To assist readers in making their choices in the coming elections, Street Sights asked for responses to four questions from 31 candidates for office, including U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, and several Rhode Island General Assembly districts in west Providence, Pawtucket, and Central Falls. The newspaper received five responses to the questions, from Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy; Congressman James Langevin; Kenneth A. Capalbo, an independent challenging Kennedy in the 1st Congressional District; Mark S. Zaccaria, a Republican challenging Langevin in the 2nd Congressional District; and Elizabeth Crowley, candidate for state General Assembly in District 16 in Central Falls. The four questions, followed by the candidates’ responses, appear below:
Working through either existing organizations or new initiatives, how do you plan to develop housing and other economic and social supports for homeless people in Rhode Island?
What is your plan for providing relief for both homeowners and renters who lost their homes as a result of the sub-prime mortgage crisis?
What is your proposal to help ease the high cost of heating for low-income Rhode Islanders this winter?
How do you propose to restore the fiscal health of the Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority (RIPTA) system, so that public bus service will not be reduced?
Congressman Patrick Kennedy (Dem), Incumbent for U.S. Congress, District 1
1. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I have long fought for the funding which is essential to a successful supportive housing program. A number of studies have begun to prove what we’ve known for a long time: supportive housing saves us significant amounts of money by reducing emergency room visits, law enforcement and other state costs. In addition to bricks and mortar, it’s absolutely essential that we fund the services our homeless population needs like mental health and substance abuse treatment. That’s why I will continue to advocate for the Grants for the Benefit of Homeless Individuals Program administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.
2. I recently voted in favor of the American Housing Rescue & Foreclosure Prevention Act, H.R. 3221, which will help families facing foreclosure and help other families avoid foreclosures in the future. This legislation will enable those who are in danger of losing their home to refinance into lower-cost government-insured mortgage – at no cost to the American taxpayer. To assist communities, the act provides opportunities for foreclosed homes to be sold or rented to moderate income individuals and families, and at least 25 percent of the funds would be targeted to low-income and very low-income persons and households. This bill was signed into law on July 30.
3. I recently wrote to President Bush, along with my New England colleagues, urging him to release emergency funding for low income heating assistance. I was pleased to see that the President has announced Rhode Island will receive an additional $1.9 million. The state’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is an essential program for our state’s most vulnerable citizens. I also joined my colleagues earlier this year to press the Administration for additional $2.5 billion in funding for this coming winter and I will continue to push for these critical funds.
4. The last thing we need to be doing in tough economic times is cutting people’s access to public transportation. We’re going to have a hard time keeping jobs in our state if our residents can’t afford to get to work. Since I know that tough decisions need to be made in Rhode Island and statehouses across the country, I’ve supported legislation that will invest $1.7 billion in expanding public transportation and helping transit agencies defray rapidly increasing costs. As a nation, we can’t afford to make our states choose between fiscal responsibility and making the right investments.
Ken Capalbo (Ind), Candidate for U.S. Congress, District 1
1. In these difficult financial times, it is hard to believe that at the same time that so many houses are left unoccupied, vandalized, and contribute to urban blight, we have other people who do not even have a roof over their head. The federal government can justify borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out big business. A plan should be developed to buy up whole areas of foreclosed houses, renovate the properties, and create affordable housing. This would create jobs, provide affordable housing, create taxable properties, and build strong neighborhoods.
2. I again point to the vast sums of money being borrowed. I agree with our congressmen who want a guarantee of a plan to provide help to those who have lost their homes to foreclosure, or are in danger of losing their homes. This could come in the form of forcing the owners of these loans to renegotiate the terms of the loans in return for any government help. How many home foreclosures would there be if the banks and mortgage companies were forced to eliminate the increase in cost to homeowners of adjustable rate mortgages?
3. I would seek to increase funding of the Low Income Energy Assistance Program to reflect the increase in cost of energy. It is a matter of priorities. We are willing to spend hundreds of billions of dollars each year to keep us safe from terrorism. Should we not be willing to spend a small per cent of that to keep our people warm?
4. The only way to insure that public bus service will not be reduced is to increase funding to the Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority (RIPTA). With the increased cost of energy, it is obviously going to cost more to provide the service. The increase in operating expenses should be borne by both the riding public and an increase in the government subsidy. Mass transportation is (or should be) a more efficient way of moving people from point A to point B, and therefore it is in everyone’s best interest to see that it is a success. This is only a short term solution to the problem. In the long term, alternative sources of energy need to be developed to reduce the cost of the fuel needed to power the RIPTA buses.
Congressman Jim Langevin (Dem), Incumbent for U.S. Congress, District 2
1. The plight of the homeless is not limited to just our state and local governments. We must address it at the federal level by providing assistance to local communities that are struggling to help families meet basic needs. The Food, Conservation and Energy Act, which was passed earlier this year with my support, included increased funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program), and will help our local food banks meet increased demands. I have also supported increased funding for programs, such as the Community Development Block Grant and Head Start, which will help our local organizations that help our most at-risk communities. I also was proud to support the Housing and Economic Recovery Act that established an Affordable Housing Trust Fund. In our current economic situation, it is imperative that we develop affordable housing.
2. Over the past year I have worked to help families who have been impacted by the recent housing crisis by hosting workshops in my district to provide counseling and other resources to those facing foreclosure. I was also proud to support the Housing and Economic Recovery Act, which was signed into law on July 30, and will help families facing foreclosure keep their homes, help other families avoid foreclosures in the future, and help the recovery of communities harmed by empty homes caught in the foreclosure process. I have also supported the extension of unemployment benefits, which is critically important in Rhode Island, where unemployment reached 8.5 percent in August.
