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Voices Speaking

January 17, 2017

Voices from the Capitol (II): Who is Juan F. ?

Roger Senserrich

Last Friday was the last day that individual legislators could introduce bills at the General Assembly. We have been reading through proposals and working on our priority list.

Our focus this week, however, is on the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and an important hearing that will take place next week. Let´s get started. 

Spotlight: the Juan F. Settlement

In 1991, the state of Connecticut´s Department of Children and Youth Services (now the Department of Children and Families, DCF) entered into a consent decree that covers all children that are in the care, custody, or supervision of DCF due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment, as well as children the agency knows (by virtue of a report) are at risk of such maltreatment.

The consent decree was the result of the Juan F. case, a 1989 suit that challenged how Connecticut served children in state care. The consent decree established a series of benchmarks for DCF, trying to ensure that the needs of children and families under their supervision were being met. The agency has been operating under court oversight since.

In 2004, under the guidance of a Federal Court Monitor, the parties drafted a plan to exit federal oversight. This exit plan requires DCF to meet 22 measurable goals pertaining to the well-being of children in their care. Since then, DCF has slowly but steadily improved outcomes related to placement of children in care, discharging of children, disruptions in child placement, and reunification and adoption.

Last year, more than two decades later, the state of Connecticut reached an agreement to finally settle the case.

The agreement covers the following:

  • Connecticut will agree not to cut DCF´s budget.
  • The agency will still have to meet a series of goals (around items including investigations on abuse cases, social worker caseloads, case planning and outcomes, meeting the needs of children in care, and site visits) to protect and provide for children under state care.
  • The full exit plan is available here.

Why are we talking about this today? First of all, because after a quarter of a century under federal monitoring, DCF is still struggling to hit many of the benchmarks on this settlement. If we want to ensure that vulnerable children and youth under state care receive the services they need, it will require both funding to ensure that there are enough social workers to manage these complex cases and accountability.

Second, the Juan F. settlement agreement must be approved by the General Assembly - and the Appropriations Committee will be holding a hearing on this very issue Monday next week. It is important to make our voices heard.

Hearing Alert: Juan F. at Appropriations, January 23

  • The Appropriations Committee will hold a public hearing on Monday, January 23, 2017 at 10:00 A.M. in Room 2E of the Legislative Office Building (300 Capitol Avenue, Hartford.)
  • Sign-up for the hearing will begin at 9:00 A.M. in Room 2700 of the LOB. 
  • You must submit 60 copies of written testimony to Committee staff at the time of sign-up.
  • You can email written testimony in MS Word or PDF format to APPtestimony@cga.ct.gov.
  • Even if you are unable to attend the testimony in person, we encourage you to submit written testimony by email. Many legislators use this testimony when drafting arguments to present on the House and Senate floors.

Connecticut Voices for Children will testify at the hearing in favor of accepting the settlement. Although DCF still struggles to meet many of the goals set in the 2004 exit plan, the agreement will protect the agency´s funding from further cuts while maintaining oversight in key areas.

Of course, sheltering DCF from cuts could mean further service reductions in other social service agencies. We are watching to make sure this does not put children and families at further risk - like everything in the budget, it is a balancing act. We believe, however, that DCF's (slow, steady) progress and the chance to protect crucial state funding justifies our support.

If you are interested in testifying on this hearing or have any questions on the Juan F. settlement, e-mail us! Lauren Ruth, our Youth Policy Fellow, has been tracking this issue closely and will be happy to answer any questions.

This Week: Committee Meetings

Quite a bit of movement this week at the General Assembly. After the Friday rush of legislators introducing individual bills, committee members and chairs are starting to discuss what bills will be raised, and will begin to draft committee bills.

This means that this week we will see quite a few committee meetings: Public Safety today; Insurance, Labor, Higher Education, Children, and Human Services Thursday; and the Office of Early Childhood Cabinet Friday. The agenda for each meeting is usually posted the day before on the CGA website. This week, committees will be mostly voting on which bills will be drafted as committee bills and/or get public hearings.

The full schedule can be found here. We will keep you posted on any major decisions or bills to follow as we go along.

Still time to register: State Budget Forum

Next week we will convene at the State Capitol for Connecticut Voices for Children's 16th Annual State Budget Forum: "Building a Budget for Connecticut's Future."

  • WHAT: 16th Annual State Budget Forum.
  • WHEN: January 24th from 8:30 AM to 12:00 PM.
  • WHERE: Old Judiciary Room, State Capitol, 210 Capitol Avenue, Hartford.
  • REGISTRATION: please RSVP here. Seating is limited.

Participants will include Secretary Benjamin Barnes, Comptroller Kevin Lembo, and Representatives Toni Walker and Vincent Candelora, among others. Please visit our event page for more information, or e-mail Ray Noonan with any questions.

