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Voices Speaking

August 16, 2017

Voices from the Capitol (XXX): A Nation Built on an Idea

Ellen Shemitz, J.D. and Roger Senserrich

In today’s email:

A Nation Built on an Idea

Ellen Shemitz, Executive Director, Connecticut Voices for Children

The United States of America is a nation built on a single, powerful idea: all people are created equal. That idea drives much of our work here at Connecticut Voices for Children. We fight every day to bring down barriers to opportunity and to advance policies that will ensure that every child in our state has a meaningful chance to achieve her or his full potential.

Over the years, our work has come to focus increasingly on issues of race and racism: the institutional barriers that children and families of color face on a daily basis in our state. This work often creates discomfort and at times denial. But, if the events this weekend in Charlottesville teach us anything, they must teach us the importance of recognizing and taking action against the forces of bigotry, intolerance, and racism in every form.

Today in Connecticut, many racist policies and laws remain on the books. Did you know that two-thirds of people of color in Connecticut are concentrated in 8 percent of towns in the state? This did not happen by accident. Local control, a much valued system in New England, has allowed the perpetuation of racist zoning policies. State and local laws and policies shape access to schools, health care, and opportunity across Connecticut. Criminal justice practices discriminate against minorities. Economic disparities and job opportunities leave people of color behind.

The risk today is greater than at any time in my lifetime. Just this afternoon we received notice that the Trump Administration has targeted a key civil rights provision, suspending a housing rule that would have allowed more low income families to find housing in higher opportunity neighborhoods. It is not just white nationalists carrying tiki torches who undermine our core values: it is often the more subtle and less discernible actions that cause the most harm over time.  

It is time to end all this. Together, we can build a Connecticut that is welcoming, diverse, and inclusive. Equitable growth and opportunity should be the cornerstones of our work. It is the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do - and each of us can play a role in making it happen.

 

Budget Update: Nothing New

No real budget news these past few days, and no news expected this week either, as legislative leaders have not scheduled any meetings. State finances are still managed by executive order, with across the board cuts on services now and deeper cuts to municipal aid and education this fall. No budget deal is now expected until at least mid-September.

The CT Mirror has an excellent article Monday that provides an overview of municipal finances, with a detailed calendar of when local governments will lose funding from each grant, and how big the cuts will be. The first major cut will be PILOT funding (Payment In Lieu of Taxes, the funds that municipalities receive to compensate them from tax exempt properties), which goes out next month.Things get worse from there.

These impending cuts should give us a new sense of urgency. Negotiations might be on a lull, but we should keep reaching out to legislators to tell them that it is time for Connecticut to approve a budget that makes children and working families in the state its priority. We need a balanced budget approach that includes both a sound strategy for state spending and new revenue so Connecticut can preserve crucial services and build a strong foundation for the future.

Click here to find your legislator - contact them today.

Want More Action Alerts?

As the budget negotiations continue, we will be sending more action alerts to our "Voices from the Capitol" mailing list. Make sure you are subscribed here.

 

Federal Preview: a Busy Fall

Congress is in recess during August. Once they are back in Washington next month, however, they are going to have a lot of issues on their plate, almost all of them having a direct impact on children and families. We will talk about them in more detail as they come up next month, but it is important to have a good sense on how busy the agenda is going to be. Considering how little legislative bandwidth Congress has shown so far this year, it is going to be a challenge.

Congress will have four main issues to address this fall. First, the budget resolution for fiscal year 2018. A first version, including dramatic cuts to programs for low-income children and families was passed by the House Budget Committee. It contains reconciliation instructions for tax reform legislation (more on that in a bit). It is unclear if House and Senate leaders have the votes to pass a budget right now, meaning that they might need to pass continuing resolutions to avoid a government shutdown by September 30th. One of the many important programs pending to be voted on is CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program which helps pay most of the costs for children’s health care in the HUSKY B program.  

In addition, Congress must raise the debt ceiling before September 29th, or risk a default and an unpredictable financial crisis. Debt ceiling increases are usually “clean”, without strings attached, but we have seen fierce debates in the recent past.

