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RI Early Intervention providers can use COVID money for staff

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island’s health and human services agency released details Monday regarding how Early Intervention providers will be allowed to use millions in federal COVID-19 relief money.

The guidance comes in the wake of Gov. Dan McKee and legislative leaders announcing on Dec. 6 that more than $9 million is expected to be made available for the federal program, which is designed to help newborn to three-year-old toddlers experiencing development delays.

In recent weeks, all nine of the state’s Early Intervention providers stopped accepting new referrals amid what they describe as a crisis caused by a workforce shortage.

“We don’t have the capacity in the Early Intervention to see new children who have been diagnosed with a developmental delay,” said David Caprio, president and CEO of Children’s Friend, one of the nine providers.

“It’s just a travesty,” he added.

Caprio told Target 12 that Early Intervention providers have until Wednesday to turn in applications for funding and they will subsequently learn what they’re receiving on Friday. The instructions were revealed as part of a Zoom meeting held with state officials on Monday, he added, saying the funding will be made available on or before Dec. 31.

State officials said Early Intervention will receive about $3.6 million immediately from leftover CARES Act money, which is controlled by the governor and needs to be allocated by Dec. 31. Another $5.5 million is expected to be approved by the R.I. General Assembly after it returns for its regular session following the New Year.

For Children’s Friend, Caprio said that money could be used for bonuses for current employees, signing bonuses to attract new employees or salary increases. Overall, he’s hopeful the extra cash could help him with a staffing shortage that’s plaguing the industry.

As Target 12 first detailed on Nov. 29, the staffing shortage has resulted in hundreds of infants and toddlers not receiving Early Intervention services, creating a waitlist that some advocates have argued is illegal.

Dr. Pamela High, a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, said a federal law gives every child the right to early education services, which she said could prevent the need for special education services when the child grows older.

Caprio said Children’s Friend is currently understaffed by about 15% and hasn’t been able to take on new families since the beginning of November. He told Target 12 the funding boost will help in the short term, but he’s skeptical that it will solve the long-term funding crunch advocates have argued has been growing for years because the state hasn’t increased reimbursement rates appropriately for nearly two decades.

“Over the past 19 years, Early Intervention reimbursement has only been adjusted once, and it was adjusted down,” Caprio said. “Salaries are low, we’re not able to have retention bonuses and keep some of the best staff.”

Tolly Taylor ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook

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