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Voices Speaking

May 17, 2018

End of the Session Update: New Paths to Opportunity

Roger Senserrich

In today’s email:

End-of-Session Update:

New Paths to Opportunity

The 2018 legislative session came to a close Wednesday, with the usual flurry of late-night votes and budget negotiations. It has been an unusually busy, and in many ways exceptionally successful, short session, with many of our priority bills making it to the Governor's desk, with the promise of opening new paths to opportunity for many Connecticut children and families.

On the fiscal side, unexpectedly high revenues allowed the restoration of funding to many key programs. As a result, legislators renewed and even expanded some much-needed investments in transportation, health insurance coverage, education, juvenile justice, and early childhood.

Legislators also made important reforms to the Bond Lock: our top priority this session. Our end-of-session legislative report will provide detail as to how changes to the duration of the Bond Lock coupled with changes in the volatility cap mechanism have improved state policy, even as we acknowledge the need for ongoing work to assure fiscal responsibility, adequacy, and sustainability.

As we work on our budget analysis and legislative reviews, we extend our heartfelt thanks to the many legislators, advocates, policymakers, and friends with whom we have worked to ensure that all children in Connecticut have the opportunity to succeed. We deeply appreciate your leadership, insights, and hard work, without which none of the legislative victories described below would have been possible. It has been an eventful and at times challenging legislative session, but together we are moving equity and opportunity forward in our state.

 

Legislative Priorities

Key Bills that We Supported:

HUSKY A Parent Eligibility Restoration. The increase in revenues this year allowed the General Assembly to restore HUSKY A health insurance coverage for 13,000 low-income parents (we explained why this matters here and here). The Medicaid Strategy Group and Protect Our Care CT provided admirable support in raising awareness about the impact of the HUSKY cuts, and were key champions on their reversal.

S.B. 323 An Act Requiring Notice Prior To The Transfer Of A Child To A New Placement. A bill that emerged from our Youth at the Capitol event, it instructs the Department of Children and Families to provide at least 10 days notice to children and youth in foster care before they are moved to a new home. It received unanimous support in both chambers. Thank you to Senator Paul Formica and Senator Len Suzio for championing this bill, and thank you to Senator Marilyn Moore, Representative Diana Urban, and Representative Lezlye Zupkus for prioritizing this as a Committee Bill. Read our testimony here.

S.B. 188 An Act Establishing the State Oversight Council on Children and Families. This bill creates an oversight structure for DCF to continue monitoring its performance after the Juan F. consent decree expires. Approved with widespread support by both chambers, we want to recognize the leadership of Sarah Eagan, the Child Advocate and the partnership of the Alliance for Children's Mental Health, and the Center for Children's Advocacy, as well as Representative Toni Walker, Senator Len Suzio, and Senator Len Fasano. Read our testimony here.

S.B. 455 An Act Concerning Minority Teacher Recruitment. The bill passed both chambers with nearly unanimous support, including several amendments that made it stronger. We want to highlight the great work of Commissioner Subira Gordon, Commissioner Dianna Wentzell, Senator Douglas McCrory, Senator Gayle Slossberg, Senator Toni Boucher, Representative Andrew Fleischmann, and Representative Gail Lavielle in the approval of this bill. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5449 An Act Concerning The Administration Of Certain Early Childhood Programs And The Provision Of Early Childhood Services By The Office Of Early Childhood. This OEC agency bill makes a number of statutory changes to better serve young children, including enabling increased rates for School Readiness and Child Day Care Center and new forms of program evaluation. We strongly supported this bill due to a section that enabled prioritization of infants and toddlers and other high-need populations (such as homeless families) when Care 4 Kids is operating with a waitlist, thereby helping to ensure that the most vulnerable children and families don’t have to wait long for the child care they need. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5041 An Act Concerning The Transfer Of Juvenile Services From The Department Of Children And Families To The Court Support Services Division Of The Judicial Branch. Approved with widespread bipartisan support, this bill creates the structure for the creation of community-based diversion system for juvenile offenders. We worked on this bill as part of the Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee’s diversion group, in close collaboration with the Tow Youth Justice Institute, the Child Health and Development Institute, the State Department of Education and Juvenile Review Boards. Read our testimony here.

 

Celebrating Legislative Partnerships:

S.B. 256 An Act Concerning Racial and Ethnic Impact Statements. This bill requires that certain bills include a racial and ethnic impact statement at the request of any legislator. Connecticut is the first state in the country to adopt this policy. Both chambers passed the bill with widespread bipartisan support (unanimously in the Senate, 104-44 in the House). We want to thank Senator Gary Winfield, Commissioner Subira Gordon and Werner Oyanandel for their leadership on this issue. Read our testimony here.

S.B. 13 An Act Concerning Fair Treatment of Incarcerated Women. Connecticut is one of the first states in the nation to enact this legislation implementing a set of policies to improve the treatment of female inmates in Connecticut’s prisons. Floor amendments improved an already strong bill to include protections for transgender inmates, that passed unanimously in both chambers. The Commission on Equity and Opportunity and Planned Parenthood of Southern New England championed this bill to passage. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5210 An Act Mandating Insurance Coverage Of Essential Health Benefits And Expanding Mandated Health Benefits For Women, Children And Adolescents. This bill protects essential healthcare for women and children and was passed by both chambers with widespread bipartisan support. Many thanks to Planned Parenthood of Southern New England and Representative Sean Scanlon for spearheading this bill and to Protect our Care Connecticut and for their collaboration ensuring its passage. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5517 An Act Concerning Executive Branch Data Management and Processes. This bill codifies the creation of a state Chief Data Officer to coordinate data gathering and sharing across all state agencies. It passed with unanimous support in both chambers. Read our testimony here.