What we are reading:

With Congress taking the first steps towards repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a lot of reading on what this means both for Connecticut and the country as a whole:

  • The Congressional Budget Office reports that repealing the ACA could increase the number of uninsured Americans by 32 million in 10 years, while causing insurance premiums to double over that time. Here is the report; here is the NYT article on this subject.
  • The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated the cost for each state of an ACA repeal. For Connecticut it would mean 248,000 people losing insurance coverage by 2019. Here is the report; here is a good overview at the CT Post on this issue.
  • The ACA repeal could also have a significant impact in the economy. According to a Commonwealth Fund Study, Connecticut would lose 36,000 jobs and billions of dollars on economic output. Nationwide, the repeal would lead to the loss of 2.6 million jobs. Here is the full report.
  • Silver lining: a majority of Americans now think that the ACA is a good idea
Issue Areas:
Child Welfare, Family Economic Security
Tags:
DCF, Juan F., Voices from the Capitol
January 9, 2017

Voices from the Capitol - our newsletter for the legislative session

Roger Senserrich

The 2017 legislative session has started, and we know it is going to be a challenging year. Connecticut is facing a large budget deficit, an unpredictable federal environment, and a new power-sharing agreement in the State Senate.

To make sense of all of this - and keep you up to date on the legislative session - Connecticut Voices for Children is launching our new weekly Capitol Newsletter. Let´s get started.

Voices from the Capitol newsletter

During the legislative session, E-notes will become the weekly Voices from the Capitol newsletter, with updates, alerts, and analysis on the 2017 legislative session and how it affects children and families in Connecticut.

Central to our coverage will be the state budget, something that will likely dominate the debate again this year. Expect analysis, tracking changes, and updates on plans and proposals.

We will make sure, however, that other bills get the spotlight they deserve. Every Monday we will send news and updates on key bills, a calendar on what is coming up during the week, action alerts on key pieces of legislation, extended information on important issues, and (when necessary) explanations about legislative procedure to make sense of what is is happening and how it might affect legislation.

We want this newsletter to be a conversation, so we welcome your feedback and questions. Email us - we are here to help.

Last week: Governor's speech & committee assignments

The legislative session began last Wednesday, so legislation has not started moving yet. We had, however, some relevant news.

  • The Governor´s State of the State Address: It was the first big speech of the session, and it laid out the policy priorities for the Governor. He focused on three areas that must be addressed this session to balance the budget: continued cost savings and efficiencies, making state pensions sustainable, and creating a more equitable system for town aid to fund education. Expect to hear much more about these issues this year. You can watch it in full or read the transcript here.
  • Committee Chairs: Committee chairs control much of the agenda at the General Assembly, and who heads each committee can make a big difference in many areas. Three important lists to take into account: House Democrats Committee Chairs, Senate Democrats Committee Chairs and Senate Republicans Committee Chairs. The 18-18 tie in the Senate means that committees have two Senate Chairs this session and much more to negotiate.

The session: a brief calendar

This year we have a long session: from the "Wednesday following the first Monday of January" to the "the first Wednesday after the first Monday in June", following the state constitution. Translated to regular dates, it means that the session will go from January 4th to June 7th.
Important dates:

  • Individual legislators´ bill filling deadline: January 13.
  • Governor´s budget: early February.
  • Deadline for introducing committee bills: February 14-15.
  • Public hearings for bills in committee: from late January to early March (non-budget), March-April (Appropriations and Finance).
  • Deadline for bills getting voted out of committee: mid- to late- March, except the budget, that has until April 27-28.

Legislative arcana: new rule - split committee

The legislative process is often complicated. In this section we will review and explain some of the rules that guide the General Assembly.

We mentioned that committees this session will have three co-chairs instead of the usual two: a Democratic House member, as they have the majority in the chamber, and two Senators, one from each party, as the parties are tied 18-18 in the Senate.

Committee chairs have a considerable amount of power - they largely decide which bills get a hearing or get called for a vote. The 3-chair arrangement might lead to more bipartisan consensus as both parties now have a strong say in what moves forward, or more gridlock if they cannot reach agreements. It is too early to tell how it will work.

The new arrangement, however, introduces an interesting new quirk in the legislative process: one Senator chair can automatically split the committee, separating the discussion of a bill between Senate committee members and House committee members. That is, we would have two versions of the bill, one for each chamber, that has to be approved out of committee separately. In practice, this means that there is yet another way for a piece of legislation to get stuck and fail.

Senators can only split the committee with Senate bills, so House bills are not affected - it might be a good idea to have bills introduced from the House side this session.

What we are reading:

A few good resources to follow the legislative session:

In case you missed it:

Issue Area:
Family Economic Security
Tags:
legislative session updates, Voices from the Capitol
December 20, 2016

Connecticut among states with highest income inequality

Derek Thomas, M.P.A.

