Progress Institute (EPI), is to pull together a handful of transformative recommendations – to share with the public, and state leaders, as they decide how to spend the $1.1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds that the state is receiving from the federal government.

The emphasis of our work is to recommend sustainable, transformative investments to be made over the three years allowed under ARPA. We are not focused primarily on funding existing programs or state-level initiatives, nor is our work intended to inform how ARPA funding that cities and towns, or the state, will receive for specific things – such as education or rent relief – will be allocated. That said, our hope is that the recommendations we make will complement other local and state-level ARPA-funded investments.

The steering committee has been working together for many months, first with a focus on establishing guiding principles for our collective effort that are consistent with the stated intent of this once-in-a-generation federal funding. The guiding principles are focused on equity, sustainability, impact, and process – read more about them here.

The group has also kept close watch on the guidance from federal and state officials regarding the fact that these funds should be spent in ways that support those most impacted by COVID-19, particularly in historically marginalized communities. We see this as an incredible opportunity for real investment that pushes us closer to equity – investment in people and places that need it the most.

As we indicated when we first announced this effort, we will provide recommendations in the coming weeks that focus on three to five “big ideas” that – if invested in – will move Rhode Island forward. In addition, we also believe that the structure for implementation, capacity, and oversight regarding the use of these funds will be critical to bringing about the positive and focused impact that is intended in the American Rescue Plan Act.

The recommendations we make will be informed by a number of things:

  • Rigorous policy analysis by the teams from the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council and the Economic Progress Institute;
  • Dialogue among steering committee members at the regular meetings we’ve had over the last few months, continuing through September;
  • And, significant public and stakeholder input. When this effort was first announced we made a general call for ideas, then a more specific call in early summer – offering community members an opportunity to submit ideas via email and an online toolkit (we received nearly 400 submissions), RIPEC and EPI have also conducted many stakeholder conversations (hearing from over 140 people), we commissioned five focus groups to hear directly from community members hardest hit by COVID, and we’re working with six local nonprofit organizations to host 11 community visioning sessions throughout the state.

Developing ideas regarding how best to leverage the opportunities these dollars present is something we’ve taken very seriously. Thanks to the support of the steering committee, many engaged community members, and our partners across sectors this process is robust, rigorous, inclusive, and unique – by design.

With that, we look forward to presenting the report to the public, the Governor, and legislative leaders early this fall. Our hope is that the recommendations will be strongly considered, and that state leaders will engage in deliberations and decision-making that truly reflect the importance of this focused and exciting opportunity.

Thank you,