Share Your Savings Goal and Win $1000 in the #ImSavingFor Contest

To celebrate the upcoming America Saves Week (Feb. 27-March 4, 2017), America Saves is launching the #ImSavingFor contest. It’s easy to enter. Just share a short video of your savings story, or a picture of you and what you are saving for and enter to win $1,000 at americasavesweek.org/imsavingfor.

How to enter:

Create a short video featuring your savings story by answering at least one of these questions: What are you saving for? What is your savings story and how can it help other people? What is your favorite savings tip or trick?
Or take picture illustrating your savings goal
Enter to win at americasavesweek.org/imsavingfor
Share your video or photo on social media with the hashtag #ImSavingFor
Get creative!

Keep it simple by taking a video or picture in front of the item your savings for – like a new car or house
Use a video or photo editing tool to put yourself in the frame with your goal – like a trip to the Grand Canyon or Mount Rushmore
Use an app to add a caption or some character to your submission
Bonus chances to win:
You can only enter once per person, but you can get an extra three entries by taking the next step in saving and completing the America Saves Pledge to create a simple savings plan. After entering, look for an email with your bonus opportunity information.

The contest runs from February 1 – April 7, 2017. America Saves will pick one entry at random on March 10 and contact them by email. Click here for the full official rules.

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

The 2016 legislative session: first recap

 

Yesterday at midnight the 2016 legislative session came to a close. It was a strange year in many ways. Although we will be writing a longer recap soon, we wanted to share some initial notes of what happened, what passed, and what is left to do in this 2016 session. Let´s see.

The main story: no budget yet
The one thing that did not happen yesterday was the budget. The Governor and Democratic legislators did have an agreement (we covered it yesterday), but it was not brought up for a vote.

Why this happened depends on who you ask; some observers say that they did not have the votes in the House to pass it, some say that there was a consensus that legislators needed more time to pore over the numbers. The budget will be voted in a special session next week (probably Thursday), so the session is not really quite over yet.

To tell the truth, not getting the budget through yesterday was probably a good decision, as it allowed the General Assembly to vote on a whole bunch of legislation without having to scramble. Legislators could focus on other priorities, avoiding the pressure of having a messy and rushed budget debate right until the very end.

Namely, we got some good news out of it. See bellow.

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The budget agreement – quick takes

CT Stock instagrams (5)The Governor and the Democrats in the legislature have reached a budget deal, with the expectation of voting on it today. This might be better than the alternative, (a long drawn budget fight on an election year), but gives us very little time to look at the numbers in any detail.

After going over the initial budget spreadsheets early this morning, here is our quick take. We will try to update you as we learn more.

Top line numbers

The budget deficit for FY2017 is currently projected to be around $960 million. The agreement closes it by:

  • $830 million in budget cuts (more details below)
  • $50 million in transfers from the Municipal Revenue Sharing Fund. This is the fund created last year to use sales tax revenue for property tax relief.
  • $50 million from the State Transportation Fund. This was also created last year, also setting aside sales tax revenue for transportation projects.
  • $36.2 million in “revenue enhancements.”

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Connecticut´s no good, terrible budget mess

Sometimes things just keep getting worse. CT Stock instagrams (6)

We started the session with what seemed to be a balanced budget for this fiscal year (FY16, ending June 30) and a grim but manageable deficit for next year (FY17). The Governor´s budget proposal was short on details and included no new revenue, with $570 million in cuts.

Come March, new budget projections came out. The FY17 deficit almost doubled to $911 million; to make things worse, FY16 was no longer balanced. Governor and legislature had to make $266 million in further cuts to FY16, on top of the ones made in last year´s special session.

Then the Appropriations and Finance Committee released their budget for FY17, and things started to get weird. The Legislature added more detail to the Governor´s plan and softened some of the service cuts, while still not raising taxes. Trouble is, their budget only covered $570 million in cuts, not the whole expected FY17 deficit. Someone needed to find more savings or revenue somewhere.

As a result, a slightly irritated Governor presented an updated budget proposal covering the whole shortfall, with yet more cuts. Legislative leaders were not really happy about this and vowed to draft, consider and pass a budget proposal on their own, without negotiating with the Governor, sending it to his desk even if he might veto the bill.