SB 312: An Act Concerning The Needs Of Children With Intellectual And Developmental Disabilities. This bill requires the Commissioner of DCF to develop and integrate procedures and practices that are responsive to the needs of children with disabilities at all points of the child welfare system. The bill passed both chambers unanimously. We want to thank the Office of the Child Advocate for their leadership on this legislation. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5169: An Act Implementing the Recommendations of the Office of Early Childhood. This bill creates a 90-day grace period for vaccinations and physicals for homeless children enrolling in child care. Lowering barriers to accessing child care for homeless families helps keep kids safe, enables parents to work to support themselves, and provides stability for the whole family. It passed unanimously in both chambers. We commend the Partnership for Strong Communities, the Office of Early Childhood, and allies throughout the early childhood community for this legislation. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5470 An Act Concerning The Provision Of Timely Notice Of Child Placement Information From The Department Of Children And Families To The Attorney Or Guardian Ad Litem Representing The Child In A Child Protection Matter. The Center for Children’s Advocacy championed this bill, that passed both chambers unanimously. This bill complements S.B. 323 to help ensure that foster children have appropriate support from their attorney or guardian ad litem when they transition between homes. Read our testimony here.

 

Key Bills We Opposed that Were Defeated:

S.B. 270 An Act Concerning Work And Community Service Requirements For Recipients Of Certain Public Assistance Programs. The bill would have added work and community service requirements and asset testing for adults under age 65 receiving HUSKY (Medicaid) insurance. It also would have barred the Department of Social Services from applying federal SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) waivers for high-unemployment areas. These changes would have added enormous administrative burden for the state while increasing the likelihood that eligible families would lose care due to red tape. The bill did not receive a vote in committee. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5445 An Act Concerning The Development Of Policies Regarding The Provision Of Alternative Educational Opportunities For Expelled Students By Boards Of Education. The bill  removed minimum education requirements for expelled students, potentially leaving them behind on their education. Although it made it out of committee, but was not put up for a vote in the House. We worked closely with the Center for Children's Advocacy and Connecticut Legal Services to push back on this proposal. You can read our testimony here.

S.B. 373: An Act Concerning The Connecticut Health Insurance Exchange, Low Option Benefit Design and Short-term Care Policies. This bill and two others would have allowed insurers to offer short-term plans and insurance options with high-out-of-pocket costs and limited benefits. Such plans expose families to debt and can make insurance coverage unaffordable to use. The bill reached the Senate, but did not receive a vote. Read our testimony here.

S.B.316 An Act Establishing A Child Care Facility Neighbor Relations Task Force. This bill would have created a task force to address neighborhood concerns with local group homes without representation from any youth or staff - thereby risking further stigmatization and harm to children in DCF care. The bill reached the Senate, but did not receive a vote. The Alliance of Community Nonprofits was a key partner defeating this bill. Read our testimony here.

S.B. 486 An Act Concerning Notification To Boards Of Education Of The Release Of A Juvenile Sexual Offender And A Model Policy Concerning The Reentry Of Such Juveniles Into The School System. The bill reached the Senate, but did not receive a vote. The bill is similar to one introduced last year. It lacked key privacy protections for ex-offenders, running counter to research on rehabilitation and recidivism. We worked closely with the Juvenile Justice Alliance and the Office of the Chief Public Defender to educate legislators on the dangers of this bill. Read our testimony here.

S.B.187 An Act Concerning The Transfer Of A Child Charged With Certain Offenses To The Criminal Docket. The Senate referred this bill to the Judiciary Committee that voted it down. It would have expanded the number of juvenile cases that could be transferred to adult criminal courts. We want to thank the Office of the Chief Public Defender, the Juvenile Justice Alliance and Center for Children's Advocacy, the Alliance for Children’s Mental Health, and African Caribbean American Parents of Children with Disabilities (AFCAMP) for their support to defeat this bill. Read our testimony here.

H.B. 5584:  An Act Establishing a Tax Credit for Employers that Provide Paid Family and Medical Leave Benefits and Concerning Family and Medical Leave Accounts.The bill reached the House, but did not get a vote. While we applaud Paid Family Medical Leave (PFML) as a policy, this bill would have limited the number of people would could access PFML while costing the state revenue. Read our testimony in opposition here.

S.B. 359: An Act Prohibiting The Disaggregation Of Student Data By Ethnic Subgroups In The Public School Information System.The bill did not receive a vote in Committee. Helping lawmakers understand the value and necessity of disaggregated data for opening pathways to opportunity was a team effort, and we’d like to recognize the partnership of Commissioner Subira Gordon, Commissioner Dianna Wentzell, Health Equity Solutions, the Connecticut Association of Human Services, the Khmer Health Advocates, and the Asian Pacific American Coalition of Connecticut. Read our testimony here.

The Volatility Cap

The General Assembly revised budget introduced some welcome changes to the volatility cap. Under the old system, any revenue raised from estimates and finals above $3.15 billion went to the Budget Reserve Fund, without any further adjustments. The cap level, however, set a hard limit, without ties to actual volatility or accounting for economic growth or the overall budget situation.

The new provision indexes the actual cap to growth in personal income, allowing the revenue set aside to track economic activity. In addition, the General Assembly can raise the cap level with a three-fifths majority in both chambers to respond to changes in the tax code or economic growth.

