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Voices Speaking

June 26, 2017

Webinar: A Better Approach for the State Budget

Connecticut's budget is the clearest statement of its policy priorities. As such, it should prioritize revenue and expense options that advance long-term inclusive economic prosperity, improve equity, and prepare our children for success.

The current budget proposals adopt an austerity mindset.  

They contain little new revenue and, to the extent they do bring in additional revenue, do so by raising taxes on low- to middle-income families by cutting or eliminating the earned income tax credit and property tax credit. At the same time, they provide some 600 of the state's wealthiest families with an average tax break of $100,000. That's not shared sacrifice. It is not a recipe for long-term growth and shared prosperity. 

In this webinar, we provide an overview of the state budget, solutions to avoid yet another a cuts-only approach, and ways to take action. You can watch the presentation below. Click here to download the slides.

Issue Area:
Budget and Tax
Tags:
#CTbudget, budget, Connecticut, Webinar
June 29, 2018

Children’s needs at risk: An update on federal attempts to cut programs for children

 

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly “food stamps”) update:

On June 29, the Senate passed a bipartisan Farm Bill that preserves SNAP (formerly food stamps) without imposing new burdens on families. However, the House Farm Bill, which passed on June 13, dramatically cuts SNAP and imposes an enormous administrative burden on states and enrollees. SNAP remains at risk until Congress comes to a final agreement. Children and families rely on SNAP to ensure they have adequate nutrition when finances are tight. Without healthy and consistent meals, children have trouble concentrating in school, can experience developmental delays, and are more prone to illness. Creating new administrative hurdles will add to the state’s expenses and likely cause many eligible families to lose their benefits. See our fact sheet on SNAP in CT.

What can you do?  The farm bill is expected to move to conference negotiations between the House and Senate, and our work to ensure that the final bill protects SNAP begins in earnest. Thank your senator (both CT senators voted against harmful amendments and for the Senate bill) and urge them to call for a final conference agreement that includes the Senate’s strong bipartisan SNAP provisions and rejects the addition of harmful work requirements.

ACA Repeal: The zombie returns 

On June 19, Senator Rick Santorum and others released a new plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The plan would cause tens of millions to lose health coverage, increase costs for others, and do away with consumer protections—like allowing insurers to charge some people more. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice is refusing to defend the Affordable Care Act in court, including the protections for pre-existing conditions. Both steps put vital progress and the financial and physical health of millions of Americans at risk. Learn more here and here.

What can you do? Ask your state and federal candidates how they plan to keep Connecticut’s HUSKY (Medicaid and CHIP) programs strong. Call your federal representatives to urge them to work together to improve our nation’s health systems.

 

Issue Areas:
Family Economic Security, Health
Tags:
ACA, Federal, Food Security, health, insurance, SNAP
December 19, 2018

Updates: Farm Bill Passes and Legal decision on the Affordable Care Act to be Appealed

Karen Siegel, M.P.H.

It was a busy week in national health news. First, the long-stalled Farm Bill, which includes SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps), passed both houses of Congress. The final bill is a bipartisan compromise that preserves SNAP without imposing the draconian cuts included in earlier drafts.  This means that Connecticut families can continue to count on SNAP to put food on the table in lean times.

On the day the President is expected to sign the Farm Bill into law, the USDA announced a proposed rule to restrict states’ ability to provide SNAP benefits to adults without dependent children living in high-unemployment areas. This rule, which would affect roughly 39,000 Connecticut residents, will be posted for public comment in the near future.

Also last week, a judge in Texas declared the Affordable Care Act (ACA) unconstitutional. The ruling found that without the tax penalty for failing to purchase health insurance, which ends this year, the entirety of the Affordable Care Act cannot stand. Legal experts have responded by calling the ruling unsound. Should this ruling eventually take effect, it would abolish Medicaid expansion (HUSKY D in Connecticut), health insurance subsidies, and consumer protections, affecting hundreds of thousands of Connecticut residents.  The good news:  For now, nothing changes while the decision works its way through the appeals process. Individuals who are uninsured can still sign up for health coverage through Connecticut’s health insurance exchange, Access Health CT, through January 15. Many qualify for subsidies through the exchange. Residents may sign up for HUSKY throughout the year. 