It gets worse. As both sides were talking past each other, this year´s budget got back in the red, with a $141 million deficit. Corporation taxes and fees are coming in below expected, and savings targets are not being hit. In total, the FY16 budget was more than $1 billion off-mark.

What´s next? The date everyone has in mind is tomorrow April 26, when the final budget projections for FY17  will likely come out. That day we will learn exactly how big the deficit is for next year. Best case scenario, income tax collections improve slightly, and we see a deficit below $900 million. Worst case scenario, budget hole deepens, the General Assembly sends the Governor a budget, and he vetoes it.

Suffice it to say, we don´t see best case scenarios often as of late. We might end up in a special session, past the May 4 deadline.

Invite fairness to the table

Better Choices for Connecticut press releasebetterchoices:

Governor Malloy has invited the Democratic and Republican Leadership to meet about a predicted revenue shortfall, but apparently the only options to be discussed are more cuts. We call on the Governor and the legislature to invite fairness to the table by examining ways to achieve a fairer and more efficient revenue system.

Addressing revenue shortfalls with only more cuts is not fair. Continued cuts will negatively affect all of Connecticut’s families and children who need essential services, people with disabilities and the elderly who need caring services, schools that need good teachers, and communities that need public safety. If our revenue projections are off, it is certainly not because the richest half a percent among us are struggling, or because our largest and most profitable businesses can’t afford to pay their share. Let’s seek additional contributions from
those very fortunate few who have ability and means to pay.

We all want a government that works well and programs that provide the essential public structures upon which our economy and communities depend such as clean air and water, good schools, public safety and care for our most vulnerable. We are the richest state in the union, and yet for decades we have tolerated waiting lists in some of our most basic public services, and inadequate investments in our futures. Indeed, over the years, these programs have already
sustained hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts.

When we miss our revenue forecasts by less than 1% — as the Administration is indicating here – the first place we look should not be these important programs. Instead, we should look first at addressing a system where working and middle class families pay almost twice the effective rate in state and local taxes than the richest among us do, and we should ask those richest to pay a little more. And such principles of fairness should apply not just to individual taxes, but to
business taxes as well. Our revenue structure should ask our largest and most profitable businesses to pay their fair share, and we should do so in way that is fair to small businesses and good for our economy.

More cuts mean still more pain for all of us, and threaten the futures of our families and our communities. Let’s not leave fairness off the table. There are better choices.

Better Choices is a statewide coalition working to help lawmakers make smarter decisions about the state’s imbalanced revenue system. Members include nonprofit providers, labor, community, faith, environment, and advocacy organizations.

Better Choices: no more cuts

As you know, the Governor is looking for changes in the state budget during the special session. Better Choices for Connecticut has released a statement today in response, asking for a budget that protects critical services, invests in education, is not balanced on the backs of the poor and does not increase inequality.

You can find the full statement below, or you can download it as a PDF here.
Modifications to the New State Budget
A Statement of Better Choices for Connecticut
 We all want a budget that:

  • Protects critical public services and investments in the future of our families and our communities;
  • Helps rebuild our economy by investing in the education and infrastructure that businesses need to thrive;
  • Isn’t balanced on the backs of our most vulnerable children and families; and
  • Doesn’t exacerbate inequality by asking less of those who have the most.

In the budget that was passed by the General Assembly, our lawmakers took steps to address this year’s budget challenge by refusing to ask the most from those with the least. Instead of cutting state support for vulnerable children, families, and communities, our elected officials chose to fund essential services by making our revenue system more equitable and progressive.

Once again, following outcry from a few of our state’s largest corporations, we must remind our elected officials to make better choices. While these corporations claim that Connecticut’s business tax burden is too high, a study by the Ernst and Young for the Council on State Taxation found that Connecticut businesses face the second lowest state and local tax burden in the nation.

While these few corporations talk about taking a more “balanced” approach to Connecticut’s budget issues, they do not really mean balanced: they mean more slanted in favor of large corporations and the rich at the expense of working families.

