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Voices Speaking

March 29, 2017

Modernizing the Sales Tax

Failure to keep our laws up to date with the 21st century economy has weakened the sales tax as a stable source of revenue. Broadening the sales tax base to include services will strengthen the state's revenue system so that we can continue to invest in education, healthcare, transportation, and other critical services. See the our infographic, video, and full Revenue Options brief for more detail.

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You can download the PDF here.

Issue Area:
Budget and Tax
March 28, 2017

Voices from the Capitol (XII): the Affordable Care Act is here to stay

Some good news last week from Washington, as Congress’ efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act came to an end. This lifted some budgetary clouds here in Connecticut in regards to Medicaid, but the debate continues on how to close the budget gap.

Next Week: Committee Hearings

Appropriations Committee

Monday, April 3 - Room 2E, 12:00 PM - Agenda

We usually do not bring up hearings that will take place next week, but Appropriations has a very busy one next Monday. It includes a number of bills on the spending cap, consensus revenues, municipal aid, Medicaid expenditures, Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula, the timeline for releasing the budget, the recommendations of the Juvenile Justice Policy Oversight Committee, and the Child Welfare Oversight Council. We are reviewing the full list and will follow up with another e-mail that discusses some of the highlights.

How to testify: Speaker order will be determined by a lottery system. Lottery numbers will be drawn from 9:00 A.M. to 11:00 A.M. in first floor atrium of the LOB. Please submit 60 copies of written testimony to the Committee staff at the time of sign-up. Email written testimony in Word or PDF format to APPtestimony@cga.ct.gov.

News: the Affordable Care Act Is Here to Stay

The U.S. House of Representatives intended to vote on the American Health Care Act, the bill to repeal sections of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), last week. The vote was scheduled for Thursday, but they postponed the vote to Friday because the bill lacked support. On Friday, the votes were still not there. Public pressure against a bill that would have left 24 million people without health insurance was so intense that Speaker Ryan could not bring the AHCA to the floor.

Governor Malloy, as well as Connecticut federal and state lawmakers, breathed a sigh of relief. Besides enabling millions of people across the nation to remain insured, the news meant that Medicaid funding will remain as-is for now. An ACA repeal would have created a billion dollar hole in the state’s budget, making a bad situation even worse.

For the many of you that participated in the campaign to protect the Affordable Care Act, thank you. Much has been written about the debates and how the bill was drafted and amended, but at the end what mattered was the realization by many lawmakers that the bill would have harmed millions of children and families. Your voices made a difference. Again, thanks.

News: Bills We are Tracking

Several bills we have tracked over the past few weeks have been voted out of committee and are on their way to a floor vote:

S.B.1 An Act Creating a Paid Family and Medical Leave System in the State
 - This bill will create a paid family leave system in Connecticut. Click here to read our testimony.

S.B. 894 An Act Establishing the State Oversight Council on Children and Families - This bill will add additional oversight to the Department of Children and Families in anticipation of the end of the federal court monitor. Click here to read our testimony.

S.B. 912 An Act Concerning Revision to the Staff Qualifications Requirement for Early Childhood Educators - This bill will allow early care teachers that hold a degree from regionally accredited higher education institutions to qualify for teacher requirements. We testified in favor of this change here.

H.B. 6021 An Act Concerning Homeless and Unaccompanied Minor Consent to Primary Care - This bill will improve access to primary care for at-risk minors. You can read our testimony here.

H.B. 7040 An Act Implementing the Governor's Budget Recommendations for Human Services Programs - This one is a bit different than the previous bills. H.B. 7040 is an implementer bill, that is, a bill used to roll out the provisions set in the Governor's budget proposal. Committees usually let these bills through without changes, leaving amendments for later in the process. The Human Services Committee, however, took a different approach, and did introduce changes to the bill before sending it to the floor, reducing many of the budget cuts. As the budget will be finalized on the floor, pressure will need to continue to ensure that these and other cuts don't return to the final budget. You can read our testimony here.

Spotlight: Connecticut’s Upside-Down Property Tax System

As Ellen Shemitz, our Executive Director, and Ray Noonan, Associate Policy Fellow, published in an op-ed last week, “there is something terribly wrong with taxes in Connecticut, but it is not what the conservative think tanks would have you believe.”

