Monthly Archives: August 2013

Connecticut: Time for a higher standard of government

Connecticut is in serious trouble.You can’t pick up a newspaper without reading another negative headline about our state’s dire economic condition. Connecticut has the heaviest tax burden in the country, one of the least friendly business climates, the nation’s highest per capita debt, dangerously unfunded pension liabilities, and the dubious distinction of being the worst state for retirement.Connecticut was once one of the most prosperous states. It was the envy of the nation for its low taxes that attracted people and jobs, for its excellent schools and for its breathtakingly beautiful landscapes and quality of life. Now, thanks to the irresponsible policies of one-party rule, Connecticut has fallen to the bottom of every economic ranking, and our economy itself — the only one in the country that’s shrinking — ranks dead last.Connecticut has become unaffordable. People fear they no longer have a future here. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

A Labor Day message: Economic security is very much a women’s issue.

Connecticut was among the first states to enact Labor Day legislation in 1887, a full seven years before the U.S. Congress made it a federal holiday. Labor Day was created to recognize trade unions, secure workers’ safety and generally honor the contributions of laborers everywhere. And yet, more than 100 years after its passage, how well do we, as a society, really honor our workers? Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Connecticut lawmakers face ‘whale of a fight’ when Congress returns

Washington — When Congress returns from summer recess, it will once again find itself on the brink of disaster. Unless Congress acts, the federal government will shut down Oct. 1, and the nation will run out of cash to pay its bills by mid-October. Congress must figure out a way to avoid these disasters, and under the likely fallout of a U.S. strike on Syria.There is also a list of “must do” legislation pending, including a farm bill that will determine how many people will be able to receive food stamps and whether Connecticut dairy farmers get help so they can continue to operate.The 113th Congress has been tied in partisan knots since it was gaveled in in January, but as unfinished business piles up and key deadlines loom, intractability has increased, not decreased.“I’ve never seen anything like this. Never.” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District. “Twenty-three years I’ve served in the House, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said, “We’re all holding our breath to see if Congress can stop scaring everybody.”Connecticut’s House delegation, all Democrats, usually play a minor role in the Republican-led House of Representatives. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

As UConn builds more labs, research funding shrinks

Farmington — Leslie Loew, a researcher at the University of Connecticut, had planned to study the use of fluorescent dye and light to help doctors better repair life-threatening heart rhythms, but his funding was cut so that research will have to wait. Many research projects have stalled at the University of Connecticut as research funding dips. Over the past five fiscal years, annual research spending at UConn has declined by $61 million — a 26 percent reduction. The problem is that the federal funding spigot responsible for much of that research is narrowing. Federal stimulus funding ran out in 2012, and the federal government implemented across-the-board spending cuts in March — called sequestration — which affects research awards. Continue Reading →

Filed under: , , , ,

DSS modernization has made things worse, some say

Glenda Perez said she’d already sent in the paperwork needed to maintain her food stamps when she got a notice last month saying they were being discontinued. She called the state Department of Social Services, using the single phone number that everyone in the state who wants to reach a worker is supposed to use. But it didn’t connect her to a worker. Instead, she said, she’d wait 20 to 25 minutes, then get cut off. “When you try to get in touch with them, you can’t get anybody. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

CT Hurricane Sandy victims can apply for homeowner grants

Washington — Nearly a year after Hurricane Sandy slammed into Connecticut, the super storm’s victims can apply for grants, in the amounts of between $10,000 and $150,000, to repair and fortify their homes.Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Friday said Sandy-hit homeowners can apply for assistance through the state’s “Connecticut Recovers” website.The money for the grants was made available to the state by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which awarded Connecticut $72 million in Community Development Block Grants.Homeowners in Fairfield, New London, New Haven and Middlesex counties and the Mashantucket Pequot tribe are eligible.But only damage to primary residences will be considered, and the grants will cover only those expenses not covered by insurance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or any other sources of funding.Specific work that is eligible includes:Structural repair or replacement of damaged property;Cost-effective energy measures and improvements needed to meet HUD Section 8 standards;Lead-based paint abatement, asbestos abatement, handicapped accessibility for special needs;Mitigation assistance to elevate homes and/or reduce the risk for future disasters;Some appliances.Evonne Klein, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Housing, said her agency will open intake centers in the four eligible counties in the next month to assist homeowners with the application process.“However, we know the need for these funds is critical,” Klein said. ”In the meantime, people can go to the state’s recovery website ( or the housing department’s site and start the application process immediately.”   Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Connecticut Democrats hire labor liaison