Tax reform is next on the list. There is no word yet on what this is going to include, other than tax cuts for high-income earners paid by cuts to social programs. Leadership wants to include reconciliation instructions in the budget resolution enabling the Senate to pass the tax cuts with 50 votes instead of the usual 60.

Finally, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal effort might have failed, but Congress could try again later this year, and the administration has threatened to undermine the law even without Congress’s help.There has been talk of a possible bipartisan plan to stabilize the ACA markets, including Connecticut’s Access Health CT, but it is too early to tell whether or what this will mean for those who purchase coverage through the exchanges.

 

What We Are Reading / Listening To

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Health
August 14, 2017

Voices from the Capitol (XXIX): Contact Your Senator Today

Roger Senserrich

August 7, 2017

In today’s email:

Action Alert: Contact Your Senator Today

The Senate Democrats are going to be caucusing tonight at 6:00 about the budget.

It is important that Senators hear from people in their districts - we urge you to call and tell your Senator that you are opposed to program cuts.

Click here to find the contact information of your State Senator, and tell him or her that it is time to pass a budget that puts children and families first. Program cuts in education, social services, health care, early childhood, or mental health are damaging and short-sighted. Connecticut needs a budget that includes new revenue, not just cuts, following a balanced approach that combines new revenue with strategic spending in opportunity and equitable growth.

It is important for Senators to hear from you today before their caucus to strengthen their resolve to preserve important programs. Click here to find your legislator.

Want More Action Alerts?

As the budget negotiations continue, we will be sending more action alerts to our "Voices from the Capitol" mailing list. Make sure you are subscribed here.

Budget Update: Concessions

Last week, the Connecticut General Assembly took an important first step towards closing the budget gap when both chambers narrowly approved the labor concessions deal struck by the Governor and public sector unions. The agreement represents $1.57 billion in savings over the next two years in exchange for extending the current contract to five years (to 2027).

This means that lawmakers are now facing a $3.5 billion two-year budget gap instead of a $5 billion one. The agreement reduced the budget deficit by close to a third; the rest will have to be eliminated by program cuts and/or tax increases. Legislators still face a challenging budget picture, but this agreement makes it a bit less daunting. Now is the time for you to take action as requested above: let’s make sure the remaining budget gap is not closed on the backs of vulnerable children and families.

Budget Updates: New Developments

Outside the labor agreement, budget negotiations continue apace behind closed doors. Currently there seem to be three main points of contention: a possible sales tax increase, fiscal reforms, and municipal aid. All three issues are linked; a portion of the sales tax funds municipal aid, and local governments have been looking for ways to become less dependent on property taxes.

Right now, however, there is no immediate consensus on how to raise the sales tax. Our position is that lawmakers should expand the tax base, eliminating exemptions to raise more revenue. House leaders have proposed increasing the current rate by half a point on top of an additional one-percent surcharge for restaurants. Municipalities, however, oppose that move. We expect these proposals to evolve as negotiations continue.

Aside from these debates, the General Assembly does not have a timeline for a budget vote. It is unlikely that we see a budget before September.

The Cost of Not Having a Budget

The lack of a state budget is starting to take its toll in many programs and services. Many social service programs run under contract by nonprofits are facing service reductions and furloughs. Crucial programs for children and families like Care 4 Kids remain closed to new enrollments.

Without a budget, municipalities will face deep cuts in October, when the first Education Cost Sharing payments are sent out. Governor Malloy outlined a $506 million cut in these payments in his executive order; last week he announced that he intends to protect funding for the lowest-performing districts. This would protect poorer cities and towns from the worst cuts, but will represent potentially higher impacts for other school districts.
 

The ACA Might Be Safe

Senate Republicans voted on three separate plans to repeal the ACA. All three plans were voted down, forcing Senate leaders to withdraw the bill and halt their repeal efforts.

