Legislative Session Collaborative Meeting Recap

On Friday, February 10th, CAHS hosted our Opportunity Connecticut Legislative Session Collaborative Meeting. The meeting was very successful and we enjoyed learning about other organizations’ top legislative priorities. We look forward to continuing to collaborate and further all of our legislative agendas.

In order to continue this work, CAHS is scheduling a weekly follow up call, beginning this Friday, February 17th from 9:30 am-10:00 am. If you would like to join this call, please email gpastor@cahs.org.

Meeting notes and links to more resources: 2-10-2017 Legislative Session Collaborative Meeting Notes

Our New Report: Children with Incarcerated Parents

On May 26 CAHS and our partners at the Children with Incarcerated Parents Initiative (CTCIP) presented a new report (press release) on the impact that parental incarceration has on children in the state.

According to recently released statistics from the Department of Corrections, as of April 1, 2016, 53.67% of those currently incarcerated reported being a caregiver – leaving over 17,000 dependents in our state with a caregiver behind bars. An additional 5,000 dependents have a caregiver in a Department of Correction supervised community program (e.g., parole, house arrest).  Black children are 7.5 times more likely to have a parent behind bars than white children. Additionally, 1 in 9 African American children (11.4%), 1 in 28 Hispanic children (3.5%) and 1 in 57 white children (1.8%) have an incarcerated parent in the United States.Jailed

A vast body of nationally published research has found that children with incarcerated parents (CIP) are more likely to suffer a range of emotional, physical and behavioral issues. These issues include anxiety, depression, underachievement in school, aggression and alcohol/substance abuse. Furthermore, separation due to parental incarceration can be just as painful as other forms of parental loss and are often more complicated because of the accompanied stigma, ambiguity and lack of compassion or other social supports.

You can download the full report here. CTCIP has also produced a detailed report with data specific for New Britain that you can download here. If you have time, we highly recommend you listen the hour-long conversation that Erica Dean, our policy analyst, had on WNPR´s Where We Live last week.

These reports represent a first step for CAHS and CTCIP to draft a policy agenda to address the needs of children of incarcerated parents. We will continue working to collect more detailed and precise data on these children and work with advocates, families and state agencies with the aim of creating a policy agenda for 2017 on this issue.

Where does the CT budget crisis come from? (II) : 20th century spending in a new economy

Last week we gave a brief overview of the fiscal challenges that Connecticut is facing, with a focus on the revenue side. We concluded that although Connecticut is not really a high-tax, big spending state if we take into account its wealth, we do raise revenue in very ineffective, outdated ways. The state has a sales tax riddled with loopholes, an income tax that leaves a lot of income untaxed, business taxes that penalize the service economy, and a property tax that steers development out of urban areas while undertaxing wealth. If we want to get Connecticut out of the current state of endless fiscal crisis, tax reform is both necessary and long overdue.

Of course, revenue is only half of the equation when talking about the budget – spending also plays an equal part. As with revenue, Connecticut has some spending practices that are both inefficient and outdated, creating a state and local government structure that is often not up to current challenges. In many areas, we just spend money in a lousy way. Continue reading

Where does the budget crisis come from? A 20th century budget in a 21st century economy

Connecticut has been in a fiscal crisis pretty much non-stop for the past eight years. It is likely that the state would have started looking at red ink before that, but the real estate and financial bubble of the 2000s masked the underlying reality. For close to a decade, and probably for longer, our state has been constantly on the edge of a fiscal chasm, with the General Assembly muddling through with a mix of tax increases and spending cuts.

The thing is, this is not really normal. Connecticut is one of the wealthiest states in the wealthiest country in the world. Even if the state´s economy hasn´t fully recovered, unemployment is relatively low, growth is weak but not anemic and labor productivity is still high. We have an economy in a mild slowdown enough to produce a shortfall that could be sorted out with some tweaks. Instead, we have a Groundhog Day of budget deficits. Continue reading

First look: public pensions in Connecticut

We will be hearing about pensions, pension reform and how pension liabilities are taking over the state budget during the year, so it might be worth having a look at how things look right now.

Truth is, the Connecticut public pension system is a mess. For many years the state had the habit of balancing the budget by not putting money into the pension fund while giving early retirement incentives to many state workers. This went on for more than a decade, leaving a gaping hole in the system.