Issue Area:
Health
Tags:
ACA, farm bill, food stamps, health, SNAP
January 21, 2016

CCJEF vs. Rell: Preschool is one path to equity but not on its own

Rachel Leventhal-Weiner, Ph.D.

Whether the state has an obligation to support preschool is at the center of a recent development in the CCJEF vs. Rell case. CCJEF, the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, is a group of municipal leaders, educators, advocates, parents and children who filed suit against the state’s education funding system in 2005 claiming that the state has not met its constitutional obligation to provide an adequate and equitable public education to all students. Since the time of the original filing, the State Superior Court issued a pretrial ruling in 2010 that the state is must provide an adequate standard of quality for public education for all children. As the trial date loomed, in September 2015, the state filed a motion in the case to exclude preschool as a potential remedy in the final decision of the case, claiming that the state constitution does not specifically include preschool as part of a public education. In a victory for CCJEF, in October 2015 the State Superior Court denied the state’s motion, stating that a “high quality preschool is an essential component of suitable educational opportunity.”

This ruling represents an important shift in the way we think about preschool as a necessary component of a public education. As the CCJEF case progresses, the state may consider the creation of a “universal” preschool system as one potential remedy for public school inequity. There is already widespread agreement that we must invest early in children’s lives, especially low-income children and children of color. However, early education advocates recognize that in order for preschool to be effective, it must be of high-quality. This means it must adhere to universal early learning standards, have low teacher-student ratios, and employ highly-qualified educators (who are offered competitive compensation so that they can be attracted to and retained in the field). Early education advocates have also emphasized that the state must fund preschool at a rate that will support all of the above. Access to high-quality preschool experiences is but one strategy among several to reduce our state’s persistent achievement gap and reduce inequities between low income students and students of color and their affluent, white peers.

While access to high-quality preschool programs remains vital to combat the achievement gap, as a state we must ensure that gains achieved in early education are sustainable in a high-quality K-12 system for all public school students. And though equitable investments in preschool and K-12 schooling are necessary, improving life opportunities in communities across the state requires an affirmative investment in the systems and programs that impact the day to day lives of Connecticut’s citizens. Specifically, we must invest in equitable opportunity for all citizens in housing, health, and higher education to impact educational experiences. Investments in early childhood experiences are only sustainable if we consider the ways that education, housing, health and higher education are connected to support children on their journey from childhood to adulthood.

Equity must begin early. The inequities in life opportunity begin long before children cross the threshold of their local public school. While preschool alone is not the panacea for deep race inequities in education and life outcomes, preschool provides one opportunity to ready children for future education. The state superior court argued that preschool is “essential” to “sustainable” life opportunities in its ruling. As arguments in the CCJEF vs. Rell case progress, we encourage advocates, stakeholders and citizens to stay focused on the importance of early education as a crucial driver of equitable access to opportunities for all of our state’s children.

Issue Areas:
Early Care, Education
Tags:
achievement gap, CCJEF vs. Rell, education, preschool
March 30, 2018

Call to Action - Bond Lock Hearing Monday, April 2 - H.B. 5590

The Finance Committee will hold a hearing this coming Monday, April 2, to discuss a slew of new fiscal bills, including one to amend the Bond Lock: H.B. 5590, "An Act Concerning Covenants and the Bond Issuance Cap".

HB 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 cap and bond cap.

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

  1. Delay the effective date of all provisions of the Bond Lock until July 1, 2019.
  2. 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 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.

We ask you to testify on Monday, April 2 and urge the Finance Committee to break the Bond Lock.

  • WHAT: Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee public hearing
  • WHEN: Monday, April 2, 2018 at 10:30 A.M.
  • WHERE: Room 2E, Legislative Office Building, 300 Capitol Avenue, Hartford.
  • HOW TO TESTIFY: A lottery will determine public speaker order; sign up is from 8:30 A.M. to 9:30 A.M. in the first floor atrium of the LOB.  You can also email written testimony to FINtestimony@cga.ct.gov.