It has happened before. The ACA repeal bill has suffered repeated setbacks, only to come back for another vote later. This time, however, seems to be different. Despite repeated exhortations from the White House asking legislators to persevere in their repeal effort, Senate leaders are talking about focusing on tax reform (some of the proposed changes carry a big risk for Connecticut, incidentally) and introducing some bipartisan fixes to the ACA. It is a big shift from where the debate was two weeks ago, and a very strong signal that the ACA might be safe for now.

There are still some risks on the horizon. The Trump administration is in charge of implementing the ACA, and they have openly talked about weakening the system by not enforcing the individual mandate, cutting key payments to insurers, and scaling back their outreach efforts. Most of these measures would impact the individual insurance market, not Medicaid, but could potentially have significantly impact access to health care.

The good news, however, is that the ACA is here to stay. If you have time, call your Representative or Senator and thank them for their efforts to protect the ACA.

CT Voices News: New Staff!

Connecticut Voices for Children has three new staff members: Karen Siegel, Public Health Policy Fellow; Camara Stokes Hudson, Associate Policy Fellow; and Nipuni Gomes, Communications and Development Assistant.

These new hires will bolster Connecticut Voices for Children’s research in health care, juvenile justice, and education policy, producing high-quality, data-based analysis, as well as enhancing the organization’s strategic communications capacity. Click here to download the press release.

What We Are Reading / Listening To

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Early Care, Health
August 14, 2017

Voices from the Capitol (XXVIII): Another ACA Battle

Roger Senserrich

July 27, 2017

In today's email:

 

ACA Repeal Update: Again, at risk

Last week, the Senate effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) seemed all but dead. Several key “moderate” senators remained opposed to a bill that would have left 22 million people without health insurance and slashed funding for Medicaid; leadership postponed the bill. We warned, however, that the fight was far from over - the bill had suffered setbacks in the House and the Senate before, only to come back for a vote at a later date.

After some last-minute negotiations, it looks like Senate leaders will try again to vote on the repeal this week, with a “motion to proceed” as early as tomorrow. This means that the ACA is again at risk of being repealed.

There are currently two versions under consideration: a full repeal of the ACA (or at least elimination of all parts of the ACA that are budget-related to comply with reconciliation rules), and a repeal-and-replace bill, similar to the one that was approved in the House. The former would leave 32 million people uninsured by 2026 compared to the ACA; the latter would leave 22 million without coverage.

It is troubling that we do not know what repeal proposal the Senate will be voting for yet; Senate leadership has not disclosed either the language of the bills or which bill they intend to bring to the floor. There are also questions regarding what can be included in the repeal-and-replace bill after the Senate Parliamentarian ruled that several of its key provisions cannot be passed using the current legislative procedure. It is unclear if either proposal has the votes to pass, and it is disturbing that no one (Senators included) seems to know what is happening - but the ACA is again at risk.

What can you do to help stop this bill?

  • Connecticut’s U.S. senators are opposed to the repeal efforts. We encourage you to call them to share your story about why the ACA is important and thank them for their support. You can find their contact information here.
  • Do you have any friends or relatives who live in states represented by Republican senators? Call your friends and family, reach out to them through social media, email them, and urge them to call their senators. Tell them to share their stories, and to urge the senators to oppose the repeal. This is going to be a very close vote; every single call helps.

 

Want More Action Alerts?

As the budget negotiations continue, we will start sending more action alerts to our “Voices from the Capitol” mailing list. Make sure you are subscribed here.

 

The State Budget: Labor Contracts

The General Assembly is in session today, with two items on its agenda. First, they will try to override the Governor's veto of some of the bills they passed during the  session. Second, the House intends to vote on the $1.57 billion labor savings package.

The labor savings package is one of the many moving pieces in the budget negotiations. If the General Assembly ratifies it, Connecticut will still face a $3.5 billion budget gap. Still a huge challenge, but less daunting than the $5 billion deficit without the agreement. You find more information on the specifics of the agreement here.

