NBC 10 I-Team: RI blocked from federal grants in 911 fee diversion fallout
Regulators with the Federal Communications Commission said Rhode Island is one of several states now blocked from applying for some federal public safety grants due to its diversion of 911 fees to its general fund.
“In Rhode Island, 60 percent of the funding is going to other purposes, into your general fund,” FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said.
O’Rielly is headed to Cranston for a 911 summit on Monday evening, organized by state Rep. Bob Lancia, a Republican who represents Cranston.
Lancia has introduced legislation to restrict 911 fees to public safety and to assess 911 needs statewide.
He confirmed that Rhode Island and other states where 911 fees on cell phone and landline bills are diverted to other uses were blocked from applying from the grant money by legislation late last year.
“Rhode Island could've gotten a piece of that money to upgrade 911 resources,” Lancia said in a YouTube video posted Friday.
"We have been collecting at least $15 million a year, yet only $5 million goes to 911,” Lancia said.
The FCC has notified Rhode Island in writing several times that fees collected for 911 services and technology should not be diverted to other purposes, including the state’s general fund.
O’Rielly said he has yet to receive a response from the state or Gov. Gina Raimondo to explain the practice or outline a plan to stop the fee diversion.
“I'm really troubled by that,” he told NBC 10 News.
As the NBC 10 I-Team first reported, more than 20,000 calls to Rhode Island’s E-911 center were put on hold in 2017, with at least one caller waiting up to 2 minutes and 47 seconds for help.
Rhode Island State Police said the number of calls put on hold is within the national average and accounts for about 4.5 percent of the more than 460,000 total calls the center handled in 2017.
The E-911 center is budgeted for 32 telecommunicators, the people on the front lines who answer every 911 call in the state.
But the center was down by at least 10 people in early 2018, leaving the remaining telecommunicators overworked and stressed, working as many as 60 hours a week in an already stressful job.
State police said two of the open positions have since been filled, with two additional hires starting Monday, and that it plans to fill all vacancies in the next few months.