Representative Vin Candelora has been a strong voice for a responsible, nuanced and flexible volatility cap in Connecticut, and we thank him for his leadership.

Lawmakers also introduced changes to the Bond Lock, limiting its application to five years. We are evaluating the legislative language included in the implementer to fully understand its implications, but we thank Representative Jason Rojas for raising the bill that made the Bond Lock a discussion amongst the legislature.

Analysis: Budget Proposals

We are working on a full-length analysis of the budget right now; expect to hear from us in the coming days. The overall picture is that increased revenues enabled the General Assembly to restore funding or limit cuts to several key programs. Nevertheless, legislators only made modest progress in tackling Connecticut’s structural deficits, leaving a challenging budget scenario for the 2019 legislative session. The CT Mirror, as usual, has a good overview.

Federal Update: CHIP Rescissions, SNAP Updates

  • The White House is set to request a rescission package this week, asking Congress to rescind funds previously allocated by Congress and signed into law — the first installment in what’s expected to become a larger Trump administration push to clamp down on government spending. The request will likely include cuts to CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program). Vox has more on this proposal.

  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—formerly Food Stamps—provides low-income households with a monthly benefit that is redeemable only for food. More than 400,000 Connecticut residents relied on this program last year alone. Congress may soon vote on proposed changes to SNAP in the Farm Bill. These changes would increase food insecurity and hardship for children in low-income families, while increasing the state’s administrative burden. Click here to download our issue brief about the potential impact of the cuts in Connecticut.

What We Are Reading

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Child Welfare, Early Care, Education, Family Economic Security, Health, Juvenile Justice
May 8, 2018

Juvenile Justice Reform Must Maintain Its Focus on Prevention

Lauren Ruth, Ph.D.

A month ago, as a result of decades of juvenile justice reform, Connecticut celebrated the landmark closing of the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS), its last large juvenile prison. Instead of a secluded facility far from youths’ communities, Connecticut will now rely on a network of smaller facilities that are informed by childhood and youth development. The closure of CJTS should not be viewed as the end of juvenile justice reform, but rather as a shift in the state’s approach to juvenile justice to one that asks how we can work towards preventing youth from ever seeing the inside of a prison cell.

Prevention, evidence-based programs, wrap-around services, and community supports for at-risk youth and their families can greatly reduce juvenile justice involvement. Preventative efforts are more cost-effective than relying on expensive court proceedings, and they help to open pathways toward responsible citizenship and opportunity for the youth they serve.

 

Although the Connecticut state legislature and all the executive agencies involved share a strong commitment to focus on prevention, the transition from CJTS to a more community-based system is at risk of failing to support these youths. A mix of unclear budgetary priorities, insufficient funding, and obstacles in collaboration might derail the state´s best efforts.

CJTS was extremely costly to operate, so with its closure the Department of Children and Families (DCF) will save a substantial amount of money in the long run. The state planned to shift this funding to cover the costs of establishing the kind of community-based services and facilities that are both cheaper to run and are more effective.

A quirk in the budget process, however, puts this at risk. With the closure of CJTS, policymakers shifted most of the funding that DCF used to operate the facility, in addition to some services for justice-involved youth, to the Court Support Services Division (CSSD), an agency within the Judicial Branch. The problem is that a significant amount of the savings have either gone elsewhere or have been cut outright, leaving prevention services badly underfunded. 

Both state agencies can and have run excellent juvenile justice programs in the past, making great strides towards reducing juvenile incarceration and responding to the needs of youth offenders with excellent programs that have become national models. Because of the budget cuts, however, many of these programs and initiatives that have made Connecticut a national leader in Juvenile Justice now lack adequate budgetary resources to operate.
Among these services are the Juvenile Review Boards, local community-based diversion initiatives that many towns and cities rely on for restorative juvenile justice work. These services also include evidence-based therapies that support children and families struggling with substance abuse and behavioral challenges before these children become involved with the courts through arrest.

At its height, CJTS and the Pueblo Unit for Girls cost DCF over $30 million a year to run, but the latest budget proposals shift $17 million to CSSD to establish both new secure facilities for youth with challenging needs and the services to help meet these needs, all of which is needed. This shift leaves DCF without the approximately $7 million they need to fund prevention efforts for at-risk youth. It is crucial that the General Assembly helps ensure that the closure of CJTS, an undisputed achievement, does not become a failure caused by unexpectedly overburdening the new justice system by leaving prevention behind.

Connecticut’s past successes in juvenile justice reform allow for the rightsizing of our justice because our policies to date have been focused on reducing the school-to-prison pipeline and racial and ethnic disparities in arrests while opening avenues to restorative justice and opportunity. But rightsizing is just that—reducing what is no longer necessary and optimizing investments. By adequately funding both prevention and services for youth with the most complex needs, Connecticut can ensure a brighter future for today’s children and tomorrow’s workforce.

 

Issue Area:
Juvenile Justice
May 4, 2018

Voices from the Capitol: A Call to Action - The Clock is Ticking on the Bond Lock

Roger Senserrich

In today’s email:

Legislative Priorities

The Bond Lock

The Bond Lock continues to be our main focus - and with the final day of the session less than a week away, the need for action becomes more and more urgent.

The good news is that the House of Representatives debated the bill that delays most of the Bond Lock Tuesday evening (H.B. 5590), including a new amendment introduced by Representative Rojas and Senator Fonfara. The bad news is that the bill did not receive a vote. Legislators have assured us that the bill is not dead and they are continuing negotiations.