What happens if the General Assembly doesn’t approve the agreement? If they vote it down, it goes back to the drawing board. If they do not take it up for a vote, the agreement will take effect 30 days after the next legislative session begins - that would be March 1st, 2018. This would mean that the savings included in the agreement would be lower, as the current, more expensive contract would remain in place until then. If the House votes on the agreement today, the Senate is expected to vote next Monday, July 31st.

Meanwhile, the ripple effects of not having a budget are reaching municipalities. Nearly half of cities and towns participating in a recent survey have frozen spending or cut services.  

 

Action Alert: A Budget that Puts Families First

Connecticut’s children and families need your help. Call your legislators today, and tell them that Connecticut needs a budget that puts families first, with a balanced approach that includes new revenue.

Click here to find your legislator’s contact information. Click here for more information on revenue options for Connecticut and talking points for your call.

 

New Report: the Impact of Quality Early Education

In our new report, we assess the quality of Connecticut's early childhood system.

Every child deserves a strong start in life: children need to enter kindergarten healthy, happy, and eager to learn. That requires high-quality early care: research shows that early childhood represents a window of explosive learning that can set the course for a lifetime.

Providing quality care for young children benefits parents, children, childcare workers, and the state economy. In the first issue brief in this series, we estimated that if all young children who need child care were in high-quality settings, the state would gain $13.4 billion in long-term returns.

In this second brief, we delve deeper into the question of what is meant by "high-quality" settings. We review the literature analyzing the components of high-quality early care and education (ECE), assess the extent to which Connecticut's center-based early care programs meet those standards, and make recommendations for how Connecticut can continue expanding both quality and access.

You can download the report here.

 

What We Are Reading

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Education
July 20, 2017

Voices from the Capitol (XXVII): A Budget that Puts Families First

Roger Senserrich

In today's email:

 

The State Budget Negotiations

Negotiations over the Connecticut state budget continue. Legislative leaders and the Governor have been talking behind closed doors during the past week, but they continue to disagree on numerous issues. House and Senate leadership have postponed the planned budget vote scheduled for today until the end of the month. At stake: ensuring opportunity for the next generation while closing a two-year $5 billion deficit.

Action Alert: A Budget that Puts Families First

Connecticut’s children and families need your help. Call your legislators today, and tell them that Connecticut needs a budget that puts families first, with a balanced approach that includes new revenue. It is time for the state to focus on building a strong foundation for equitable economic growth by investing in education, infrastructure and health care, with a budget that is based upon long-term strategies and solid state finances, not short-term cuts.

Connecticut faces a choice: we can adopt a balanced approach that combines making children and families our main priority with new revenue, or we can rely on cuts that hurt the most vulnerable, reduce opportunity, and endanger our future. It is time to raise our voices and ask our legislators to make the right choice for children and families in the state.

Click here to find your legislator’s contact information. Read below for more information on revenue options for Connecticut and talking points for your call.

 

Upcoming Event: Wallingford Town Hall Meeting with Legislators

Senator Len Fasano, Representative Vincent Candelora, and Representative Craig Fishbein are hosting a town hall today Tuesday July 18 at Wallingford Town Hall, 45 S Main Street,  from 5:30 pm to 7:00 pm. The event is open to the public. This is a good opportunity to make your voice heard on issues related to early childhood, education, healthcare, and the state budget.

For more information contact Chris Diorio at chris.diorio@cga.ct.gov or 1.800.842.1421.

 

Want More Action Alerts?

As the budget negotiations continue, we will start sending more action alerts to our “Voices from the Capitol” mailing list. Make sure you are subscribed here.

 

Infographic: A Balanced Budget Approach

We just released a new infographic arguing for a better approach for the Connecticut state budget - one that includes investment in Connecticut’s future, tax reform, and new revenue to get the state back on track.

 

 

Click here to download the PDF. Click here for the interactive version..

 

ACA Repeal Update: Victory, for now

Last week, Senate Republicans released an updated version of their Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal effort, after their first proposal failed to gather enough support. This new version is broadly similar to the previous draft, with one glaring exception: the bill will allow insurance companies to offer plans that do not cover essential benefits or pre-existing conditions. In other words, a return to the “junk insurance” plans that were sadly common before the ACA became law.