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy playfully pretends he is unaware that 2014 is an election year, but the Connecticut Democratic Party signalled the opposite Friday by beefing up its staff: Jennifer Smith is the party’s liasion with labor.”Labor Day honors the great improvements union workers fought so hard for, and the victories on behalf of working Americans they’ve contributed to our society,” Smith said. “So I’m thrilled to be kicking off this Labor Day weekend with the opportunity to work with union members across the state on behalf of the Connecticut Democratic Party.”Smith has been employed for 11 years by one of the state’s most politically active unions, the New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199/SEIU. Since 2006, she has been the union’s political director in Connecticut.She previously was executive director of Progressive Minnesota, an advocacy group backed by labor.  Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Justice Department to limit role in state marijuana laws

The federal government announced Thursday that it will not try to pre-empt laws in states, including Connecticut, that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use as long as the law is strictly enforced.The memo sent to all 50 states reiterated that the federal government still considers the drug illegal, but will not intervene if the state program is tightly regulated and well funded.The Department of Justice announcement comes just two days after a state legislative panel approved comprehensive regulations to govern Connecticut’s medical marijuana program. The new stance should help ease some legislators’ worries about conflicts with federal law.“It certainly puts to rest any concerns about our law concerning medical marijuana,” said Michael Lawlor, state Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning.State Consumer Protection Commissioner William Rubenstein, whose department oversees the state’s medical marijuana program, said Thursday that the state made sure that Connecticut’s law was comprehensive and had enough strict oversight to avoid federal intervention.Lawlor said he wasn’t surprised by the new federal stance, particularly after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent announcement that federal prosecutors should no longer give mandatory minimum sentences to low-risk, nonviolent drug offenders.“It’s another indication how public opinion and public policy are changing nationally for low-level drug offenders,” he said.Lawlor pointed out that Connecticut has taken this tact for a few years. He said one of the first bills Gov. Dannel P. Malloy promoted was to decriminalize less than a half ounce of marijuana in Connecticut.“It’s no longer a crime. It’s more like a parking ticket,” he said.The announcement specifically names Colorado and Washington, which decriminalized less than 1 ounce of marijuana last November, but applies to all states that have passed their own marijuana laws.The memo identifies several areas related to the drug that federal prosecutors should prioritize, including preventing distribution to minors; preventing distribution from states where it is legal under state law to other states; preventing revenue from sales going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels; and preventing drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use.  Continue Reading →

Filed under:

DSS extends Medicaid, food stamps for 15,500 households

The state Department of Social Services announced Thursday that it would extend medical and food benefits for about 15,500 poor households at risk of losing them Sept. 1.The move is intended to prevent people from losing Medicaid or food stamps as the department deals with problems related to a major change in its handling of applications and renewal forms. It affects people whose deadlines for renewing benefits is Sept. 1, some of whom got notices this month warning that they could lose benefits.The problems stem from a change in how DSS handles documents as part of a major “modernization” effort. Forms and other material sent to DSS now go to a state contractor, which scans them into the department’s computer system.The contractor, Manchester-based Scan-Optics, was supposed to get documents into the DSS computer system within 24 hours. But DSS Commissioner Roderick L. Bremby said the volume of paperwork had led to a backlog in scanning, delaying DSS workers’ ability to access documents.The benefits will be extended by at least one month. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Connecticut tax receipts on the rise in 2012-13