Hint: it's property taxes. Continue reading here.

What We Are Reading:

Reminders:

Still time to take action - we sent an alert urging you to call your legislators and tell them that we need a balanced budget approach that includes new revenue. Call now if you haven’t done so.

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Education, Health
March 21, 2017

Voices from the Capitol (XI): Protect the Affordable Care Act

Roger Senserrich

The General Assembly will soon be shifting its focus from the Committees to the House and Senate floors. Today we will go over where the budget stands now and where it is going, updates on the latest hearings, and how to take action and get involved to defend the Affordable Care Act.

One quick note: we still want your feedback! It only takes a minute to complete this brief survey, but your suggestions and ideas are appreciated. Thanks!

This week: Committee Hearings

Judiciary Committee

Friday, March 24 - Room 2D, 10:00 AM - Agenda

Appropriations Committee

Friday, March 24 - Room 2C, 10:30 AM - Agenda

Take action! Protect the Affordable Care Act

The U.S. House of Representatives intends to hold a vote on the American Health Care Act (the Affordable Care Act repeal bill) as early as this Thursday. Many organizations, including Connecticut Voices for Children, are working together through Protect Our Care CT to coordinate a series of events, press conferences, and actions to raise our voices to defend health care in the state.

Join us at the Capitol this Wednesday, March 22, for Health Care Action Day from 10 AM to 3 PM. Stand up for health care on the eve of  the 7th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The event will start with a press conference featuring speakers who have benefited from the ACA and Medicaid at 10 AM in Room 1B. Sharon Langer, our Advocacy Director, will be one of the speakers.

From 10:30 until 3:00 PM, we'll have information and materials available at the 2nd Floor Atrium. You can talk to your legislators about the importance of health care and about your particular concerns. You can also participate in a range of activities to raise the visibility of the importance of health care programs we all count on - the ACA, Medicaid, Medicare, and women's health programs.

Please post and share Health Care Action Day’s Facebook event page.

Please RSVP on Facebook or send a quick email to:  Jane McNichol, jmcnichol@universalhealthct.org.

News: Hearings and Budget Updates

Education Committee (March 20)

You can read our testimony here.

H.B. No. 7276 An Act Concerning Education Mandate Relief.

This bill eliminates the requirement that all expelled students be provided with individualized learning plans.

Why is it important? We oppose this change. The current law helps ensure a minimally adequate education for expelled students. Without an individualized learning plan, these students are at greater risk of dropping out altogether, which increases the difficulty of finding employment after leaving school and can have other negative outcomes such as increased risk of juvenile arrest.

H.B. No. 7270 An Act Concerning The Education Cost-Sharing Grant Formula For Fiscal Years Ending June 30, 2018, And June 30, 2019.

The bill mandates an adequacy study on the true cost of education, while also providing a mechanism to fully fund the current Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula without cutting support to Connecticut towns.

Why is it important? We support this bill. The most important school funding issue in Connecticut is that the current ECS formula is underfunded. This bill provides a mechanism to ensure that additional funds to the ECS grant will help the towns that are most underfunded under current allocations. For that to happen, the bill mandates a study on the true costs of education to change the current distribution of the funds to take into account community needs, including special education and English language learners, as well as the town's ability to pay.

S.B. No. 1014 An Act Concerning Various Revisions and Additions to the Education Statutes.

The bill promotes community school reforms and class size reductions in high-need Alliance districts.

Why is it important? We support this bill. Community schools are defined by a system of wraparound supports for the child, the family, and schools to target student’s academic and non-academic barriers to learning. Evidence shows that community schools are very effective tools to reduce the opportunity gap, strengthen families, and increase learning.

Judiciary Committee (March 13)

S.B. No. 1025 An Act Concerning The Closure Of The Connecticut Juvenile Training School And The Transfer Of Juvenile Justice Programs And Services From The Department Of Children And Families To The Judicial Branch.

The bill would close the Connecticut Juvenile Training School by July 1, 2017.

Why is it important? Although we support the closure of this facility, we are concerned as to whether this process can be completed by July 1, 2017 without putting the juvenile justice-involved youth in this institution at increased risk. It is necessary to consider a more appropriate alternative that provides youth and their families with the therapy and supports they need as part of this process.

H.B. No. 7045 An Act Concerning Juvenile And Young Adult Justice.