The bill, however, failed again to gather enough support. By yesterday evening, four senators have announced their opposition, forcing Senate leaders to withdraw it from consideration. Senate leadership announced a new strategy of outright repeal of most of the ACA provisions, a bill that if passed would leave more than 32 million people without health insurance. The proposal appears to be faltering as well, bringing the ACA repeal effort to an end.

There might another repeal effort in the coming months. The Trump administration can use its regulatory powers to weaken the law. For now, however, the ACA is the law of the land, and with it, millions of Americans will remain insured.

 

What We Are Reading

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Health
July 13, 2017

Infographic: a Better Approach to the State Budget

The state budget is the clearest statement of Connecticut's policy priorities. Connecticut needs a balanced approach that combines strategic spending with new revenue. See the our infographic below and full Revenue Options brief for more detail.

Click here to download the PDF.

Issue Area:
Budget and Tax
Tags:
budget, Connecticut, priorities, revenue, taxes
July 12, 2017

Voices from the Capitol (XXVI): Executive Orders

Roger Senserrich

In today's email:

 

Budget by Executive Order

Connecticut is currently operating without a state budget. June 30th was the last day of the 2017 fiscal year (FY17), and the General Assembly could not reach an agreement before that deadline. As a result, the state government is currently operating using last year’s budget. This means, however, that the budget is sorely out of balance, forcing the Governor to make severe cuts to many programs by executive order so that the state does not fall further into debt during this time.

Nevertheless, there are a few things that the Governor cannot cut that are legally required to be funded: state government must continue making payments on bonded debt, pension, and retiree health care contributions; Medicaid services bound by federal law, and court-ordered child welfare services.

The rest of the budget will see severe cuts across the board, with huge impacts in programs that directly serve children and families. Education funding for municipalities will see a $515 million cut (25 percent). Funding for priority school districts is cut by $42 million (100 percent). Medicaid funding sees a $75 million reduction. School-based health centers see a 25 percent cut. Teen pregnancy programs are cut by half. Care 4 Kids will remain closed. The executive order also significantly curtails payments to many non-profit providers that provide direct services to low-income families. You can find the full text of the executive order, plus supporting documents, here.

As we noted in our public statement last week, Connecticut's current fiscal crisis is the result of years of short-term budget thinking and a failure to address our state's economic challenges. Connecticut needs a stable, responsible budget, with real structural reforms. This shift will not be easy - but it is increasingly clear that the time for short-term, easy solutions is over. We believe that working together, Connecticut can fashion a balanced budget that will support long-term growth and equitable opportunity.

 

The House Democrats’ Budget Proposal

Just before the end of the fiscal year we saw the introduction of another budget proposal in the Capitol (by our count, the 11th such proposal this year), this time by the House Democrats. The document largely follows the broader lines of the previous Democratic proposal we described in our recent budget analysis, with a few changes. The most significant features of this proposal are:

  • Reducing eligibility for HUSKY A parents to 138% of the federal poverty level, without introducing copayments.
  • Making smaller cuts than the Governor’s proposals for school-based health centers and community health centers.
  • Creating a commission to study changes to the Education Cost Sharing Formula, without cutting funding.
  • Adding some additional funding to Care 4 Kids child care program, special education, charter and magnet schools.
  • Eliminating the Office of Early Childhood, integrating it with the Department of Education.
  • Including some new revenue: a modest increase to the sales tax, as well as a one percent surcharge on restaurant meals that will go to the municipality where they are located.

Overall, the proposal looks a lot like the previous Democratic proposals. This latest one is still an austerity budget that is mostly reliant on cuts, without really tackling Connecticut’s long-term budget woes. However, the inclusion of a bit more revenue and smaller cuts than in other budgets means this budget is a step in the right direction.