There are some new positive signs in state government’s finances.As officials prepare to close the books next week on the last fiscal year, preliminary estimates show that receipts from all major taxes were on the rise in 2012-13.Though the last budget technically ended June 30, receipts from several taxes continue to accrue through Sept. 1.But unofficial totals show receipts not only from the three largest taxes — income, sales and corporation — but also smaller levies on utilities, insurance companies, estates and fuel also were raking in more than they had in 2011-12, at the same respective rates. That’s according to cash receipts recorded by the Department of Revenue Services as well as the last estimates from the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis.And though tax refunds, an expense to the state, also were up in 2012-13, officials said the trend clearly is a positive one, especially given that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the legislature also have built up $230 million in the state’s emergency budget reserve.“Governor Malloy took prudent and necessary steps, such as midyear budget cuts, to ensure that last year’s budget was balanced,” Malloy budget chief Benjamin Barnes said.He noted that more than $380 million in midyear deficit-reduction measures were taken and that without them, the reserve wouldn’t have been possible.“While we’re pleased with the improvement over 2012, the economy still has a long way to go and we’ll keep working hard to support the businesses and individuals that are growing Connecticut’s economy.”Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo, the state’s chief fiscal watchdog, said, “Even when things are pointing only marginally in a good direction. There’s a lot to be hopeful about in the out-years based on what we are seeing now, especially considering we are climbing out of a very severe economic downturn.”Lembo said legislators not only need to continue to closely monitor overall state spending, but they must remain conservative in their expectations for revenue from the most volatile components of the tax system.More than one-third of the state’s income tax receipts are tied to households that report earnings quarterly — and the majority of that reflects capital gains and other investment income that can grow, or shrink, in annual double-digit leaps as the economy fluctuates.But Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, a veteran member of the tax-writing Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, said the state’s fiscal future still faces great uncertainty.“It is something positive to point to, but we need to continue to look at the whole picture,” he said. “It is not a time for high fives and pats on the back. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Report: Youth unemployment threatens state’s economic future

Growing youth unemployment coupled with persistent wage gaps along racial and ethnic lines threaten Connecticut’s long-term economic future, according to a new report released today by a New Haven-based public policy research group.The annual Labor Day weekend report from Connecticut Voices for Children recommends that state officials strengthen access to “high quality” elementary and secondary education, make higher education and job training more affordable and provide greater opportunities for poor households to escape poverty.“The health of our common economic future will depend on our success in broadening economic opportunities for young workers,” said Orlando Rodriguez, senior policy fellow at Connecticut Voices and co-author of the report.The unemployment rate for Connecticut workers ages 16 to 24 stood at 17.1 percent in 2012, the report found. That’s down slightly from a high of 18.2 percent reached during 2011. It’s also more than double the 7.4 percent rate for workers ages 25 to 54 and almost triple the rate for workers older than 54.The youth unemployment rate, which stood at just 5.6 percent in 2000, has been steadily rising for much of the last 12 years, but it shot up dramatically during the last recession, the report states.Compounding this problem, a shrinking share of Connecticut’s young workers is looking for employment.While the rate for all workers seeking unemployment fell from almost 69 percent in 2007 to 66 percent last year, among 16- to 24-year-olds, the rate fell over the same period from 62 percent to 54.5 percent.Long-term unemployment — the share of unemployed who’ve been out of work for more than 26 weeks — also remains a big problem for young workers, the report states.Among the age 16-to-24 demographic in Connecticut, almost 34 percent were out of work more than 26 weeks last year, well above the national average of 27.7 percent, according to the report.Long-term unemployment also was a big problem in 2012 for Connecticut’s oldest workers.The report found that 61.5 percent of the Nutmeg State’s workers age 55 and older were off the job at least 26 weeks last year — the highest rate among all 50 states.The report also found that unemployment among African Americans and Hispanics stood last year at 13.4 percent and 15.7 percent, respectively — both roughly double the 7.0 percent rate for whites.Given that Hispanics are one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the state, “and that minority populations are younger in Connecticut, these disparities in economic opportunity are troubling for the economic future,” the report adds.Taken together, the findings show that Connecticut has a growing number of retirees as well as increasing totals of lower-paid minority workers.“This means that Connecticut is losing higher-income workers (older, more-educated whites) while adding lower-income workers (younger, less-educated minorities),” the report states.“We can’t afford an economy that leaves our young people behind,” added Edie Joseph, a policy fellow at Connecticut Voices and co-author of the report. “We urgently need a renewed commitment to supporting youth to get Connecticut back on track to a prosperous future.”The report can be found on the Connecticut Voices website at Continue Reading →

Filed under:

State social services officials failed to notify auditors promptly of benefits fraud