Connecticut is among the states with the highest income inequality in the country, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Connecticut ranks third in the country, with its richest residents— the top five percent of households— having average incomes 17 times as large as the bottom 20 percent of households and five times as large as the middle 20 percent of households. The top five percent of Connecticut’s households receive 20 percent of the state’s income, even without counting capital gains. 
The report, “How State Tax Policies Can Stop Increasing Inequality and Start Reducing It”, also shows that the concentration of income among the wealthiest residents is striking in every state – reflecting three and a half decades of unequal income growth.  The top 1 percent’s share of income rose in every state and the District of Columbia — and it doubled nationally, from 10 percent to 20 percent — between 1979 and 2013, per a recent analysis of IRS data.

States have tools to reduce the growing inequality. The report offers recommendations about how state tax policies can be used to reverse the trend, including broadening the sales tax base to include services, strengthening business taxes by eliminating costly business tax breaks and establishing strong minimum taxes to broaden the base, levy higher taxes on high-income taxpayers, and retain or expand taxes on inherited wealth,

You can download the full report here. Click here for Connecticut-specific data.

Issue Area:
Family Economic Security
Tags:
Connecticut, income, inequality, one percent
November 10, 2016

Kindness

Last year five girls from a 4th grade class at Pine Grove School in Avon decided they wanted to make a difference. They rallied their class. Here is their story, in their own words:

To join them with a donation, click here.

September 27, 2016

Upcoming webinar - Equitable Education in CT: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly on the CCJEF case

Roger Senserrich

Join us on Tuesday October 11th for our webinar on the CCJEF ruling. Ellen Shemitz, Connecticut Voices´ Executive Director, will provide a rundown on the main points of this case, and what it means for education funding in the state.

Expect an overview on the many hurdles the case has faced, a detailed analysis of the good, the bad and the ugly of this ruling, and a look ahead on what we need to close educational disparities in Connecticut.

  • When: October 11th, 11 am to 12 pm.
  • Where to Register: click here to register - space is limited.
  • Where to watch: The webinar will be broadcasted on our Youtube page - or you can watch it right here on our website, after the jump.

 

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Education
September 23, 2016

Investing in Connecticut: taxes and economic prosperity

Derek Thomas, M.P.A.

If you read what some commentators are saying about our state, you might think that Connecticut having one of the nation’s highest standards of living is just an accident. To mark the anniversary of the income tax last month, observers presented a story of doom and gloom entirely attributable to state income taxes.

What these columns are missing, however, is any thought to what those taxes translate into in terms of services, investments and economic prosperity. Grover Norquist, for instance, pointed to Texas and Florida – which have no state income taxes – as examples of what states can accomplish if they liberate themselves from the responsibility of investing in the future. Well, let’s take a look.

The poverty rate in Connecticut is fourth lowest in the nation. In Texas and Florida it’s much higher. Connecticut is fourth in the share of the population holding a graduate or professional degree. Florida and Texas are well below the national average. In only three states do a higher percentage of people lack health insurance than in Florida; one of them is Texas, which leads the nation in this shameful statistic. Meanwhile only nine states have a lower share of people without health insurance than Connecticut. You get the point. Connecticut may have higher taxes, but that is because the state invests in the services essential to sustained economic success.

If Connecticut were to follow a low-road model, it would jeopardize the competitive advantage it has in a highly educated and highly productive workforce that is attractive to high-wage and high-skill employers, who in turn benefit from a return on the investment of their business tax dollars in the form of roads, bridges, and other public infrastructure, safe neighborhoods, and education.

But Norquist and other commentators are not just wrong about what makes a state’s economy strong; he also errs when he and others claim that taxes in Connecticut drive residents to leave.  Norquist inaccurately characterizes a net loss of roughly 8,000 households per year as an escape from the state income tax. In fact, net annual movement from Connecticut declined steadily in the first 10 years after the tax was enacted – hardly consistent with Norquist’s argument. And, more than eight in 10 of the households that left Connecticut between 1992 and 2014 were replaced by households moving in. If taxes are as significant a driver of state-to-state moves as Norquist wants to believe, why would so many people be moving to Connecticut?

In fact, 38 percent of all residents leaving the state moved to Florida, the leading destination for virtually all northeastern and rustbelt states – including New Hampshire, which doesn’t have any broad-based income tax. Common sense says many of these people leaving Connecticut are retirees seeking warmer weather, who likely would move regardless of Connecticut tax levels.

Norquist errs again when he asserts that those who moved out of the state took billions of dollars of income with them, further depleting the state’s finances. It’s a claim that former Tax Foundation economist Lyman Stone has written rests “on an egregiously wrong use of the data” by analysts who “have either failed to perform the most basic due diligence . . . or else actively mislead their readers.”  Think about it: the vast majority of people who leave a state hold jobs that will be filled by people joining the labor force from within the state or moving in, resulting in no “loss of income” at all.

You can throw as many arguments you want against the wall and none of them stick. Connecticut is a better place to live because of the public investment that comes from everyone pitching in for the common good. Neither residents nor businesses are “damaged” by our state’s income tax. To the contrary, it’s the children growing up in poverty in states that don’t invest in shared prosperity and quality of life that will have a hard time reaching their full potential.

Issue Area:
Budget and Tax
Tags:
Connecticut, education, insurance, investments, services, taxes