3. I am very concerned with the price of home heating oil this winter, and I am especially worried for the well-being of our most vulnerable citizens, the elderly, disabled, and low-income Rhode Islanders who often choose between food, medicine, and home heating oil. I have been a longtime supporter of ensuring that Congress authorize and appropriate adequate funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). In addition to working to increase funding for LIHEAP, including advocating for additional funds to be added to an economic stimulus package, I am also supporting a comprehensive national energy policy to bring both short and long-term solutions to our nation’s energy crisis. On September 16, I voted in support of the Comprehensive American Energy Security and Consumer Protection Act, which included provisions to allow responsible drilling off our coasts with a strong investment in the development of clean, renewable, and efficient energy resources.
4. As our nation continues to develop a national energy policy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and slow down the effects of global warming, it is critical to invest in public transportation and infrastructure, so that Rhode Islanders do not have to rely on their cars to travel throughout the state. Specifically, I have worked with my colleagues in Congress to secure funding for new RIPTA buses through the federal appropriations process. I also voted for the Comprehensive American Energy Security and Consumer Protection Act, which authorizes $1.7 billion for additional transit grants to states to help mitigate fare increases causes by high fuel costs or the purchase of clean-fuel or alternative-fuel vehicle-related equipment.
Mark Zaccaria (Rep), Candidate for U.S. Congress, District 2
1. The key factor in the reduction of homelessness and also in the improvement of services to those who remain in that category is the rapid development of a sustainable expansion of the productive economy in America. Our culture and our prosperity are tied directly to our economic performance. As the economy grows, so do the resources that are available for use by existing social outreach programs. Without a growing economy, no existing programs can operate at specification and no new ones can be contemplated. And the way to achieve that sustainable growth? In short, we must tailor the expenditures of the federal government to match the current record income that our national treasury enjoys. This will get the Feds out of the borrowing business and thus free up funds for capital formation in the economy.
2. The nation learned a painful lesson in the aftermath of the sub prime mortgage crisis. We learned that lenders should pay more attention to their fiduciary responsibility to make loans only where they can be discharged successfully. Similarly, mortgagees learned that they must be sophisticated consumers of credit, taking care to agree to obligations conservatively and insure the protection of their equity. Going forward, the fastest way for government to aid all parties in the housing market is to effect that sustainable expansion of the productive economy described above. With the federal government out of the borrowing business interest rates will go down and employment rates will go up. This shift in the economic environment will include a larger number of our citizens in the mortgageable category. After that, training resources should be created by government and made available so that future buyers and financers will avoid the sub prime trap.
3. Congress has the power in its hands to lower the cost of home heating oil by perhaps as much as 30 percent within a few weeks of taking action. It is unfortunate Congress did not act before taking its summer recess. That oversight may still have tragic consequences this winter. Simply by acting positively on a meaningful plan to increase domestic supplies of crude oil the Congress of the United States would immediately dampen the speculative upward pressure on oil prices. Those prices would quickly return to their economic baseline which should be between $65 and $75 per barrel. This short-term fix would only give us five years or so at those price levels. During that window it is incumbent upon us to step up technology development so that alternative sources of energy can begin to fill in for oil as we transition to a hydrogen based economy.
4. The first and foremost action Congress can take in that regard is to lower the price of oil as a motor fuel. This would have an immediate positive impact on RIPTA’s operating costs which would enable it to operate profitably. By enacting an aggressive program of domestic oil exploration and oil production Congress could affect the price of oil immediately. Then Congress should encourage the Executive Branch to use existing grant funding at universities to do the basic science needed to improve productive yields for photo-voltaic cells, capacitance storage of electricity for vehicles, biomass production of motor fuels, and the like. The emergence of all these and other similar technologies in the public domain would provide opportunity for entrepreneurs in the productive economy to create the products needed to lower RIPTA operating costs even further.
Elizabeth Crowley (Dem), Candidate for R.I. General Assembly, District 16 in Central Falls
1. I believe that we need to continue to support Rhode Island Housing, providing as many low cost mortgages to low and moderate income individuals. In order to add additional programs we need to study the current state budget as well as any proposed budget changes made by the Governor. I certainly would support any measures that would at least keep the present appropriations for this bill. The only way to help to reduce and eliminate homelessness is to provide job counseling for the able bodied and try to maintain shelters by applying assistance from public and private funds.
2. I believe that the sub prime crisis must be solved on a national level, since the market crisis and the crisis in the lending community is out of control. I would seek federal intervention that would assist homeowners in jeopardy of loosing their homes to help create a longer lending period. for example if a person has a 30year fixed rate allow the lender to increase that to 40 years fix thus reducing the monthly payment which might help the individual meet their obligation. I would also ask the lender in process of foreclosing on multifamily units to create some sort of agreement with the tenants that would allow them to maintain the property and stay in their homes at a reasonable cost or mortgage amount owed by the property owner until one of them can purchases the home or a new investor can purchase the property. This would reduce the prospect of family homelessness. Often in the case of multi-family foreclosures the tenants are left without any homes and are required to move. The property is then boarded up. This creates a hazard to the community.
3. Since I will not be in office until January, any legislation I would propose would probably have no affect on people needing heating assistance this winter. The best I could offer is to ask that some sort of a scale of cost be assessed to low-income people needing a boost in heating their homes.
4. RIPTA is without a doubt a major concern for the Legislature. We need to promote more public transportation in the State which in turn would provide a brighter economic future for the state. People need to get back and forth to work and we need to reduce the amount of commuter traffic we have going to Providence and other major Cities in this state. We need to have some sort of incentive program for people who use the bus and train to commute back and forth to work. That incentive could be in the form of a tax credit to working individuals who commute by bus or train to work. In order to do that we cannot be reducing the morning and late afternoon bus route and we may have to increase route in the suburbs in order to achieve this goal.