To the legislature and Malloy´s credit, the state stopped doing this a few years ago, finally starting to put money back in the fund. The problem is, however, that under the current payment and amortization schedule (let’s pretend we understand we know what that means for a second) the state has to make a huge financial effort to plug that gap, and even more worrisome, we have to set aside more and more money every year.

How much? The figures come from this study from the Comptroller’s office – in 2016 Connecticut’s contribution to its pension fund was about $1.5 billion. This will climb to about $1.8 billion in 2017, $2 billion in 2019 and will keep climbing non-stop all the way to 2032, when it will get close to $4 billion. Adjusting for inflation the numbers get a bit less daunting (up to $2.5 billion), but the problem remains – in a roughly $20 billion budget, the pensions are indeed a problem.

This is not sustainable, so we will be hearing more reform proposals in the coming weeks. Kevin Lembo, the Comptroller, just presented his ( PPT ), giving a good outlook of what we can expect to see. His proposal tweaks the amortization method and extends its schedule (translation: changes how inflation is calculated and adds more years to pay for the liabilities) to change the payment structure. The result would be a payment of $1.5B in 2016, $2B in 2017, $2.15B in 2018 and then remain pretty much flat in nominal terms until 2032 (that is, dropping, inflation-adjusted), where they would drop to $1.5 billion.

If you stopped reading halfway through the previous paragraph, I understand completely: this is not exactly fun. It also is really important for the fiscal health of our state in the long run, so we will try to do our best to explain what is going on. Public pensions might not be our agenda, but they greatly affect the rest of the budget, so we will keep track.

Bad news on the budget front

We discussed the budget cuts and how revenue was coming below target in early February. Well, bad news: it is getting worse.

  • budgetcalculatorWe thought we were facing a $570 million deficit in 2017. Wrong. Current projections, after the most up to date revenue numbers, points a $911 million deficit.
  • It gets worse – for the current year (FY2016, ending this June) we are back tohaving a deficit – $266 million, to be exact.
  • Actually, it is even worse than that if you look at the next biennium (FY2018-19, after the election), with $2 billion a year deficits.

You can find more information here, here and here; the OFA projections are available here. Most of the money comes in April, so the numbers may improve, but it does not seem to be trending that way.

So – we are really going to see a budget battle now. Stay tuned.

The 2016 session: budget adjustments – a first look

The Connecticut General Assembly is in session, and the budget hearings have begun. With the state facing a deficit north of $570 million in the coming fiscal year, legislators are again scrambling to find ways to balance the budget.
There seems to be very little appetite so far for any kind of tax increases, so Governor Malloy and legislators are talking about cuts – and these cuts are being discussed, right now, at multiple Appropriations Committee hearings at the Capitol. You can find the calendar here; today the committee will hear about higher education. Tomorrow at 4 pm they will host the hearing for human services which may be of most interest to you
There are two things to bear in mind about the budget revisions proposed by Governor Malloy, one about process, one about where the cuts will fall. Both are important, and deserve some attention.

a. Where are the cuts?

The cuts for fiscal year 2017 add up to $570 million. The departments that are facing the worst cuts are the Department of Social Services ($61 million), Department of Developmental Services ($55 million) and from addiction and mental health services ($71 million).
This by itself would be worrisome, but it goes beyond that. According to the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance´s analysis, 72% of the cuts ($408 million) come from non-profit providers. Consequently, many core services offered by these providers will again face an uphill battle meeting the needs of low-income families in the state with diminishing resources.
The slow economic recovery has left many families behind. The budget is asking them again to bear the brunt of the state fiscal woes.

b. How are the cuts being introduced?

Governor Malloy has decided to consolidate most line items in the budget under a generic “agency operations” heading. After that, his proposal states that spending will be cut 5.75%, but without specifying exactly from where.
This is a problem. Instead of the traditional budget breakdown of proposed reductions with specific explanations of what line items are facing cuts, this proposal just offers an agency-wide spending level, and gives the authority to each agency head to decide where to cut. The result is a budget that imposes harsh spending cuts but is lacking in transparency, with no information on what programs will be eliminated.
This is not acceptable. Transparency is an essential for accountability.  The Governor´s budget proposal shifts the responsibility and decision making for crucial spending decisions from an open, public process at the General Assembly towards one with no public participation, no open hearings and limited accountability. The only way to make those decisions and introduce real, needed changes to the state budget is through an open, accountable and transparent budget process, not by delegating authority to the executive branch.

What is next? How can I get involved?

