Steinberg says R.I. Foundation will soon submit ‘big’ ideas to state on how to spend ARPA funds

PROVIDENCE – During the Rhode Island Foundation’s annual meeting held virtually Monday, CEO and President Neil D. Steinberg in his formal address touched on several key initiatives and accomplishments the foundation made during a difficult year plagued by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Back in April, the foundation launched an initiative, called “Make it Happen: Investing for Rhode Island’s Future,” to develop recommendations on how the Ocean State can spend the $1.1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funding and submit those to the state. Those recommendations, Steinberg said, are set to be submitted soon.

Steinberg said in working with the R.I. Public Expenditure Council and the Economic Progress Institute, the foundation will submit by early fall to Gov. Daniel J. McKee and state legislators three to five “big ideas” for utilizing the federal funds through 2024. Steinberg said equity, sustainability, impact and a transparent process are the guiding principles for determining how the state should spend the $1.1 billion to help the state recover from the pandemic.

It is unclear though what those ideas are as of yet. Rhode Island Foundation spokesperson Chris Barnett said work is still ongoing to formulate those ideas. Barnett said the foundation received close to 400 submitted ideas from the community. Plus, both RIPEC and EPI heard from more than 140 people during stakeholder conversations sharing their thoughts on how to spend the federal funds.

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Steinberg also spoke about the foundation’s record-setting year of giving in 2020. Last year, the foundation gave $87 million in grants to more than 2,200 organizations. Additionally, Steinberg said the foundation raised approximately $68 million, including more than $20 million in immediate COVID-19 aid. The foundation’s endowment currently stands at $1.3 billion, Steinberg said.

“While we stepped up above and beyond to meet COVID-19 needs, we continued our important ongoing work to enhance philanthropy working with generous donors of all sizes to make their dreams come true, to support education, health, economic security, housing, the arts, the environment, basic human needs and so much more,” Steinberg said.

Other initiatives the foundation created in 2020 and this year that Steinberg noted Monday were:

While significant assistance was offered by the foundation over the last 18 months, Steinberg said the pandemic is not over and the broad and uneven impact in the community does not go away even if everyone gets vaccinated. He said underserved communities that have been impacted by bias and racial inequity have “a long way to go” and leaders need to end the disparities that have gone on too long now.

“We need our leaders at all levels to actually lead – there are those that are named leaders and those who actually lead,” he said. “We need to push them to address the complex issues – not just the popular ones – to see what really is and to strive for what should be. Our leaders need to be accountable for the equitable distribution of funds to help many.”

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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