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Voices Speaking

July 8, 2019

Connecticut Voices Hires Emily Byrne as Executive Director

Emily ByrneFollowing an extensive search, Connecticut Voices for Children is pleased to announce that we have chosen a new Executive Director with wide-ranging experience and a record of leadership in government and nonprofit organizations. Emily Byrne has begun her work as leader of the organization this week.

“Emily brings a wealth of management experience and a lifelong commitment to improving opportunities for Connecticut’s children and families. With Emily at the helm, I am confident that Connecticut Voices will continue to build on its successes and its reputation for effective, research-based advocacy,” said David Nee, Chairperson of Connecticut Voices’ Board of Directors.

Byrne, a long-time Connecticut resident, has extensive experience in developing education, housing, economic development and anti-poverty policies and programs. She has organized and led advocacy campaigns on local, state and federal legislation affecting children and families. A public servant by training, she started her career as a policy analyst for the City of New Haven, where she helped design the nation’s first municipal identification card for all residents, regardless of their immigration status. Since then she has held various governmental leadership positions at the state and local levels, including roles as Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Connecticut State Department of Education and Director of Strategy and Innovation at the New Haven Housing Authority. Most notably, she was the founding Executive Director of New Haven Promise.

“Connecticut Voices for Children has been a provenance of progressive policies, rooted in research, that support the state’s most vulnerable children and families for nearly twenty-five years. Together—with communities and partners—we endeavor to build upon past efforts in service of equitable, inclusive change and justice,” said Byrne. “I am honored and humbled to lead the organization into the next quarter century of its work so that all children in Connecticut have the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Child Welfare, Early Care, Education, Family Economic Security, Health, Juvenile Justice
May 29, 2019

Voices from the Capitol: State budget under negotiation

State Budget

Last week, 63 state legislators – including a majority of House Democrats – signed a letter to Governor Lamont encouraging him to approve a budget that asks those who can best afford it to pay more in taxes. The letter called for a two percent surcharge on capital gains for couples earning over $1 million in annual income and individuals earning more than $500,000. As we discussed in our blog, capital gains fact sheet, and revenue proposal report, a capital gains tax could help to close the budget deficit and to fix Connecticut’s upside-down tax system, in which the wealthy pay a smaller share of their income in state and local taxes than middle- and low-income residents. 

Later news reports indicated that a tentative budget framework that is being negotiated between the Governor and legislative leaders does not include this capital gains tax, though it does include a “mansion tax” on expensive homes, a sales tax increase on some luxury items, and higher taxes on pass-through entity businesses. Unfortunately, these measures would only generate about one-quarter of the revenues that a capital gains tax would produce.

A negotiated budget proposal may be released this week, and a vote is expected by Wednesday, June 5, when the legislative session ends. Please take a moment today to ask both the Governor and your state legislators to fix the state budget deficit and help pay for vital services for children and families by asking the wealthy to pay more!

 

Legislative Update

As the end of the legislative session approaches on Wednesday, June 5, be sure to contact your legislators and the Governor on issues of concern to you. These are some highlights of recent legislative activity affecting children and families:

Minimum wage. A bill increasing the minimum wage to $15 by 2023 was signed by Governor Lamont this week! Thank you to everyone who supported this effort to give Connecticut families a raise.

Paid family leave. A bill implementing paid family leave (Senate Bill 1) was approved last week by the Connecticut Senate. However, the Governor has indicated that he would veto this bill over concerns about how the program would be administered. The bill awaits a House vote or a negotiated agreement with the Governor.

Community health worker and doula certification. Last week, the Senate approved Senate Bill 859, An Act Concerning Community Health Workers, which would establish a community health worker certification process as a step towards health equity in Connecticut. Community health workers can help to address barriers to health care and unmet needs. The bill awaits a House vote. In addition, a bill that would establish a workgroup concerning the core competencies for doulas to be licensed or certified to practice (Senate Bill 1078) still awaits a vote in the House, following Senate approval earlier this month.

Child welfare oversight. Last week, the Senate approved Senate Bill 452, which would establish a State Oversight Council on Children and Families. The Council provides a structure for various stakeholders to support the needs of children and families who are involved with the child welfare system or at risk of entering the foster care system. The Council could help the state to maintain and build upon important gains made under the Juan F. Consent Decree, even after we have exited from federal oversight. The bill awaits a vote in the House.