Right now we encourage you to reach out to your legislators, even more so ifthey are on Appropriations. If you are able, we strongly encourage you to submit testimony to the committee, specially if you are involved in a program that is facing cuts. The message is simple:
  •  We should not balance the budget on the backs of those that have not participated in the economic recovery.
  • We need a transparent budget process, not cuts decided behind closed doors within each agency.
Feel free to give us a call if you have questions or need a hand drafting testimony, setting up a meeting with a legislator or preparing talking points. We will be happy to help.

Recession May Be Past, But Underemployment and Income Inequality Still Define Landscape in Connecticut

State Ranks 23rd Overall in Financial Security of Residents; Households of Color Face Huge Uphill Climb

Even though the national unemployment rate has dropped to five percent in recent months, the unemployment and underemployment rates in Connecticut remain stubbornly high, according to a new report from the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED).
Indeed, 39% of Connecticut’s households are locked into a “new normal” of perpetual financial insecurity, unable to build the savings needed to last even three months in the event of an emergency. The research, reflected in CFED’s 2016 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, also found that state policies are doing little to improve the financial security of Connecticut residents.
The situation is most dire for households of color. African-American and Latino households in Connecticut are significantly more likely to live below the federal poverty line compared to white households. Even more startling, new data show that businesses owned by whites in Connecticut are valued almost 15 times higher than businesses owned by African-American residents.
Published annually, the Assets & Opportunity Scorecard offers the most comprehensive look available at Americans’ ability to save and build wealth, stay out of poverty and create a more prosperous future. This year’s Scorecard assesses all 50 states and the District of Columbia on 61 outcome measures spanning five issue areas: Financial Assets & Income, Businesses & Jobs, Housing & Homeownership, Health Care and Education. It also ranks the states on 69 policies that promote financial security. When it comes to outcomes, Vermont ranks at the top of the country overall, while Mississippi ranks last.
Connecticut’s 23rd -place outcome ranking improved slightly from last year’s 27th -place ranking. The state received a “B” in Financial Assets & Income, driven by a low income poverty rate, a high rate of households with savings accounts and a low rate of underbanked households-those which have bank accounts but still use high-cost non-bank alternatives such as payday loans. Unfortunately, the state is one of the worst when it comes to income inequality-the richest 20% of households in Connecticut make 5.1 times as much annually as the poorest 20%. The state received an “F” in Housing & Homeownership due to its high foreclosure rate (3.06%) and its disparities in homeownership by race and income. The homeownership rate for white households in Connecticut is twice that of households of color, and the homeownership rate among households in the top income quintile is 2.8 times higher than for that homeownership rate for households in the bottom income quintile. The state received an “A” in Health Care, due in part to having one of the lowest uninsured rates in the country (8.0%). Connecticut earned an “A” in Education, driven by its second-best rate of early childhood education enrollment (64.6%). Finally, CFED Connecticut earned a “D” in Businesses & Jobs, meaning residents don’t have access to quality job and business opportunities.
 The Scorecard also evaluates 69 different policy measures to determine how well states are addressing the challenges facing their residents. Connecticut ranks third overall in policy adoption, having adopted 36 of the 69 policies assessed. It is the third-best state when it comes to Education policies, partly because of its adequate funding for K-12 and postsecondary education. Connecticut ranks 5th in Financial Assets & Income, thanks to its refundable Earned Income Tax Credit, consumer protections for small-dollar lending and legislation that allows financial institutions to operate prize-linked savings accounts. The state ranks slightly lower, but still in the top ten, for Housing & Homeownership policies (7th) and Health Care policies (7th). Connecticut ranks 6th in the area of Businesses & Jobs, having implemented half of assessed policies in this area (5 of 10).
Across the nation, the Scorecard found scant evidence that federal and state governments were willing to embrace policies that would open new doors to greater financial security for those struggling the most in the American economy. Without such commitments, most low-income individuals-particularly people of color-find themselves falling farther behind.
Among the key findings from this year’s Scorecard:
  • Homeownership rates remain at historic lows, falling to 63.1% for the eighth consecutive year of decline and contributing to crowding and rising costs in the rental market.
  • Fully 14.3% of adults say there was a time in the past year that they needed to see a doctor but could not because of cost. The statistics are worse for individuals of color with one in four Latino adults and one in five African-American adults saying money concerns prevented them from seeing a doctor.
  • Although both high school graduation rates (82.3%) and four-year college degree attainment (30.1%) increased from 2013 to 2014, racial disparities remain severe. Less than 20% of AfricanAmerican adults and fewer than 15% of Latino adults hold four-year degrees.
  •  While the national unemployment rate has dropped to 5%, the underemployment rate is twice as high, at 10.8%. What’s more, one-in-four jobs is in a low-wage occupation.
  • Building up even a small amount of savings is a challenge for almost half the country. Some 44% of households are “liquid asset poor,” meaning they have less than three months of savings to live at the poverty level if they suffer an income loss.
  • Business ownership among both men and women (21.4% and 17.1% of the labor force, respectively) declined from 2007 to 2012, even as average business value for both groups increased. Yet female-owned businesses still are worth only a third the value of the average male-owned business-$239,486 to $726,141, respectively.
 “There certainly are positive signs that the nation’s economy is improving,” noted Andrea Levere, President of CFED. “But there also is very compelling evidence that many households are stuck in a financial hole and are struggling to dig themselves out. State governments can play a critical role in helping them move on to firmer ground and a more prosperous future.”
To read an analysis of key findings from the 2016 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, click here. To access the complete Scorecard, visit http://scorecard.cfed.org.