Time, however, is running out. The Bond Lock is an untested legislative provision that can completely upend the budget process for more than a decade. It has the potential to crowd out investments in children, family well-being, and economic development and will have implications that extend long after the Bond Lock expires. The General Assembly must act now to prevent this legislative provision from severely undermining its fiscal authority for more than a decade, creating a cloud of uncertainty over Connecticut’s budget.

The newly introduced amendment moves the bill in the right direction, but still falls short of a full delay. It postpones implementing the Bond Lock for a year on three of the fiscal restrictions - appropriations cap, spending cap, bond cap - instead of just two, but it will still include a promise not to change the volatility cap in bonds issued after May 15th this year. The amendment also reduces the length of the bond covenant requirements from ten years after first bond issuance to five years, and excludes some additional bond types from including a Bond Lock covenant.

Although the amended bill would be an improvement, it is not enough. Connecticut Voices for Children urges legislators to consider a delay of the Bond Lock without exceptions, or a full repeal of the Bond Lock.

Call to action: Speak Up Against the Bond Lock

The Connecticut General Assembly is slated to vote on H.B. 5590, "An Act Concerning Covenants and the Bond Issuance Cap."

H.B. 5590 would not fully repeal the existing Bond Lock; rather, it would partially delay implementation. Under this proposal, bonds issued after May 15, 2018, would include a covenant locking in the volatility cap. Bonds issued after the end of the session (July 1, 2019, onwards) would lock in the spending, appropriations, and bond caps.

While an improvement over current law, further change is needed. We are calling legislators to amend the bill to:

  • Delay the effective date of all provisions of the Bond Lock until July 1, 2019.

  • Study and issue a report on the impact of the Bond Lock, with a committee hearing on the same, prior to the new effective date.
     

We urge you to join us in requesting the passage of an amended bill. Inaction is not an option, for existing law poses real threats to our state. If implemented, the Bond Lock would:

  • Risk billions of dollars in cuts to social services and other crucial programs for children and families in the state.

  • Create uncertainty regarding Connecticut's fiscal health, potentially damaging our credit rating and increasing our borrowing costs.

  • Leave Connecticut powerless to respond to emergencies. We do not know what the federal government is going to do regarding funding. We don't know if a natural disaster is coming. With the Bond Lock, we do know that we cannot address any of these challenges without facing serious penalties.

Other Legislative priorities

 

Bills that we support:

S.B. 323 An Act Requiring Notice Prior To The Transfer Of A Child To A New Placement. A bill that emerged from our “Youth at the Capitol” event, it passed the Senate on consent last week (that is, unanimously). It is currently waiting action on the House Calendar. Thank you to Sen. Formica and Sen. Suzio for raising and championing this bill in the Senate. We hope that Rep. Urban and Rep. Zupkus will do the same in the House.

H.B. 5210 An Act Mandating Insurance Coverage Of Essential Health Benefits And Expanding Mandated Health Benefits For Women, Children And Adolescents.The House amended the original bill, passing it on a 114-32 vote. It is currently on the Senate calendar. We thank Sen. Scanlon for his leadership on this bill.

S.B. 455 An Act Concerning Minority Teacher Recruitment. The bill passed the Senate yesterday on consent, with substantial proposed amendments. The amendments to this bill are mainly favorable, including the requirement that local school boards collect and report to SDE on the demographics of applicants to positions that require an education certification and the development of alternative routes to certification for Veterans, Charter School Educators and Paraeducators with Bachelor's degrees. It is currently on the Senate Calendar.

 

No movement yet:

S.B. 256 An Act Concerning Racial and Ethnic Impact Statements. This bill is on the Senate calendar.

H.B. 5415  An Act Concerning The Collection And Usage Of Health Equity Data. This bill is on the House Calendar.

H.B. 5517 An Act Concerning Executive Branch Executive Priorities. This bill is on the House calendar.

H.B. 5449 An Act Concerning The Administration Of Certain Early Childhood Programs And The Provision Of Early Childhood Services By The Office Of Early Childhood. Tabled for the House Calendar.

 

Bills we oppose:

H.B. 5328 An Act Concerning The Admissibility Of Admissions, Confessions And Statements By Children Under The Age Of Eighteen. This bill is on the House Calendar. Unless legislators vote on it along with a currently uncalled amendment, we oppose its passage.

H.B. 5445 An Act Concerning The Development Of Policies Regarding The Provision Of Alternative Educational Opportunities For Expelled Students By Boards Of Education. This bill is also on the House Calendar. You can read our testimony here.

S.B.453 An Act Concerning Classroom Safety and Disruptive Behavior. This bill is on the Senate Calendar; read our testimony here.

S.B.316 An Act Establishing A Child Care Facility Neighbor Relations Task Force. This bill is on the Senate Calendar. Read our testimony here.

S.B. 486 An Act Concerning Notification To Boards Of Education Of The Release Of A Juvenile Sexual Offender And A Model Policy Concerning The Reentry Of Such Juveniles Into The School System. Also waiting on the Senate calendar. Read our testimony here.

 

Analysis: Budget Proposals

First, the good news: tax collections are up by close to $2 billion, potentially making the General Assembly’s task of balancing the budget much easier. However, most of that surge in revenue will go into the Budget Reserve Fund, not the General Fund, following the new volatility cap rules. The CT Mirror has a good overview of the causes of this revenue surge, and how state agencies predict that the large increases will not continue over time.