About the Bond Lock:

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

Issue Area:
Budget and Tax
Tags:
action alert, bond lock, budget, cap, spending, tax
July 23, 2018

Aderholt amendment would pose threats to same-sex couples and a child's best interest

Stephanie Luczak, LMSW and Jessica Nelson

Recently, the House Appropriations Committee undermined states’ ability to protect their residents from discrimination. On July 11th, the House Appropriations Committee voted in favor of an amendment that would allow private adoption agencies receiving federal funds to refuse to provide services to families seeking to adopt or foster solely on the basis of the agency’s purported religious belief that an individual or family is unworthy based on their religion, history of divorce, or sexual orientation. The amendment, attached to the funding bill for the Department of Health and Human Services, was introduced by Representative Aderholt (R-AL) who was recently appointed as a Co-Chairman of the House Coalition on Adoption.

The proposed amendment protects the funding of faith-based adoption and foster care agencies that choose to discriminate against same-sex couples and others that violate their beliefs, including single or non-Christian parents or parents with a history of divorce.  The legislative amendment would allow private adoption agencies to refuse to serve LGBTQ couples and other potential parents while receiving public funding for their services. Not only would this infringe on the rights of certain prospective adoptive parents, but it would obstruct efforts to maximize the number of children being adopted.

Any state or local government receiving federal funding would be punished for enforcing its non-discrimination laws and requires that state and local governments fund such agencies even though they have “declined or will decline” to provide services to certain individuals or families. The amendment would allow the Department of Health and Human Services to withhold 15 percent of a state’s federal child welfare funding if that state refused to enter into contracts with private adoption agencies that discriminate against families or individuals who offend the agency’s “religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

If passed, this amendment would limit a state’s ability to ensure same-sex couples, LGBTQ individuals, single parents, and divorced individuals, non-Christians, among others, an equal right to adopt or foster children. The amendment would reduce the number of potential foster parents, limiting options for children in the foster care system who are waiting to be adopted. This would hinder the state’s ability to recruit diverse foster parents, as well as send harmful messages to LGBTQ youth about equality, identity, and acceptance. 

Research has consistently confirmed that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system. It is imperative that all youth, regardless of their chosen identity, can feel safe and supported in their environment. It is the duty of the state to improve the well-being of youth in foster care and place them into a stable and permanent home with loving caregivers. Recruiting more LGBTQ foster and adoptive parents not only increases the number of total possible homes for all foster youth, but if matched together, LGBTQ parents may provide an affirming and shared understanding of issues that LGBTQ youth may face.  

In fiscal year 2017, there were 5,878 children in Connecticut’s foster care system. Despite the high need for non-residential foster and adoptive placements, there is a consistent shortage of adoptive and foster parents, both in Connecticut and nationwide. To meet this need, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) has recently started an active campaign to recruit LGBTQ foster and adoptive parents, recognizing the fact that same-sex couples are both just as good as at parenting as, and more likely to adopt than heterosexual couples. 

Currently, while DCF recognizes the importance of LGBTQ foster and adoptive parents through this initiative, it does maintain contracts with private adoption agencies such as Catholic Charities, which has a history of discriminating against same-sex couples in other states. If the amendment proposed by Rep. Aderholt became law, the State of Connecticut would not be able to legally prohibit Connecticut branches of Catholic Charities from discriminating against same-sex couples in their adoption services. Catholic Charities provides a variety of services to families in Connecticut, including six adoption services sites throughout the state. It is important to note that Connecticut’s current anti-discrimination laws do not apply to religious entities.

The issue of same-sex adoption has also propelled amongst different states nationwide. States like Oklahoma and Kansas recently passed legislation that would allow child welfare agencies to prevent LGBTQ foster homes and adoptions based on religious beliefs. The ACLU reported that Massachusetts and Illinois both require child welfare agencies to accept all qualified families. Most recently, a federal judge ruled in a landmark case that all foster and adoption agencies must abide by the city of Philadelphia's nondiscrimination policies. 

What you can do.

Connecticut and all of the United States must continue to fight for equality for LGBTQ individuals and make sure that youth are protected and supported in the foster care system.

  • Thank Representative Rosa DeLauro for voting no to the Aderholt amendment, particularly if you live in the 3rd Congressional District.
  • Contact your U.S. representatives to vote against the amended FY19 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations spending bill when it moves to the House of Representatives.
  • If you live in Connecticut, contact your state legislator  about further strengthening protections for LGBTQ families in our state. 
Issue Area:
Child Welfare
Tags:
adoption, Federal, Foster care, LGBTQ

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