Congress passes aid bill vital to Connecticut’s budget

The House gave final approval to a long-delayed $26.1 billion emergency aid package for cash-strapped states on Tuesday.

Connecticut officials had been anxious over the fate of the legislation, which will send an estimated $309 million to the state to help stave off teacher lays offs and cuts to Medicaid, the health care safety net program for the poor. Although less than hoped for, the aid will enable the state to avoid a deficit this year, they said.

The bill includes $10 billion for local schools and $16.1 billion for Medicaid, which in Connecticut will translate into $110 million and $199 million for those two items respectively. Soon after Tuesday’s vote, President Barack Obama signed the measure into law. All five of Connecticut’s Democratic House members supported the measure, which passed 247-to-161 after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a rare move, interrupted Congress’ August recess to call lawmakers back to Washington for this vote.

“To see the disastrous consequences of teacher layoffs, we only need to look to New Britain, where looming budget cuts were going to result in 40 kids to a classroom,” said Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District. “We cannot tolerate this recession creeping into our schools, so with this bill going to President Obama’s desk, we can provide the additional resources necessary to educate our kids.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, called the bill something of a “Sophie’s Choice,” because to pay for the new state aid, lawmakers included numerous cuts, including trims to the federal food stamp program.

“This is a bitter pill to swallow,” DeLauro said in a statement before the vote. She noted that participation in the food  stamp program has increased dramatically during the economic crisis, from 31.1 million persons to 38.2 million just in one year. “But I know that states across the nation and my own state of Connecticut also desperately need these resources to save jobs and avoid draconian cuts to essential services for low income families,” she added.

Although she voted for the bill, she also vowed to try to restore some of the food stamp benefits further down the road.

Republicans generally opposed the bill, saying it represented a big favor to powerful teachers unions as Democrats head into the mid-term elections. Republicans also said Congress was bailing out states- yet again-after saying the original stimulus bill was supposed to be targeted and temporary.