This bill gradually includes young adults (18-20 year olds) in the juvenile justice system rather than the adult system, so that young adults charged with lesser crimes can access therapeutic services provided within the juvenile justice system. Young people charged with class A and some class B felonies would remain in adult court.

Why is it important? We support the first three sections of this bill, as they include effective, evidence-based policies that provide young adults the supports they need to be productive, contributing members of society. However, we oppose Section 4, which allows more 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds to be transferred to the adult system. This section stands in opposition to the intent of the rest of the bill, as it would make adult court the default system for class B felonies even for younger adolescents.

H.B. No. 7286 An Act Concerning the Recommendations of The Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee.

The bill creates and implements a community-based diversion system by utilizing resources that already exist in many communities.

Why is it important? We support this bill. It would leverage Youth Service Bureaus (YSBs) as a coordinating hub to evaluate the needs of youth and families, refer youth and families to appropriate services, coordinate and implement these services, and evaluate the effectiveness of services. This model also aims to address the context and dynamics in which the youth developed antisocial or delinquent behaviour, while limiting court involvement to the most serious cases.

Budget Updates: the Impact of Federal Grants on Connecticut’s Budget

A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities examines potential cuts to federal grants based on proposals from President Trump and Congressional Republicans. Federal grants accounted for one-fifth ($6.122 billion) of the state budget in 2016 and supported critical programs for low- to moderate-income families.

The federal budget pays for these grants through mandatory and discretionary spending; mandatory programs are set in permanent law, while discretionary programs have to be appropriated annually.

Mandatory grants fund programs such as Medicaid, CHIP, child nutrition programs, the Adoption and Foster Care Program, Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and Social Services Block Grants (SSBG). Federal Medicaid grants to Connecticut were worth $4.582 billion in 2016.

Discretionary grants to state and local governments in Connecticut were worth $1.753 billion in 2016 and provide funding for high-poverty schools, special education, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), mental health and substance abuse services, child care, heating assistance, training and employment programs, transportation, and public safety.

The report points out that both discretionary and mandatory grants - excluding Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance program (CHIP) - were already at historically low levels in 2016; mandatory grants are lower than any other year since 1980 (equal to 0.42% of the economy in 2015), while discretionary grants were lower in 2015 than all but one year since 1980 (equal to 1.05% of the economy).

Steep cuts to these grants would be catastrophic for a state budget already mired in fiscal challenges, and would likely mean even deeper cuts to programs that are critical to low- and moderate-income children and their families.

Legislative arcana: what is next in the budget process

The calendar for the legislative session sets the deadlines for most committees to vote on bills by the end of this week, with a few exceptions. The key date is the “JF deadline”, with JF standing for Joint Favorable report. The JF deadline is the last day a legislative committee can vote for a bill to be sent to the Senate or House floor.

There are two committees, however, that stand apart: the deadline for Appropriations is April 27, while the deadline for Finance is April 28. This extra month accounts for the additional time, effort, and work needed to put together the legislature’s budget proposal, the session’s most complicated, contentious and vital bill. The tradition is that Appropriations releases its half of the budget - spending - first, with Finance releasing its side - revenue - the day after.

This year, however, the process might be more complicated. As this CT Mirror article explains, Democrats have a single-vote majority in both committees. Anything too controversial risks the budget proposal being voted down, so it is quite possible that the budget proposal produced by one of the committees (likely Finance) will be unfinished, meaning it doesn’t balance the budget. This would move most budget negotiations to the Floor - but in practice, legislative leadership and the Governor will attempt to work out a deal behind the scenes. Although it is not unusual to see some changes made this way, the negotiations are likely to be harder without a complete blueprint of the budget. Plenty of work ahead.

Spotlight: Youth Opportunity Atlas

This week we released our "Connecticut Youth Opportunity Atlas" report, offering a town-by-town analysis of the multiple factors that support or hinder youth in the state. Our analysis focuses on indicators that relate to struggling youth - young adults between 16 and 24 who are neither working nor in school, pregnant youth, and youth involved in the juvenile justice system.

Main findings of the report include:

  • Youth opportunity is shaped by many community, peer, and educational influences.

  • Community income is a key component in understanding youth opportunity in Connecticut.