Inclusion of Black and Latino studies in the public school curriculum. The House approved legislation (House Bill 7082) that would add Black and Latino studies to the required programs of study for public schools and require boards of education to include an elective course about these topics in their high school curriculum beginning with the 2022-23 school year. The bill has been sent to the Senate for a vote.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to stay up to date!

 

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Child Welfare, Family Economic Security, Health
May 10, 2019

Voices from the Capitol: Countdown to the End of the Session

 

Legislative Update: Countdown to the End of the Session

There are fewer than four weeks left in the state legislative session, and this is a key time to contact your legislators about your priorities for children and families.

Raise your voice for fair and adequate state revenues

Connecticut has the opportunity this year to make significant progress toward improved access to high-quality early care and health care, as well as protecting the rights of youth in foster care and restoring funds for juvenile justice services. But without adequate revenues to close a recently estimated $3 billion budget gap over the next two years, more painful cuts that could fall most heavily on children and low-income families are all too likely.

Connecticut also needs to fix our upside down tax system, in which the wealthy pay a smaller share of their income in state and local taxes than low- and middle-income people to fund the programs and services vital to the well-being of our children and families. As we discussed in our recent summary, the revenue proposal by the General Assembly’s Finance Committee takes some positive steps in this direction by raising revenues through a surcharge on capital gains for high-income residents and by closing some corporate tax loopholes. However, the Committee’s proposal falls $340 million short of the revenues proposed by Governor Lamont for the next two years.

Another revenue proposal under discussion by legislators and advocates is a higher personal income tax rate for residents in the highest tax brackets. The state legislative session ends in less than one month on June 5, so the final shape of the state revenue and spending plans will be negotiated soon.

Please take a moment today to send a message to your legislators and the Governor, asking them to raise taxes on the wealthiest taxpayers, who currently pay less than their fair share!

Legislative budget plan avoids major cuts, but investments limited by budget rules

While the budget bill passed by the Appropriations Committee protects many programs that serve children and families from budget cuts, rigid and counterproductive budget rules are starving schools, infrastructure, and health systems of the spending needed to support critical investments.

As we explored in our latest report, the Appropriations Committee’s spending plan includes funding for some of our key priorities, including the preservation of coverage for parents of children in the HUSKY health insurance program, start-up costs for a public option to expand health insurance coverage, and restored funding for juvenile justice services. However, implementing these measures depends on raising adequate revenues. And our capacity to make the bolder investments we need in children and families continues to be limited by budget rules like the Bond Lock and the volatility, revenue, and spending caps.

Minimum wage hike approved by the House

Legislation to increase the minimum wage in Connecticut to $15 over the next four years was approved by the Connecticut House on Thursday! The bill includes a provision for a lower “training wage” for 16 and 17 year-olds for the first 90 days of their employment. The bill now moves to the Senate, where a vote may be scheduled soon.

Paid family and medical leave bill awaits floor vote

Recently, advocates have been pressing legislators to ensure that the paid family and medical leave bill ensures that all workers have access to paid leave, regardless of the size of their employer. They are also advocating for a definition of family that includes chosen family, which can be important to ensure that children in non-traditional families can still receive the care they need. The bill may get a floor vote in the Senate soon.

National partners join Voices in support of capital gains surcharge

Staff experts from our national partners – Elizabeth McNichol of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Aidan Davis of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy – joined Jamie Mills of Connecticut Voices for Children in submitting powerful testimony before the Finance Committee in support of a modest surcharge on capital gains earned by our wealthiest residents.

 

Teach-In on the State Budget

Join us at a teach-in on state budget solutions on Tuesday, where Jamie Mills, Director of Fiscal Policy and Economic Inclusion at Connecticut Voices for Children, will discuss how Connecticut’s regressive tax system contributes to growing inequality and how the state’s rigid budget rules exacerbate budget problems. She’ll also explore revenue solutions that can enable us to fund vital priorities for children and families.

The teach-in, sponsored by the DUE Justice Coalition, will take place on Tuesday, May 14 at 10 a.m. in Room 1B at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

Please spread the word and share the event flyer. We’ll see you there!

