Connections – May 2016 | CAHS
 

Connections – May 2016

On this issue:

The 2016 Legislative Session: old challenges

CT Stock instagrams (6)May saw the end of the 2016 legislative session, and with it, a slew of changes to how state government operates. Faced again with large deficits, and after a year with several special sessions, rescissions and adjustments, the General Assembly approved a budget with no tax increases, large budget cuts and employee layoffs.

As a result, many services and social programs that serve families in need in the state will be less effective, or face tougher eligibility rules. The cuts will fall above all on Medicaid, mental health, education and children, following a persistent trend that increasingly puts future growth at risk. Education, child care and child well-being are investments in future growth and our future labor force. We are putting these investments at risk.

There has been an increasing realization, however, that Connecticut is in dire need to rethink its ways. CAHS wrote extensively about the multiple sources of the state´s budget woes. In some areas (transportation, criminal justice, two-generation strategies), the state is already rethinking how it works. We need more of that: bold changes in how the state taxes and operates.

CAHS plans to be part of this debate, and look for ways to move Connecticut forward, building an inclusive economy that does not leave anyone behind. We would like you to join us, in the coming months, to be part of this conversation.

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.

2016 session recap: a tough budget, but some victories

This session CAHS testified sixteen times at the General Assembly. We spoke in support of twelve bills. In addition, CAHS was invited to present its report on the implementation of remedial education reform in front of the Higher Education Committee, and was a key participant of the Two-Generation Interagency Council. We had some significant victories on the legislative front, but the session was largely overshadowed (again) by the state´s dismal budget situation.

The Budget

It was not a good budget year. Back in February, legislators convened thinking that the budget deficit for FY2017 was going to be around the $570 million mark. Unfortunately, things did not stay that way; budget deficit projections kept getting worse until hitting $960 million, and the FY16 budget also required repeated adjustments as shortfalls kept widening during the year. Both the Governor and legislative leaders rejected any kind of new revenue outright, so the whole session was constantly bogged down by the need to find more funds to divert and more places to cut.

budgetcalculatorThe final version of the budget included $830 million in cuts and $100 million in fund transfers, half from municipal revenue sharing, half from transportation, plus some expected revenue from judicial settlements. The CT Mirror has an excellent budget tracking tool with details on all the cuts; the Office of Fiscal Analysis has its own overview on its website.

The cuts were not as bad as we feared in some areas:

  • The Office of Early Childhood had a modest budget cut, from $297 million to $294 million. Many crucial programs hosted there barely see any reductions. Even Start, a two-gen pioneer program that has given very encouraging results, was left intact.
  • The Two-Generation pilot initiative, a first step taken by the state to modernize how we deliver services to families, remains funded, with a modest cut.
  • Developmental education funding was cut, but stays in the budget. Last year, it was part of another line item – this year, it has a specific line, with funding close to $10 million.
  • Adult education, an increasingly important piece of the remedial education system, only saw a very modest cut.

Some areas, however, saw significant reductions:

  • Medicaid saw a significant cut, again – close to $100 million. It has a huge budget ($2.45 billion) but it is yet another cut, in a program that has seen many of them.
  • The Department of Children and Families suffered a $40 million cut.
  • The Department of Mental Health had a hefty $55 million cut.
  • Personnel reductions are widespread in all departments, meaning that layoffs will continue. This is especially worrisome in some direct service departments that are already understaffed.
  • Legislative commissions: The six legislative commissions were consolidated into two (Equal Opportunity, and Women and Children), and their total budgets slashed.

In addition, the education equalization grant saw a significant reduction ($145 million), putting more pressure on local budgets. The cuts were not uniform across the board, however; wealthier districts in low property-tax towns saw the biggest funding reductions.

In any case, we did not see any meaningful tax reform; in fact, the little property tax reform we saw last year was partially defunded. The long term structural issues facing our state remain. Next year´s session will begin with a budget in the red, and lawmakers having to face unpleasant decisions. Again.

Some good bills

Let me start with the good news: some very good pieces of legislation were approved this session, some of them at the very last moment.

  • Retirement security bill:this legislation will create a statewide public retirement program, filling a huge gap for workers across the state. We wrote about the bill herehere you can read our testimony. This legislation is a big, big deal for economic security in Connecticut.
  • Ban the box: an important step to end employment discrimination; read our testimony on the bill here.
  • Two-generation fixes:two bills including improvements and fixes for the 2-gen pilot program. They enhance the evaluation component of the initiative, as well as improving access to adult education.

What did not make it

We had some good bills, however, that failed to pass:

Care 4 Kids changes – and cuts

A series of federal rule changes on childcare subsidies has left Care 4 Kids, the state flagship program in this area, with a significant budget gap.

Until now, Care 4 Kids families had to report changes of income the moment they happened, losing the subsidies overnight. This was cheaper for the state, but produced a significant amount of instability, as it created a huge benefit cliff for low-income working families. The new Federal rules allow families to stay on the program until the end of their eligibility period (12 months), avoiding this cliff, but make the program more expensive to run. Unfortunately, Connecticut did not budget the additional $34 million that it will cost to cover these families, so the Office of Early Childhood will be forced to cut the eligibility limit from 50% of the median state income to 30%.

This translates into up to 10,800 children losing access to childcare. The CT Mirror has more details here; our friends at the CT Early Childhood Alliance have prepared a good video explaining the changes on their website. Head there to sign a petition to ask Congress to fully fund the childcare development block grant – they are the ones that created the mess with the legal changes, and they are the ones that can close the gap.

Two-Generation Programs: moving towards implementation

A quick update on the two-gen pilots is warranted: after a very intensive, detailed and KC coverengaging planning process, implementation is already underway. CAHS has been very involved in the process, as Liz Fraser, one of our Policy Analysts, sits in the Interagency Council coordinating the roll out of the pilots. Each of the six communities has prepared comprehensive implementation plans, with extensive technical assistance provided by experts and constant two-way feedback with state and local agencies.

The General Assembly passed two bills related to this initiative. One bill had introduced technical fixes, better defining the Interagency Council role and establishing clearer outlines for evaluation. A second piece of legislation, derived from feedback from the planning process, will have a wider impact: it changed Care 4 Kids eligibility rules to allow adult education and community college students to apply for child care subsidies.

What´s Next for CAHS: Adult Education Report

Finally, a teaser on reports to come: CAHS is putting the final touches on an in depth report about adult education in Connecticut, to be published in the coming weeks.

Adult education has the potential to play a key role opening up paths to opportunity for low income families in the state, but has operated largely in isolation. In recent years, though, several regional providers have launched some ambitious initiatives to connect adult ed with the broader workforce development system in the state. Meanwhile, community colleges have started building bridges with remedial education reform. In this report we cover some of these bold new ideas, as well as detail some possible policy changes to expand and strengthen the system. Stay tuned.

A few good studies and links we have shared on CAHS´ Facebook page during the month. Make sure to ” like” us there to get the latest updates!



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