The General Assembly, meanwhile, continues its work on the budget. On April 20, the Appropriations Committee and legislative Republicans put forward their proposals to modify the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 budget adopted last October. We analyzed both plans in our new budget report, comparing them to the Governor’s initial proposal. Our conclusion was that all three budget plans struggle to promote policies that support opportunity for all children and families, despite restoring some program funding, and that they do not increase revenues significantly. You can read the full analysis here.

Following the newly revised higher revenue estimates, Republicans released a revised budget document on Wednesday. We are currently going over the details, but the CT Mirror has a good overview here.

The Bond Lock under this Budget Proposals

Neither of the legislative budget proposals address the Bond Lock or include any changes to this legislation. Both plans breach some of the budget rules that the Bond Lock would cement into place for the next decade, highlighting the need to rethink its application. The funding in the Appropriations Committee bill exceeds the spending cap limit, while the Republican proposal breaches the volatility cap, using some of the additional revenue to fund the budget rather than  the Budget Reserve Fund. As we discuss in our budget analysis:

Getting around the volatility and spending caps this year may not be too heavy a lift, but the fact that both parties seek relief from the fiscal restraints they enacted just a few months ago should give pause to those who want to lock in the restraints through the use of broad bond covenants. While fiscal restraint is advisable, some amount of agility is necessary for unexpected circumstances. In the coming years, federal laws may decrease or delay Connecticut’s Medicaid funding. Natural disasters may bring evacuees to Connecticut, as did Hurricane Maria. The Bond Lock would make responding to these or other unforeseeable challenges much more difficult, if not impossible.

In Case You Missed It: Bond Lock Op-Ed

CT by the Numbers published this weekend an op-ed by Associate Policy Fellow Ray Noonan and Fiscal Policy Fellow Rachel Silbermann about the threat that the Bond Lock represents to Connecticut´s long-term fiscal health.

Connecticut’s future lies in opening new pathways to economic growth and opportunity for businesses, families, and communities. To achieve these goals, Connecticut needs a predictable and coherent fiscal policy that enables lawmakers to make the strategic choices that can spur economic growth. Unfortunately, a set of fiscal restrictions added to the budget in the final hours of negotiations last year might bring significant uncertainty on future fiscal policy and leave legislators unable to respond to current and future crises.

The fiscal restrictions – spending cap, bonding cap, volatility cap, appropriations cap, and Bond Lock – place a set of rules to guide Connecticut's fiscal policy. When well-designed, fiscal restrictions can help create a strong foundation for the state´s budget practices, enabling legislators to focus on forward-looking investments to generate opportunity and spur economic growth. When hastily designed, however, restrictions may constrain fiscal policy to the point of making it wholly ineffective.

You can read it here.

Federal Update:

The new Farm Bill is slowly moving forward in Congress. After a favorable vote in the Agriculture Committee, the House plans to vote on the bill next week. The proposed legislation has many problems, and would greatly increase food insecurity for low-income families that rely on this program. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities´analysis is clear:

The nutrition provisions of the farm bill that the House Agriculture Committee passed on April 18, if enacted, would increase food insecurity and hardship. The proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) would end or cut benefits for a substantial number of low-income people.

SNAP is the country’s most effective anti-hunger program, helping 1 in 8 Americans afford a basic diet, with most SNAP participants being children, seniors, or people with disabilities. Despite providing modest benefits — averaging about $1.40 per person per meal — the program combats food insecurity, alleviates poverty, and has long-term positive impacts on health as well as on children’s educational attainment. The Committee’s proposal would reduce SNAP’s effectiveness and put large numbers of families and individuals at increased risk of hardship.

Read the full report here.

What We Are Reading

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Child Welfare, Early Care, Education, Family Economic Security, Health, Juvenile Justice
April 23, 2018

Voices from the Capitol: The Final Stretch

Roger Senserrich

In today’s email:

Bond Lock Updates

With less than three weeks remaining before the end of session, we issue a call for united action to repeal or delay implementation of the bond lock: an untested legislative mandate that would create nearly insurmountable hurdles to our state’s economic revitalization, long-term prosperity, and shared opportunity.  

Thanks to your support, we can celebrate some progress. The General Assembly is considering H.B. 5590 An Act Concerning Bond Covenants and the Bond Issuance Cap: a bill that would delay implementation and require study of the Bond Lock.The Finance Committee voted in favor of the bill and referred it to the Legislative Commissioners Office. Now it is under review by the Office of Legislative Research and the Office of Fiscal Analysis, the last step before getting a file number and landing on the calendar.

H.B. 5590 is a tremendous step forward, but it requires further revision to extend its study and delay provisions to the volatility cap, as well as the spending cap and bonding cap. “Locking in” the new volatility cap, which is not drafted according to best practices followed by other states, may jeopardize Connecticut’s already tenuous bond credit ratings. We need to work together to build support for legislative passage of an amended bill. We urge you to visit our website to download some of the new resources we have prepared. You can direct interested partners and legislators to our Bond Lock display at the LOB cafeteria (until the end of April). You can watch our presentation about the Bond Lock here, and you can download the posters here.

Breaking News: Budget Proposals

Late breaking news this afternoon regarding the state budget. Both the Democratic leaders of the House Appropriations Committee and their Republican counterparts released their budget proposals today.

Both Democratic and Republican plan reverse several of the budget cuts in the current budget, relying in part on the unexpectedly high income tax revenues coming in this year. The revenue increase has been large enough to actually go over the volatility cap (one of the fiscal restrictions included in last year´s budget that we fear the Bond Lock might set in stone), so it is unclear if and how legislators might use the money to close this year´s deficit. The CT Mirror has two good pieces on this issue here and here.