  • A more balanced approach would recognize that the business tax changes in the new budget would affect only the largest and most profitable multi-state corporations – the very companies that already pay so little, so that families and small businesses have to pay more. If anything, we should tax those large corporations more, and small businesses less.
  • A more balanced approach would recognize that the highest earners in our state pay an effective rate in state and local taxes which is about half as high as working families pay, according to the state’s own analysis. As enacted, the new budget asks only a little more from the wealthy.
  • A more balanced approach would tax high earners at closer to the same effective tax rates that we ask of working families. Even an additional ½ of one percent income tax increase on individuals earning over $500,000 per year, or couples earning over $1,000,000 per year, would (a) make up for all the revenue that would be lost by the corporate tax rollbacks the governor proposed, (b) leverage federal funding which would cover about one third of the increased taxes and (c) keep our effective tax rates lower than those in New York or New Jersey.

The enacted budget makes progress towards accomplishing these things by investing in infrastructure, beginning property tax reform, and protecting many critical services — although it already includes hundreds of millions in cuts. If any “tweaking” is done on the revenue side of the budget, any revenue lost should be replaced by alternate revenue sources from those most able to pay. The members of Better Choices for Connecticut urge our legislature to protect middle class and working families. Not a single dollar more in cuts should be added in the implementer session.

One final note: as we said on Friday´s e-mail, we need to actively tell legislators that we can not have any more cuts. More info on who to call and talking points here.

Reminder: Connecticut is a really nice place to live

There has been a lot of talk after this year´s budget on how rotten our state is, how bad things are and how everyone seems to be looking for the exits. Here are CAHS we are not shy to point out many of the things that Connecticut does horribly, horribly wrong (from income inequality to regressive taxes, and don´t let me get started on how dreadful Metro-North is), but this whole “our state is terrible” thing needs to stop. Not just because people both inside and outside Connecticut are starting to believe it, but because it is flatly not true.

10928183_10100854645185994_5981329329979410692_nConnecticut is actually a really nice place to live, and there is plenty of data to back that up. Let´s go over this.

  • Connecticut is one of the safest states in the country. The homicide rate is about half the national average, and dropping rapidly.  We are close to the bottom in violent crime rates, and in the top-10 in lowest overall crime. Scary headlines aside, this is a very safe, very pleasant place to live in.
  • Taxes are actually fairly low, considering how wealthy the state is. Bill Cibes already wrote about how low business taxes actually are, but this extends also to other taxes. State and local taxes as share of personal income is just 16,7%, compared to the 18.7% national average. Connecticut had the 6th lowest burden in 2012; even with recent tax increases, our rank has barely bulged.
  • Connecticut schools are stellar. Only Massachusetts has better test scores; even compared with other countries, our schools fare better than students in places like France, Denmark or Ireland.
  • Health-wise, Connecticut has the 3rd highest life expectancy. In most health indicators (obesity, smoking, low birth weight, diabetes) we are at the top or close to the top of the pack.
  • Of course, the state is still one of the wealthiest in the country, and one of the wealthiest places on earth. Income mobility is well above the national average, as well, meaning that we have better, stronger ladders to reach the middle class.
  • If we take all into account (income, health, education, crime, economy) we are arguably the best state by some accounts.

And all this without having to mention how pretty the state is, how pleasant our towns are, how good New Haven pizza is and how nice and civilized life is here.

Sure, Connecticut has problems. The weather can be pretty dreadful sometimes. Housing is incredibly expensive. Income inequality is a huge issue. Some of our cities and towns are not sharing much of our prosperity. Our roads have way too many potholes. There are many things we need to work on. We have our share of problems and issues.

But in both relative and absolute terms, no matter where you look, Connecticut is a great place to live. Crime is low, taxes are reasonable, health care is great, education is fantastic, opportunity still abounds, and we have the best pizza. No matter how much we whine and complaint about, we should not forget that.

2015 budget recap – it could have been worse

 

The 2015 legislative session is over, and there is a lot to discuss. There were quite a few good bills passed, some good bills that fell short, and a budget that is not what we were hoping for, but that could have been much worse. Let´s have a quick look.