  • Communities where schools rely more heavily on exclusionary discipline have significantly more youth who disconnect from their schools and communities.

Visit our Tableau page for interactive visualizations and see how your town fares. You can download the full report here.

Upcoming Events:

Speak Out for Medicaid: Waterbury, March 22

Community leaders, parents, and health care providers will speak out against cuts to Medicaid and community health services, asking the Waterbury state legislative delegation to protect and defend parents’ continued access to essential health coverage. The event will take place on Wednesday, March 22, at 9:30 AM at Stay Well Health Center, 80 Phoenix Avenue, in Waterbury,.

Governor Malloy’s recently released budget reduces Medicaid (HUSKY A) income eligibility to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level, potentially leaving thousands of low-income parents without coverage. This proposed reduction in eligibility comes on the heels of changes made in September 2015 impacting about 8,000 parents who were no longer eligible for Medicaid and did not take up private coverage through Access Health CT and are likely to be uninsured.. Even fewer of the 9,500 parents whose HUSKY coverage is targeted for elimination are likely to be able to afford coverage.

Similar events are planned in Windham, Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, Norwalk and Norwich. Contact Ann Pratt at ann.prattccag@gmail.com if you have any questions.

What We Are Reading:

Two reminders:

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Education, Health, Juvenile Justice
March 20, 2017

Budget Updates: the Impact of Federal Grants on Connecticut’s Budget

A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities examines potential cuts to federal grants based on proposals from President Trump and Congressional Republicans. Federal grants accounted for one-fifth ($6.122 billion) of the state budget in 2016 and supported critical programs for low- to moderate-income families.

The federal budget pays for these grants through mandatory and discretionary spending; mandatory programs are set in permanent law, while discretionary programs have to be appropriated annually.

Mandatory grants fund programs such as Medicaid, CHIP, child nutrition programs, the Adoption and Foster Care Program, Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and Social Services Block Grants (SSBG). Federal Medicaid grants to Connecticut were worth $4.582 billion in 2016.

Discretionary grants to state and local governments in Connecticut were worth $1.753 billion in 2016 and provide funding for high-poverty schools, special education, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), mental health and substance abuse services, child care, heating assistance, training and employment programs, transportation, and public safety.

The report points out that both discretionary and mandatory grants - excluding Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance program (CHIP) - were already at historically low levels in 2016; mandatory grants are lower than any other year since 1980 (equal to 0.42% of the economy in 2015), while discretionary grants were lower in 2015 than all but one year since 1980 (equal to 1.05% of the economy).

Steep cuts to these grants would be catastrophic for a state budget already mired in fiscal challenges, and would likely mean even deeper cuts to programs that are critical to low- and moderate-income children and their families.

Issue Area:
Budget and Tax
March 14, 2017

Voices from the Capitol (X): health care reform threats

 

After a few weeks at a frantic pace, legislative hearings are coming to an end for most committees in the General Assembly. Two committees -- Appropriations and Finance -- will remain active during the next few weeks, with the state budget even more front and center.

We are at the midpoint of the legislative session. As this is our 10th Voices from the Capitol newsletter, we want to ask you for your feedback with this brief survey. It won't take more than 5 minutes of your time to complete, but your responses will help us make Voices from the Capitol even more helpful as we reach the crucial days of the session.

This week: Committee Hearings

Education Committee

Thursday, March 16 - Room 2C, 10:30 AM

H.B. No. 7252  An Act Establishing an Adjudication Process for Special Education and the Right of Parents to Observe their Child at School.

This bill gives parents the right to observe their children at school and establishes a process for parents to advocate for their children. 

Why is it important? We support this bill because observation is an important part of advocating for children with special needs, especially children who have difficulty communicating with others.  

H.B. No. 7255 An Act Establishing a Task Force to Conduct a Feasibility Study Regarding the Creation of a Special Education Predictable Cost Cooperative. 

This bill seeks to study a method for making special education costs more predictable and affordable for municipalities.

Why is it important?  We applaud the intent of the bill but have concerns about representation within the task force as well as the narrow focus of the study on a predictable cost cooperative. We will advocate to expand the task force to include representatives of children with disabilities; parents of children with disabilities; special education advocates; special education instructors; and academic experts in special education. We will also advocate to expand the focus of this taskforce to consider multiple ways to ensure adequate funding for special education.