 

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Child Welfare, Family Economic Security, Health, Juvenile Justice
April 25, 2019

Voices from the Capitol: Closing the budget deficit, youth in foster care

 

A Capital Gains Tax Can Help Close the Budget Deficit

Next week, committees of the General Assembly are expected to release their recommendations for the state budget. The deadline for the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee to make their proposal for state revenues is Thursday, May 2. The Appropriations Committee deadline for their spending plan is on the next day, May 3. If the Finance Committee does not propose enough revenues to close the budget deficit, there may be more painful cuts to programs and services for children and families.

Our state tax system as a whole is upside down—the wealthy pay a smaller share of their income in state and local taxes than low- and middle-income people do, even though they are best able to pay more. Tax increases on the relatively small group of taxpayers at the top of the income distribution can generate revenues that would allow lawmakers to minimize harmful cuts to essential services and programs.

In our recent report, we propose five revenue options that could assure adequate revenues to support the programs and services vital to the well-being of our children and families, while enhancing the fairness of our tax system. Among them is a tax on capital gains and qualified dividends for tax filers in the top two personal income tax brackets. As we describe in our new fact sheet on our proposal, the wealthiest five percent of Connecticut residents will get a $2 billion federal tax reduction in 2019 because of the Trump tax cuts. Even after a modest, proposed capital gains and qualified dividends tax, the wealthiest would still receive a net tax reduction of $1.6 billion.

At this Friday’s Finance Committee public hearing, Jamie Mills, Director of Fiscal Policy and Economic Inclusion at Voices, will testify in favor of House Bill 7415, an Act Concerning a Surcharge on Capital Gains, which would establish a surcharge on taxpayers in the top tax bracket. For a Monday hearing of the Committee, she will also submit testimony on Senate Bill 1136, which also proposes a capital gains surcharge.

 

Protecting Youth in Foster Care

An important piece of legislation that protects youth in foster care was unanimously approved by the Connecticut House and now awaits a vote in the Senate! House Bill 6403, An Act Concerning a Children in Care Bill of Rights and Expectations and the Sibling Bill of Rights, addresses issues raised by youth in foster care in our Youth at the Capitol Day research report and forum. These youth expressed concerns that they feel disconnected from their schools and communities, value the freedom to express their own identities, and need support in exploring their identities. For more information, see our fact sheet on this bill.

 

Our Recent Publications

If you missed them, be sure to check out our recent fact sheets and reports:

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for regular updates!

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Child Welfare
April 2, 2019

Voices from the Capitol: Make your voice heard, successes & federal updates

Make Your Voice Heard in the State Budget Process

In February, Governor Lamont released his budget proposal, beginning the process of creating a state budget for the next two fiscal years. While Connecticut faces large, projected budget deficits, the Governor avoided large cuts to most programs affecting children and families by proposing new revenues to close the deficit. The Appropriations and Finance Committees held public hearings on the Governor’s proposals and will be offering their proposals for spending and revenues.

The subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee will soon make their recommendations for their respective portions of the budget. The deadline for the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee to make their proposal for state revenues is Thursday, May 2. The Appropriations Committee deadline is on the next day, May 3. If the Finance Committee does not propose raising enough revenues to close the budget deficit and avoid cuts, then the Appropriations Committee may make new, painful cuts that were not in the Governor’s proposal. Alternately, the Appropriations Committee may pass a budget that spares these cuts, but leaves the budget out of balance, without enough revenues to support their spending proposal.

To protect children and families, Connecticut must take a balanced approach to the state budget deficit that includes new revenues. Please:

  • Contact members of the subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee that have oversight of programs of concern to you. Explain why these programs are important to children and families, and who receives them.
  • Contact members of the Finance Committee and let them know that you support increasing revenues to balance the budget and protect children and families.

Recent Legislative Successes

Thanks to support from you and other advocates, these important state legislative proposals have moved forward in the General Assembly:

Protecting youth in foster care. House Bill 6403, An Act Concerning a Children in Care Bill of Rights and Expectations and the Sibling Bill of Rights, was approved unanimously by the Committee on Children and awaits a vote in the House. This bill addresses issues raised by youth in foster care in our Youth at the Capitol Day research report and forum. These youth expressed concerns that they feel disconnected from their schools and communities, valued the freedom to express their own identities, and need support in exploring their identities. For more information, see our fact sheet on this bill.

Improving health equity through community health workers. The Public Health Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 859, An Act Concerning Community Health Workers, which would establish a community health worker certification process as a step towards health equity in Connecticut. Community health workers can help to address barriers to health care and unmet needs. For more information, see our testimony on this bill.