1. The budget: a general overview
The budget was late this year. So late, in fact, that it only got approved in the Senate half an hour before the official end of the session, meaning that many good bills never got a vote.
The final budget was the result of a compromise between the initial Governor´s proposal that included more cuts and the Finance and Appropriations Committee versions that included more revenue. As you might expect, the approved budget ended somewhat halfway between both.
Revenue:
Yes, the budget raises taxes. Quite a few of them, in fact; most of them fairly progressive, and with close to no effect on low-income families or the middle-class.
  • A more progressive income tax: the budget creates two new tax brackets, one for families making more than $500,000, one for families making over a million – roughly, 2% of taxpayers. This raises $151 million.
  • Data processing tax: data processing services paid a 1% tax in Connecticut, thanks to an exemption.  The budget raises it to 2% in FY16, for $40 million of revenue, and 3% in FY17.
  • Tax expenditures: things like internet services, car washes or motor vehicle parking are no longer tax exempt ($60 million)
  • Cigarette tax:  25 cents more a pack, raising $25 million.
  • Unitary/combined reporting: many companies that operate in more than one state declare that their earnings and profits happened outside Connecticut to avoid paying corporate taxes. Combined reporting is an accounting requirement used by every other state in the Northeast to prevent that from happening. It will raise $39 million.
The one tax change that it is somewhat middle-class unfriendly is the reduction of the  property tax credit from $300 to $200. Although it does affect the middle class, the budget includes a significant amount of property tax relief in other places – and for most, that tax cut will amount to more than $100.
All in all, the budget has $821 million in new revenue, with the rest of the money coming from delayed tax cuts to business and hospitals. A significant amount of the new revenue, however, will not go to the General Fund – the budget includes $159 million inproperty tax relief (more on that in a second) and $159 in new spending (in theory) for the Governor´s transportation fund.
One final note: despite all the chatter saying otherwise, Connecticut´s business´taxes are still very low compared to the rest of the country.
Spending:
What are we going to be paying for with this new revenue? Well, quite a few programs that were going to be completely eliminated or severely cut in the Governor´s initial proposal were fully or partially restored. Although there are still quite a few cuts (a lot of programs are either flat-funded or facing 5-10% reductions), the budget preserves many crucial services. The most important are:
  •  HUSKY A: pregnant women will not lose coverage. Regarding parents, eligibility will be reduced from families below 201% of the Federal Poverty Line to 155%. Significant, but much better than the initial cut to 138%.
  • Behavioral Services: the budget restores most of the cuts.
  • Higher Education: many of the cuts are reversed. Remedial education funding saw its cut reduced from $13 million to $4 million, retaining $19 million in the budget.
  • Medicaid rates: rates to Medicaid providers are cut $10 million, instead the $43 million originally proposed.
We are still compiling information on all the cuts, but the bulk of social programs fared fairly well. It is not a great budget, and some of the service reductions are going to be painful, but it is better than the Governor´s original proposed budget.

2. The good: 
Early childhood, education, housing and tax reform

The session ended with some very positive changes, with several good programs and policies passing the legislature, and some key programs being protected. Let´s go over the highlights:

Early Childhood

  • Many valuable programs that were under threat remain funded, albeit with some cuts: Community Plans, Early Literacy, Help Me Grow and Parent Trust Fund.
  • The early childhood teaching qualification mandate was delayed for two years, and the Office of Early Childhood will be preparing a plan to achieve the qualification goals.
  • Restrictions were passed on out-of-school suspensions and expulsions for students in grades between preschool and two.

Education

  • School absenteeism: the legislature passed legislation requiring districts to compile information about absenteeism rates and plans to address it. The Department of Education will also draft plans in this area.

Housing

  • Additional funding for support services and rental subsidies for re-entry programs ($1.9 million)
  • Additional funding for services for the homeless, including youth, wraparound services and veterans.

More information on housing here.

Health

  • Coverage for low-income pregnant women under HUSKY A was restored.

Tax reform:

The budget includes some significant changes to the municipal aid and property tax systems.