At Middlesex, talk on remedial education reform

This past Monday CAHS presented our latest report on remedial education “Transitional College Readiness Programs in Connecticut: Adult Educators as Partners” at Middlesex Community College, in Middletown.

This new report focuses on an innovative new model to address remedial education for transitional students, those that test at 8th grade or below in their placement test. A set of new programs have brought together community colleges and adult education providers to work together to provide remedial education, using a variety of new strategies that combine support services, personalized instruction, software-based solutions and innovative teaching tools. Ren Brockmeyer and Roger Senserrich, the main authors of the report, were at hand to present the findings (slides on their presentation here).

After discussing the report, a panel with Dr. Steve Minkler, Dean of Academic Affairs at Middlesex, Dr. Diane Clare-Kearney, Director of Manchester Adult and Continuing Education, and Fred Silbermann, Program Facilitator for Meriden Adult Education, joined the authors to discuss their experiences implementing the new programs. Following the panel, the attendees participated in table discussions on how Connecticut can create new pathways to success for non-conventional students.

The main conclusion of both experts and attendees is that the new reform has shown some very promising results where community colleges and adult education providers worked together to deliver remedial classes. Building new partnerships, however, has proved challenging.

The full report is available for download here.

Census: bad news on poverty, good on health care

RogerNew Census data released last week confirms something that we all probably knew: unemployment might be down and the economy might be growing, but the benefits are far from reaching everyone.
Poverty and child poverty rates in the state remain unchanged. Although the poverty rate edged up slightly ( from 10.7 in 2013 to 10.8% in 2014) the change is too small to be statistically significant. In layman´s terms, the difference between both numbers is small enough that we can´t say if the drop is really there. Child poverty also went up a bit (from 14.5% to 14.9%) but the change is also too small to be considered statistically significant.
What the data shows, however, is that racial disparities remain stubbornly high. The poverty rate in Connecticut among non-Hispanic Whites is 6.1%; the number climbs to 20.8% for Blacks, and 26.5% for Hispanics. For children, the gap is even wider. Only 5.6% non-Hispanic White Children are poor, compared to 30.5% for Blacks and 33.4% for Latinos. These disparities remain as wide as they were a year ago.
By county, the geographical differences in the state have not changed. Litchfield (7.5%) and Tolland (7.3% ) counties  have the lowest poverty rate, while New Haven (13.1%) and Hartford (12.2%) have the highest.
You can access the census data on their website. As usual, CT Voices for Children has an excellent write up.
Besides the disappointing poverty data, the Census release included a very important piece of good news: the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is working really well. The percentage of residents in Connecticut without health insurance dropped from 9.4 to 6.9%. The decrease is statistically significant – close to 90,000 people that did not have insurance last year have it now.

For children the drop is smaller, and not statistically significant, although the starting point was already low: only 3.7% of Connecticut children remain uninsured, down from 4.3% in 2013. Full coverage is within grasp.

The ACA is not just having positive effects in our small, progressive state in the northeast. Nationwide, the uninsured rate has dropped from 14.5% to 11.7% in one year. The decrease will be even steeper with wider Medicaid adoption, but the trend is in the right direction.

As usual, CT Voices have a policy brief covering this issue as well. You can find it here.