Democrats are set to vote on their plan today, although it is unclear if they have the votes. As usual, we will have a deep dive analyzing both budget proposals in the coming days.

What to Expect at the End of the Session

The legislative session officially ends on May 9 at midnight. With committee hearings done, the legislative work moves to the full House and Senate chambers. For the first 2-3 weeks, the General Assembly will largely take up non-contentious bills--proposals that have solid bipartisan support. Work on the budget and on more divisive bills continues behind closed doors until closer to the end of the session, when the House and Senate will begin to bring to the floor legislation that generates more debate and is harder to pass. The Bond Lock legislation will likely come to a vote closer to the end of session.

Other Updates: Bills Moving Forward, Bills Defeated

Right now, most of the bills we track are still going over the legislative process, so we only have one update:

H.B.5450 An Act Concerning The Staff Qualifications Requirement For Early Childhood Educators just passed the House unanimously. Although Connecticut Voices for Children opposed the initial version of this bill, which would have lowered the required certification for early childhood educators in state-funded classrooms from a bachelor’s degree to an associate’s degree, the Education Committee introduced substitute language that delays the education requirements, something we support.

Legislative Jargon: the House and Senate Calendars

As we enter the home stretch of the legislative session, it is useful to revisit some of the jargon and procedures of the General Assembly. Before a bill comes to a vote in both chambers, there are four terms that will come up: “file number,” “business on the calendar,” the “go list,” and “markings.” Let's see what they mean.

  • File number: This is the number that a bill gets once reported out of committee, printed, and sent to the floor. This means that the bill is ready for consideration by both houses. A bill might end up having two or three file numbers - if it is amended in the House, the Senate, or receives substitute language in another committee, it will get a new one.
  • Business on the Calendar: A list of all the bills that are waiting for a vote in either the House or the Senate. Bills get a calendar number when placed there; the lower the number, the longer the bill has been sitting on it. A bill needs to sit on the calendar for two days before being ready for action. Once it has sat for two days, it gets two little stars by its name.
  • Go List: The list of bills that the House intends to take up that particular day. Bills on the Go List might not get to a vote if debate on other bills on the list takes too much floor time.
  • Markings: The equivalent to the “Go List” in the Senate. The list is not posted in writing, but read aloud in the chamber.

New Brief: HUSKY Caregiver Cuts, by Town

In 2015, Connecticut reduced the income eligibility limits for parents and caregivers enrolled in HUSKY A (Connecticut’s Medicaid program for children and their relative caretakers) from 201% of the federal poverty limit (FPL) to 155% FPL. In 2017, a further reduction to 138% FPL ($34,638 for a family of four) means that as of January 2019 approximately 13,522 parents and caretakers will lose access to HUSKY A insurance coverage.

Many families cannot afford to purchase health insurance on the regulated health care exchanges, even with subsidies and limits on cost-sharing. Even if they can, families often experience reduced services and out-of-pocket costs. Over 78% of parents/caregivers who lost coverage in the first round of cuts have no known health insurance.

In this policy brief, we detail the coverage reductions, with data on the number of caregivers affected by the 2017 HUSKY eligibility reduction by town.

You can also download the impact of the cuts by legislative district here.

Federal Update: Farm Bill and SNAP

The House Agriculture Committee is starting to debate the 2018 Farm Bill, a key piece of legislation for nutrition assistance programs. This bill contains the funding and regulations for SNAP ( formerly food stamps), one of the most important anti-poverty programs in the country.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities just published an excellent report on the new proposal. Their main takeaway:

The nutrition provisions of the farm bill that House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway plans to bring before his committee on April 18 would, if enacted, increase food insecurity and hardship. The proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) would end or cut benefits for a substantial number of low-income people.

The bill will likely need significant changes to pass the Senate, but the initial proposal is worrisome. Click here to read the full report.

What We Are Reading

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Child Welfare, Early Care, Education, Family Economic Security, Health, Juvenile Justice
April 5, 2018

Voices from the Capitol: Bond Lock and Revenue Options

Roger Senserrich

In today’s email:

Key Bill This Week: The Bond Lock

On Monday, Ellen Shemitz, our Executive Director, testified in front on the Finance and Bonding Committee about H.B. 5590 An Act Concerning Bond Covenants and the Bond Issuance Cap.

The bill seeks to change the Bond Lock, a fiscal restriction included in last year's budget agreement. H.B. 5590 would partially delay its implementation. Under this proposal, bonds issued by the state after May 15, 2018 would include a covenant locking in the state’s volatility cap. Bonds issued after the end of the session (July 1, 2019 and onward) would lock in the spending cap and bond cap.

We commend the legislature for addressing this issue, but we believe that the potential impacts of the Bond Lock warrant a broader delay for further consideration. Connecticut Voices for Children supports HB 5590 with the following proposed amendments:

  1. Delay the bond lock’s application to the volatility cap until July 1, 2019
  2. Establish a Commission to study the bond lock and associated fiscal restrictions in depth and report back to the legislature by March 1, 2019.

Call to Action: The Bond Lock

We urge you to join us in requesting passage of an amended bill. Inaction is not an option. Existing law poses real threats to our state. If implemented, the Bond Lock would:

  • Risk billions of dollars in cuts to social services and other crucial programs for children and families in the state.
  • Create uncertainty regarding Connecticut's fiscal health, potentially damaging our credit rating and increasing our borrowing costs.
  • Leave Connecticut powerless to respond to emergencies. We do not know what the federal government is going to do regarding funding. We don't know if a natural disaster is coming. With the Bond Lock, we will know that we cannot address any of these challenges without facing serious penalties.

