EDITORIAL

Doing right by our youth, veterans

Posted

There’s nothing that can polarize people in any Democratic society quite like how our tax money is spent.

Nobody enjoys paying taxes, but they play a critical role in any town or city to pay for the things we take for granted every day – trash collection; roads to drive on and plows to shovel them when weather gets bad; sewers to remove our waste; and running, potable water, to name a few key ones.

It’s the other uses that tend to cause strife – such as how money is allocated to our schools. Do we fund charters despite the potential negative benefit this may cause to our public schools? Do we fund programs that subsidize housing for those who can’t afford adequate housing? Do we fix playgrounds or beautify streets to try and increase consumerism and help the economy?

In a state budget like Rhode Island’s, which Governor Gina Raimondo proposed for FY19 to encompass $9.37 billion, there is a dizzying amount of variety that goes into how our tax dollars are allocated, and how they will be put to use. You may agree or disagree with the priorities within that budget, but the idea is to be able to do a little bit of everything with limited resources while managing debt and, hopefully, setting yourself up financially better for years to come.

In Warwick within the past week, there were two events that outlined areas of need that everybody should be able to get behind – funding for veterans services and funding for young people to pursue an education.

On Tuesday, over 100 guidance counselors descended onto the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) to learn about the Rhode Island Promise program, which is a last-dollar scholarship program that provides free education to high school students looking to enroll full time at CCRI. It only kicks in after all other forms of financial aid and scholarships have been applied.

In its first effective period of enrollment, CCRI saw an increase of 43 percent in its new, full-time freshmen enrollment, from 1,100 to 1,577 who registered for the most recent fall semester. This included a 54 percent increase in students who receive Pell Grants (indicative of lower-income students) and a 62 percent increase in students of color.

What this means is that a significantly higher number of high school kids, many of who may never have pursued any higher education, now not only had the chance to, but also went through with it. These kids may go on to become doctors, educators, business owners or other valuable contributors to the state.

The total cost of the first year of this program was $2.7 million, meaning it cost less than $3 per person in Rhode Island to fund – not exactly a bank breaker. Raimondo upped the program’s funding to $3.6 million for FY19 and, while this has not been approved yet, of course, it would still cost less than a single large coffee for the average person to help potentially fund the educational dreams of scores of young, hopeful students in the state. That is a good tax dollar investment.

On Wednesday, Ocean State Job Lot led an initiative, along with about two dozen other local and state companies, to fund free memberships for military service veterans for one year – giving them access to all of the health benefits and community inclusion that comes from attending a YMCA.

While this is not a taxpayer-borne cost, it serves as a perfect example of financial selflessness as part of a worthy cause. Too often, veterans are given empty platitudes by individuals or government entities, and not provided any financial assistance to help with their very real, unrelenting issues that often develop following traumatic or highly stressful periods abroad during their service. Job Lot, the YMCA and the companies donating to the cause, are putting their money where their mouths are – to the benefit of those who need it.

Some taxpayer money goes towards subsidizing housing for veterans, some goes to providing healthcare to veterans, but is it enough? One doesn’t need to search to find veterans who are dissatisfied or outright appalled at the state of the Department of Veterans Affairs, but is this not simply another government entity that is grossly underfunded and stretched too thin? Couldn’t we all pony up more? Shouldn’t we?

If we are truly serious about funding the future minds who will shape our society decades from now, and if we truly care about the service of those who fought hellish battles so we didn’t have to, we have to be prepared to open our wallets and purses and help bear the costs associated with these endeavors.

It is one thing to criticize areas in a budget that one deems wasteful, but it is far more useful to provide examples of where our money can be better spent. Education and helping our veterans are two very worthwhile suggestions.

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