Westerly – I caught up with the the General Treasurer last night when she rolled into South County to visit with the Rotary Club of Westerly. Topics of discussion revolved around Treasury programs aimed at providing financial literacy support programs to Rhode Island’s citizenry.
As posted on TraceyC-Media.com (2/24/14)…
Rotary Welcomes Raimondo, Treasury’s Programs to Town
by Tracey C. O’Neill
Monday’s meeting of the Rotary Club of Westerly brought General Treasurer, Gina Raimondo to town to speak about Treasury’s community support programs.
The State’s General Treasurer addressed more than a dozen Rotary members gathered at Venice Restaurant providing information on her Financial Literacy program, the Crime Victims Compensation Fund and the Unclaimed Property initiative.
“At the core of what I’ve done as Treasurer is to try and make government work,” said Raimondo. “I’m a believer that good government is necessary to level the playing field and provide opportunity, but it has to work. If pensions are bankrupting cities and towns, that’s not government working. If government is inefficient or bureaucratic and ineffective, that’s not government working.”
Pension reform and good government to move RI forward
Questions and commentary turned quickly to the Treasurer’s work on pension reform and the recent settlement agreement forged by Raimondo, Governor Lincoln Chafee and several union leaders under the purview of Federal mediators.
“I came into office after ten years in the private sector with the desire to fix this state that I love, the state I live in – that I started my business in. Let me tell you, I’ve never seen it as bad as it is today,” she said.
“Pension reform. That’s what I worked hardest on. We got 90 percent of the General Assembly to vote for a bill. It saved the taxpayers of Rhode Island over $4 billion over the next 20 years,” she said. “It was never us versus them. It was two things – the courage to face tough issues and the ability to bring people together.”
Addressing the many components of financial literacy facing many of Rhode Island’s families, Raimondo said it wasn’t acceptable that Rhode Island holds a 9 percent unemployment rate and that its citizens aren’t able to feed their families.
“We can move the state forward by making each family in the state a little more secure,” she said.
One of her many initiatives was the elimination of Payday Lending in the State of Rhode Island. Predatory lending practices and high interest rates were just two of the reasons the Treasurer bulleted.
“I think this state should outlaw Payday Lenders,” she said “I’m on a great effort, as part of my financial literacy efforts to get the General Assembly to outlaw payday lenders. Banks and credit unions can charge up to 36 percent interest, with Payday lenders allowed up to 260 percent interest. If they want to stay, they can charge 36 percent. They don’t need 260 percent.”
Raimondo also explained at length changes and improvements made to the Crime Victims Compensation Fund, a federally funded program for victims of violent crimes. When Raimondo took office in 2011, there were 900 claims backlogged. Some of the victims had been waiting for a return phone call since 2007. Raimondo said that it wasn’t an example of good government.
The Treasurer’s office made changes to the program, automating some of the system, eliminating bureaucratic steps and replacing some of the people in the department. In one year the backlog was gone. The program’s efficiency improved, the department now returns all calls within two weeks’ time.
The program, per Raimondo also expanded since she took over, including domestic violence victims. Funds are made available through the program to victims of domestic violence so they can relocate and remove themselves from dangerous life situations.
“What am I doing?” she asked. “That’s what I’m doing and I’m very proud of it.”
Access to Information, Government Transparency and Availability
All of the programs available through Treasury are available on the General Treasurer’s website. An advocate of government accountability, Raimondo made the state’s operating budget and investment data available to the general public through the Transparency and Accountability Portal.
“I’m committed to transparency,” said Raimondo. “Everything I’ve done as Treasurer was to go above and beyond to be more transparent. All the pension fund fees are online. We are one of the few pension systems in the country that puts it all online. We have an investor’s relations portal that puts all of the state’s financial information online.”
“I also do a lot of outreach to the community. The work we’re doing on domestic violence and crime victims, we’re bringing it out to the communities,” said Raimondo. “We’re even doing training programs for police and first responders so they know what’s available and they can pass on the information, make it available to the victims.”