  • The formula used to distribute PILOT funding (state aid to compensate towns with non-taxable property owned by non-profits, colleges and hospitals) was revamped, providing more funding to the poorest cities in the state.
  • Car property taxes were capped at 32 mills in FY2017 (29.36 after), bringing significant tax cuts to many cities and towns. The state will use 0.5% of the sales tax revenue to compensate municipalities that lose revenue with this cap.

The one missing piece for S.B.1 that was weakened significantly was the commercial property tax revenue sharing; all towns in a region will have to approve it in order to go into effect, and only 20% of the new revenue will be shared.  You can find a full list of the new funding for each town, as well as the tax saving from the car tax cap, here and here.

In addition, the legislature approved some welcome changes to how it manages its rainy day fund (following the work from our partners at CT Voices for Children). You can find more information here and here.

Also, slightly unrelated, the legislature´s 20-year long fight around bow-hunting is finally over.

3. The bad: 
Two generation strategies, budget cuts

Two Generation Strategies

  • The bill passed the Senate with broad bipartisan support, was amended and passed the House, went back to the Senate… and missed the deadline for passage after the budget was filibustered.  The budget has funding for this program, so CAHS and other two-gen advocates will work with legislators to include it as part of the implementer bill during the upcoming special session.

Early Childhood

  • Early Care Wages: Despite the deadline for higher preschool teacher qualifications being pushed back two years, the low wages associated with early care remains an issue.  If teacher salaries are not addressed in conjunction with the higher qualifications, there remains the possibility of a continued shortage of qualified early care providers in state funded programs.

Health

  • Medicaid reimbursement rates for providers were decreased. There is a possibility that some providers might stop accepting Medicaid patients, weakening the program.
  • The income limit for parents under HUSKY A was cut from 201% of the Federal Poverty Line to 155%. This means that more than 23,000 parents will have to purchase insurance through Health Access CT, having to pay premium and face deductibles.
Cuts upon cuts:
  • Although many programs were preserved with small cuts, it is important to remember that many of these cuts come after years of level funding. The amount of money Connecticut spends on many crucial programs has been steadily shrinking for almost a decade, with no end to the cuts in sight. This budget is not as bad as we feared, but we need to keep in mind that we are not really keeping up with the needs of low income families in the state – on the contrary, we are allowing the safety net to erode, slowly and steadily.

4. The ugly: it is not over yet!

As mentioned above, the legislature´s job is not over yet. As the budget was approved so late, the implementer, the piece of legislation that includes all the details on how the money will be spent (as well as some additional bits and pieces that did not make it as a bill on time) did not get a vote.

This means we are facing a special session, with more budget discussions, before the end of the month. On the agenda we will likely see the implementer, the Governor´s Second Chance Society initiative and some talk to tweak the revenue package of the budget.

If we look beyond the next two years, it looks like the state will again be facing deficits in 2017. We will leave the ongoing fiscal crisis that the state faces and its sources, however, for another e-mail.

One final note: 

It would be a good idea to reach out to your legislators and thank them for their work on the budget. They made some hard decisions and tough choices, including a tax increase that has proven controversial.

The same way we have been hounding them to reverse the cuts for the past few weeks, it is time to call or e-mail them and support their work, and remind them that Connecticut business taxes are actually fairly low by US standards.

5. What´s next?

The implementer fight, and maybe yet another round of tax and revenue talks in the upcoming special session. Stay tuned!

We are hiring! – Program Director

CAHS is is looking for a new Program Director!th

If you want to join us to advance CAHS’ mission to reduce poverty and build family economic security, we have an opening for you. The Program Director will be managing, growing, and evaluating our community-based programs; the job requires cultivating partnerships throughout Connecticut.

We are looking for someone creative, that can help us fund and bring to scale financial capability programs that show promise and demonstrate effectiveness, including access to benefits, free tax preparation, financial education and coaching, and asset-building. The Program Director also works collaboratively with the Policy and Research Directors to mutually reinforce and support CAHS’s Family Economic Success (FES) mission.

You can find the full details and how to apply for the position here. Send your resume and cover letter to resumes@cahs.org if you want to apply. Full details on the job posting after the jump.

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