House and Senate leadership are expecting to reconvene on July 18th for a vote on this budget proposal. It is unclear if the budget has the votes to pass, or if Governor Malloy would veto the proposal in its current form. We will keep you posted.

 

Why the Office of Early Childhood is Important

The Democrats’ budget proposal seeks to merge the Office Early Childhood (OEC) into the Department of Education (SDE).

The move is reportedly a response to the current underfunding of Care 4 Kids; the program is currently closed to new applicants. The idea is that by placing it under SDE, the program will have access to a larger pool of funding, and it will be easier to protect the child care program from further cuts, as the state can find other resources within this department.

We saw similar proposals during the legislative session, either moving pieces or merging the whole OEC into other departments. We remain skeptical that this change would make early care and education programs stronger.

First, the OEC was created with the aim of consolidating under one roof the dizzying variety of programs and funding streams related to early childhood in the state, and thereby blending and braiding funding streams to make more efficient use of existing resources. The OEC has been very successful at improving licensing, promoting professional development for providers, and bringing tens of millions of dollars to the state in competitive national grants. Moving all early childhood programs to SDE would weaken this structure and the early care and education system as a whole.

Second, when Care 4 Kids was managed by the Department of Social Services, it saw severe cuts between 2002 and 2005 - a period during which enrollment dropped by half - leading to long-term program closure. Access to other funding streams would likely prove elusive in the context of diminishing federal funding and competing priorities with local school districts.  Given the experience of Care 4 Kids in DSS, we doubt that moving OEC into SDE will address potential future funding shortfalls in Care 4 Kids.

 

ACA: new developments

Congress was in recess last week, meaning that Senators were back in their districts hearing from constituents about the ACA repeal effort. Behind the scenes, negotiations have continued, with several proposals under discussion. The Congressional Budget Office is scoring at least two new versions of the bill, including one that will open the door to eliminating most protections for pre-existing conditions. Senate leaders intend to put the bill to a vote before the end of the month, but several legislators say that any vote is still weeks away.

The bill, if passed in its current form, would have dire consequences for Connecticut. More than 190,000 adults that benefited from the Medicaid expansion in Connecticut would lose coverage. The state could lose up to $11.9 billion in federal funding between 2020 and 2026 once the Medicaid cuts start phasing in.

Although Senate Republicans are having difficulties getting enough of their caucus on board to pass the bill (with 52 Senators, they can only afford to lose 3 votes), the ACA is still in real danger. The fight is far from over.

What can you do to help stop this bill?

  • Connecticut’s U.S. Senators are opposed to the repeal efforts. We encourage you to call them to share your story about why the ACA is important and thank them for their support. You can find their contact information here.
  • Do you have any friends or relatives who live in states represented by Republican Senators? Call your friends and family, reach them on social media, email them, and urge them to call their Senators. Tell them to share their stories, and to urge them to oppose the repeal. This is going to be a very close vote. Every single call helps.

 

Action Alert: Home Visiting Reauthorization

The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program is a federal initiative that facilitates collaboration and partnership at the federal, state, and community levels to improve the health of at-risk children through evidence-based home visiting programs. The program is due for reauthorization this summer - and we need your support.

The Home Visiting Coalition has a petition to ask Congress to fully fund and expand the program. You can sign it here. They are also organizing a day of action Wednesday July 12th. You can find more information on how to participate on their website.

 

In Case You Missed It: the Economic Impact of High-Quality Early Care

In our new report, we look at the economic impact of high-quality early care in Connecticut.

Access to high-quality, affordable early childhood education boosts the state's economy: in the short term by letting parents continue to work and in the long term by improving lifelong outcomes for children, better preparing the next generation for work and for life.

In this report, we estimate the value of Connecticut's current early child care system to children, parents, and our state, both short-term and long-term. Providing enough high-quality child care to meet Connecticut’s needs could generate $13.4 billion in long-term benefits to the state.

You can download the report here. We would like to thank the Connecticut Early Childhood Funders Collaborative, a project of the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy for supporting this research.

 

What We Are Reading/ Listening to

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Child Welfare, Early Care, Health