You can find additional recent testimony on our website.

 

Federal Updates on Health and Nutrition Assistance

Affordable Care Act. As you may have read, the Department of Justice has endorsed a 2018 court ruling stating that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is unconstitutional. While Connecticut has taken steps to codify some provisions of the ACA at the state level, there are wide-reaching implications for Medicaid and the rules governing health insurance, should the entire ACA ultimately be struck down. Connecticut’s Attorney General joined 21 states in filing a brief to defend the ACA.

Medicaid work requirements. On March 27, a federal judge struck down the Department of Health and Human Services’ approval of work requirements for Medicaid in Kentucky and Arkansas. A number of other states have received approval to begin imposing work requirements or have submitted waiver applications with the aim of doing so. The vast majority of Medicaid enrollees already work or would be exempt due to a disability or caregiving responsibilities. However, as the early evidence from Arkansas shows, clearing the hurdle of reporting these factors is extremely difficult for many. This ruling is likely to be appealed and may eventually be heard by the Supreme Court. Work requirements have been proposed in Connecticut, but the idea has not received the support necessary to become law.  We have testified in opposition to such rules that make access to basic medical care for low-income families more difficult.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). As noted in our blog, Congress passed funding for SNAP in late 2018 without imposing the additional rules and restrictions proposed by the House of Representatives. However, these restrictions are now being proposed through regulations. Connecticut Voices submitted comments opposing this effort to reduce nutritional assistance to people who live in areas with high rates of unemployment. Comments are due by April 2 and can be submitted here.

Our Recent Publications

If you missed them, be sure to check out our recent fact sheets and reports:

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Child Welfare, Health
March 19, 2019

Voices from the Capitol: Access to Health Care, Recent Successes

Improving Access to Health Care

The Connecticut General Assembly is well into the legislative session, and while public hearings continue, most legislative committees have passed their deadlines to introduce new bills. This week, Karen Siegel, Health Policy Fellow at Connecticut Voices, will submit testimony on health-related bills before the Human Services Committee, including the following proposals:

  • Expanding health coverage through a public option. House Bill 7339, An Act Concerning a Public Health Insurance Option, would establish a working group to make recommendations about the establishment of a public health insurance coverage option that would be funded by enrollee premiums and open to individuals ineligible for Medicaid. In our testimony, we make recommendations to amend the proposal to address who will benefit from public option and how it will be structured. Earlier this month, we testified about House Bill 7267, another public option bill.
  • Expanding Medicaid and HUSKY B coverage for children. We support Senate Bill 1053, which would cover all uninsured, income-eligible children, regardless of their immigration status. An estimated 17,000 of Connecticut’s uninsured children are undocumented.
  • Promoting two-generational family economic success. We support Senate Bill 1080, which would create a Two-Generational Family Economic Success Cabinet within the executive branch. The cabinet would facilitate interagency collaboration to support moving families towards economic security, workforce preparedness, and improved health, while promoting dignity and independence.
  • Expanding access to providers for pregnant Medicaid members. We will testify in support of Senate Bill 1078, which would provide state certification of doulas and Medicaid reimbursement for their services. It would also study the effects of doula services on health outcomes for pregnant Medicaid beneficiaries and their infants. Doulas provide physical, emotional, and informational support before, during and after the birth; they do not provide medical care. Evidence suggests that doula support is likely to reduce the dramatic racial disparities in maternal and infant health outcomes. These disparities are tied to social as well as medical factors. Access to doula care through Medicaid may help to ensure that low-income women of color have the support and advocacy they need before, during, and after childbirth.

Recent Successes

In the last week, legislative committees approved bills that are supported by Connecticut Voices:

  • The Labor Committee took an important step toward ensuring that parents who work full-time can make ends meet by approving legislation to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15. The Committee voted in favor of Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 5004, both of which were supported by Connecticut Voices.
  • The Committee on Children passed Senate Bill 452, which would establish a State Oversight Council on Children and Families. The Council provides a structure for various stakeholders to support the needs of children and families who could be at risk of entering the foster care system. As we described in our testimony, the Council could help the state to maintain and build upon important gains made under the Juan F. Consent Decree, even after we have exited from federal oversight.

Additional Recent Testimony

Connecticut Voices staff also submitted testimony on the following bills over the last week:

You can always find all of our legislative testimony on our website. 

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Child Welfare, Education, Family Economic Security, Health

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