The Finance Committee has until tomorrow Friday, 4/6/2018, to vote on H.B.5590. Contact your legislators today and ask them to act on this bill and break the bond lock.

Do You Want to Learn More?

The Bond Lock is a provision included in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018-2019 budget aimed at restricting changes to Connecticut's budget rules. It stipulates that whenever Connecticut issues a bond for a two-year period beginning in May, it must vow not to change three new spending and revenue restrictions—the spending cap, volatility cap, and bond cap— for the life of the bond (typically 10 years) except in extraordinary circumstances.

Because bonds are considered contracts, Connecticut would be legally bound to maintain these spending and revenue restraints despite what future Governors or legislatures might find to be in the best interests of the state. Any effort to break the covenant would invite litigation and risk significant penalties.

The fiscal restrictions that the Bond Lock cements into place all have significant flaws, threatening state investments necessary to build thriving communities. By making it virtually impossible to change any of these restrictions for more than a decade, the Bond Lock limits the state’s ability to address both existing and unanticipated challenges, today and into the future.

For more information about the Bond Lock, download our Bond Lock FAQ. You can also watch our presentation on the Bond Lock here.

Other Updates: Bills Moving Forward, Bills Defeated

The committee work is coming to a close, with the legislative debates now moving to the House and Senate floor. The vast majority of the bills that did not receive a vote in committee are no longer in play (they can come back as amendment to other bills, but that is fairly unusual), so the list of proposed legislation we are currently tracking has narrowed down considerably. We are currently revising our priority list, and will offer a more in-depth take on our top remaining priorities in our next newsletter.

Here are some updates on some of our key priorities:

In Case You Missed it: Revenue Options

Connecticut´s prosperity depends upon smart public investments in high-quality schools, reliable roads and bridges, and adequate infrastructure. To make these investments, we need a stable, balanced, and predictable budget that raises sufficient funding without undermining economic growth or closing pathways to opportunity.

In our new report, we analyze a wide range of possible tax changes geared towards two primary goals. First, making the overall tax system less upside-down, so low-income families no longer pay a higher share of their income than wealthy residents. Second, making the overall tax system more conducive to economic growth, by simplifying and broadening the tax base to raise adequate revenue.

We offer revenue proposals in four separate areas:

  • Strengthening Connecticut´s corporate tax system, eliminating loopholes and ineffective tax breaks
  • Reforming wealth and income taxes, increasing the capital gains and dividends tax and restoring the estate tax exemption
  • Modernizing the sales tax system, broadening its base and taxing internet sales and digital downloads
  • Introducing public health-supporting taxes on sugary drinks and tobacco products
     

Click here to download

Federal Update: Census Questions and Health Updates

Two important sets of federal updates this week. This week in our blog, Karen Siegel provided an overview of a slew of federal initiatives:

“As Connecticut races toward legislative deadlines, the federal government has been crafting important new legislation that impacts children and families on matters ranging from food security to gun violence. Here is a brief update on three important issues—Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Public Charge, and gun legislation—together with three things you can do right now to raise your voice for children.”

In addition, the US Census has decided that for the first time in decades that the 2020 census will include a question asking about citizenship status. This has the potential to make the Census considerably less accurate, with far reaching implications on issues from federal spending to congressional district maps. Arloc Sherman, Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, explains:

“The Trump Administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census will not only reduce responses by immigrants and thereby make the count less accurate, experts say, but it also could trigger new costs that offset part of the added census funding that the President and Congress just provided.”

The New York Times also had an excellent overview of the ramifications of adding this question, especially for communities of color. Several State Attorney Generals, including Connecticut’s George Jepsen, are challenging this decision in court.

What We Are Reading

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Child Welfare, Early Care, Education, Family Economic Security, Health, Juvenile Justice
March 23, 2018

Voices from the Capitol: Bills moving forward and a big hearing today

Roger Senserrich

In today’s email:

Key Bills Moving Forward

After weeks of public hearings, legislative committees are starting to vote on bills. As a result, several bills we have supported are moving forward. More to come, as committees finish their work.

S.B. 1 An Act Concerning Earned Family and Medical Leave. Our testimony in support.

S.B. 256 An Act Concerning Racial and Ethnic Impact Statements. Our testimony in support.

H.B. 5328 An Act Concerning The Admissibility Of Admissions, Confessions And Statements By Children Under The Age Of Eighteen. Our testimony in support.

H.B. 5388 An Act Concerning the Minimum Wage. Our testimony.

S.B. 188 An Act Establishing the State Oversight Council on Children and Families. Our testimony.

H.B. 5463 An Act Concerning a Medicaid Public Option. Our testimony.

S.B. 323 An Act Requiring Notice Prior to The Transfer Of A Child To A New Out-of-home Placement. Our testimony in support.

Unfortunately, some bills we opposed are also moving forward.

S.B. 187: An Act Concerning The Transfer Of A Child Charged With Certain Offenses To The Criminal Docket And The Grounds For Detention Of An Arrested Child. Here is our testimony opposing the bill.

S.B. 373: An Act Concerning The Connecticut Health Insurance Exchange, Low Option Benefit Design And Short-term Care Policies. Our testimony.