How to testify (for either bill): Public speakers will be determined by a lottery system. Lottery numbers will be drawn from 8:00 A.M. to 9:00 A.M in the first floor atrium of the LOB. Bring 45 copies of your testimony. If you want to submit written testimony, e-mail to EDtestimony@cga.ct.gov

Finance Committee

Friday, March 17 - Room 2E, 12:00 AM

You can find the agenda for the hearing here

How to testify: A lottery determines speaker order, sign up is from 10:00 A.M. to 11:00 A.M in the first floor atrium of the LOB. Bring 35 copies of your testimony. If you want to submit written testimony, e-mail to FINtestimony@cga.ct.gov.

News: Hearings and Budget Updates

Judiciary Committee (March 13)

H.B. No. 6002 An Act Concerning "Sexting" by a Child

This bill would prevent children under the age of thirteen from being punished more harshly than children over age thirteen for engaging in sexting behaviors. 

Why is it important? Currently, sexting (sending sexual photos of oneself, or receiving them) is a misdemeanor for minors over thirteen - but a felony for children twelve and under. Sexting is a risky, but normalized, behavior during adolescent development. Imposing felony charges upon children who engage in sexting doesn't protect children - it hurts them further. Connecticut should extend the misdemeanor exception to all minors, so children who engage sexting receive age appropriate diversion services and access to supports. Here is our testimony.

Budget Updates

The Governor's budget takes on significant structural imbalances in the state budget and is balanced in its approach in that this year's budget includes cuts and revenue, unlike last year's cuts-only approach. New revenue in the Governor's budget, however, is generated largely by raising taxes on those who can least afford it, low- to middle-income families, while at the same time providing an average tax cut of approximately $100,000 for some 600 residents by raising the estate tax exemption. See our testimony here for more details, including an estate tax compromise proposal that would cost less in term of lost revenue.

We also remain concerned about proposals to exempt retirement income given the state's rapidly aging population and the impact it could have on the adequacy of income tax collections in the future. We have also proposed a compromise proposal that would exempt retirement income for resident earning less than $150,000 per year, which you can find here.

For additional information, see the impact of last year's cuts-only approach on the Children's Budget here, and see our analysis of the Governor's current biennial budget recommendations here.

Spotlight: The Federal Health Reform Bill

The American Health Care Act (AHCA) is the legislation introduced last week in the U.S. House of Representatives to replace the Affordable Care Act. The AHCA represents the largest cut to federal health insurance programs in a generation. Its impacts are wide ranging, starting with the loss of insurance coverage for millions of low- and middle-income children and families, steep increases in out-of-pocket health care costs for millions of families, significant long term fiscal impacts on state budgets, and major tax cuts that go disproportionately to the wealthiest one percent of taxpayers.

We will be looking at the effects of the AHCA in Connecticut in the coming weeks. For now, here is what we have been reading on the new law:

Connecticut Voices for Children has joined the Protect Our Care CT campaign to protect the gains that we have made as a nation and a state in health coverage and care. The campaign brings together organizations and individuals who are taking action to preserve health care for the hundreds of thousands of Connecticut residents who rely on Affordable Care Act protections, Medicare, Medicaid/HUSKY, Access Health CT, and women's health programs. The campaign's website has links to many ACA/AHCA related resources, as well as more information on their campaign and how to join.

Upcoming Events:

The Hispanic Federation, Connecticut General Assembly's Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, and the Commission on Equity and Opportunity are hosting the Diversity in Public Policy-Policy Day for Communities of Color in Connecticut at the Capitol on Thursday, March 16th.

Policy Day for Communities of Color is a one-day public forum that brings together leaders, policymakers, community advocates, and constituents across our state to discuss and advance successful initiatives that support and promote government policy, program initiatives, and contributions to our mission of building strong families and strong communities. Panels and topics to be discussed include:

  • Session 1:  From Budget Stability to Equity-How Do We Get There: 1:10 - 2:10 PM
  • Session 2:  The Formula for Education Equity: 2:15 - 3:15 PM
  • Session 3:  Achieving Health Equity: 3:30 -4:30 PM

Connecticut Voices for Children will participate in the first panel. You can register for the event here

What We are Reading:

Two reminders:

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Education, Health, Juvenile Justice