Legislative Hearings:

The General Assembly continued to hold hearings this week in several key areas. Most committees are now hitting their deadlines to vote on the legislation in front of them (see calendar here). Appropriations, Judiciary, and Finance still have hearings pending; their deadline is early next month. Below are the relevant dates and locations of hearings related to children and families. The full schedule is available here.

There is one hearing that stands out, both for its breadth and unusual setting: the Fiscal Stability Commission report hearing.

Key Hearing: Joint Hearing, Fiscal Stability Commission Report

Appropriations Committee

Commerce Committee

Finance, Revenue, And Bonding Committee

Planning And Development Committee

Friday, March 23, 2018, 12:30 P.M., House Chamber.

A joint committee hearing hosted by four committees in the House Chamber is quite out of the ordinary, only seen on rare occasions. The issues at hand are the findings from Commission of Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth report, an ambitious document that proposes many fiscal and regulatory reforms to promote economic growth and close Connecticut´s structural budget deficit.

You can find the full report here. We provided an quick overview of the report in a previous newsletter; Ellen Shemitz, our Executive Director, gave a longer response in an op-ed in the CT Mirror.

Recent Hearings:

Judiciary Committee

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

We testified on the following bills:

S.B. 13 An Act Concerning Fair Treatment of Incarcerated Women

H.B. 5531 An Act Concerning Enhanced Employment Opportunities for Incarcerated Individuals

We opposed S.B. 486 An Act Concerning Notification to Boards of Education of the Release of a Juvenile Sexual Offender and a Model Policy Concerning the Reentry of Such Juveniles into the School System

Judiciary Committee

Friday, March 23, 2018

We are supporting the following bills:

H.B. No. 5540  An Act Concerning Ghost Guns And The Permit Application Process.

H.B. No. 5542  An Act Concerning Bump Stocks And Other Means Of Enhancing The Rate Of Fire Of A Firearm

H.B. No. 5556  An Act Concerning The Evaluation And Tracking Of Prosecutions Of Crimes Committed With The Use Of A Firearm

H.B. No. 5526  An Act Implementing The Recommendations Of The Juvenile Justice Policy And Oversight Committee

We are opposing the following bills:

S.B. 515 An Act Concerning Minor and Technical Changes to Various Statutes Concerning the Juvenile Justice System
H.B. 5558 An Act Concerning Juvenile Matters

H.B. No. 5559  An Act Concerning The Transfer Of Cases Of Repeat Juvenile Felony Offenders To The Regular Criminal Docket.

Other Upcoming Hearings

In addition, the following committees have scheduled hearings in the coming days. We are still reviewing the bills under consideration; expect a follow-up email with the highlights later if we find anything relevant. We will post our testimony on our website. You can find the full list of hearings here.

Judiciary Committee

Monday, March 26, 2018, 10:00 A.M., Room 2C

Wednesday, March 28, 2018, 10 A.M., Room 2C

A lottery will determine speaking order, sign up takes place from 8:00 A.M. to 9:30 A.M. in Room 2500 of the LOB on the day of the hearing. Bring 50 copies of your testimony. You can also submit written testimony to JUDtestimony@cga.ct.gov.  

Appropriations Committee

Wednesday, March 28, 2018, 10:00 A.M., Room 1E

Speaker order will be determined by a lottery, as well. Sign up to get a number will be from 8:00 A.M. to 9:30 A.M. in the first floor atrium of the LOB. Bring 60 copies of your testimony. You can also email written testimony to APPtestimony@cga.ct.gov.  

Highlights: Key Testimony from CT Voices

Connecticut Voices for Children testified on several bills last week covering a broad range of topics that directly impact children and families.

Upcoming Release: Revenue Options

Good schools, modern infrastructure, and quality public services are the cornerstone of economic prosperity. Connecticut needs a stable, balanced, and predictable budget that raises enough money to fund these services in an equitable manner.

In our upcoming report coming out next week, we provide a list of revenue options to adequately fund these services. We analyze several alternatives and possible reforms, covering income, sales, and business taxes, as well as tolls. We also look at the impact of Connecticut’s newly imposed fiscal restrictions on our revenue system, especially the Bond Lock.

Expect to see a full report early next week.

In Case You Missed it: the Bond Lock FAQ

The Bond Lock is a provision in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018-2019 budget aimed at restricting changes to Connecticut's budget rules. It stipulates that whenever Connecticut issues a bond for a two-year period beginning in May, it must vow to abide by three new spending and revenue restrictions — the spending cap, volatility cap, and bond cap — for the life of the bond except in extraordinary circumstances.

In our new policy brief we answer the most pressing questions about the Bond Lock and its impact:

  • What is the Bond Lock?

  • What fiscal restrictions are included in the Bond Lock?

  • What is the Bond Lock’s impact on children and families?

  • There are escape clauses in the Bond Lock. Why aren’t those sufficient?

  • Is this even legal?

  • What are the best solutions to the Bond Lock?

You can download the FAQ from our website, alongside an in-depth report by Jesse Marks (Yale Law School) about the technical aspect of this damaging budget provision.

Federal Update:

Congress passed the long-awaited omnibus spending bill, a $1.3 trillion piece of legislation that will fund the federal government's operations until September 30. It is a large piece of legislation, but it does not include that many big funding changes. A welcome development, after recent White House proposals pushing for major cuts.

It also includes one seemingly minor, but very welcome provision: The bill bars employers from taking their workers’ tips, blocking a regulatory change proposed by the Labor Department that sought to allow this practice.

What We Are Reading

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