State Department of Social Services officials notified law enforcement officials in timely fashion — but not the state auditors — while investigating three incidents of suspected benefits fraud between 2010 and early 2012, the auditors reported Thursday.In a letter to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Auditors John C. Geragosian and Robert M. Ward wrote that “all state department heads shall promptly notify the auditors of public accounts and the comptroller of any unauthorized, illegal, irregular or unsafe handling of state funds.”During an audit of the department begun last spring, the auditors first learned of three separate occasions during which “DSS employees allegedly engaged in unauthorized behavior that allowed each of the employees to improperly obtain funds from the state of Connecticut for personal gain.”According to the auditors’ office, those incidents involved improper approval of nutrition assistance, state welfare benefits, or both. The department already had notified the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney, the auditors noted, and restitution ordered in all three cases totaled about $70,000.But Geragosian and Ward wrote that two of the incidents occurred in 2010 and the third in 2012, yet their office didn’t learn of this until it began an audit in March 2013.DSS Commissioner Roderick Bremby “assures us he is taking corrective action,” Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba said Thursday.“While the agency did report these incidents to the state auditors, we need to make sure we do so according to the time frames in the statute going forward,” read a department statement issued Thursday. It also noted that two of the three fraud incidents occurred before Bremby’s tenure began in 2011.  Continue Reading →

Filed under:

White House announces new gun-control measures

Washington — At a ceremonial swearing-in Thursday for the new chief of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Todd Jones, Vice President Joe Biden said the Obama administration will use its authority to implement two new gun control measures.One new policy would end a government practice that lets military weapons, sold or donated by the United States to other countries, to be reimported to the United States, where some may end up unregistered and on the streets.A second proposal would end the registering of machine guns and short-barreled shotguns to corporations or trusts to avoid mandatory fingerprinting. The new regulation would require all associated with those corporations or trusts to undergo the same fingerprinting process as individuals who own those types of guns.Biden said that last year there were 39,000 requests for transfers of these restricted firearms to trusts or corporations.”It’s a very artful dodge,” he said.As for the gun control proposals the White House announced earlier this year in response to the shooting deaths in Newtown, Biden said, “The president and I remain committed to getting these things done.””If Congress doesn’t act, we’ll fight for a new Congress. It’s that simple. But we’re going to get this done. We’re going to get this done,” the vice president said.  Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Split on Syria: Connecticut lawmakers disagree about use of air strikes

Washington — Congress is splitting into two camps — hawks and doves — on the question of whether the U.S. should launch air strikes against the Syrian government, and the Connecticut congressional delegation is mirroring that division.The Obama administration is seeking international support for air strikes on Syria in light of the reported use of chemical weapons last week by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attacked his opponents. The White House said any action the U.S. considers would stop short of “regime change.”Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., is one of the most vocal opponents of a proposed air strike, while Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut’s senior senator and also a Democrat, is urging swift military action “to send a message to Assad.”To Murphy, an air strike on the Middle East nation, even if it targets only military assets, would make things worse for the United States and the Syrian people.Murphy said an air strike is unlikely to hurt Assad, and may stir up anti-American sentiments in the region and provoke more repression by the Syrian government against its opponents.Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview Wednesday that there’s danger of a “quagmire” in the Middle East that would involve U.S. forces and U.S. resources for years.“I saw the pictures of the little kids killed by chemical weapons, and I understand why people want action,” he said. “But after 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s clear the U.S. isn’t very good at pulling strings in Middle East conflicts.”Murphy said he believes the United States can rid the Syrian government of chemical weapons only by sending in ground troops, a move that would lead to a massive civil war and long-term U.S. involvement.Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, disagrees.Questioned on CNN Tuesday evening, Blumenthal said he thinks the United States should launch an air strike that is “targeted to high-value military assets and limited in its duration and scope.”He is concerned about repercussions from an air strike, he said, “but [is] more concerned about repercussions for failing to respond to this violation of morality and international law.”In a later interview, Blumenthal said, “There should definitely be more consultation with Congress” before an air strike occurs, even if there’s no time for a vote. He also said the administration should show proof that Assad’s government used chemical weapons before any strike on Syria. Former Sen. Joe Lieberman, who retired at the beginning of the year, continues to express his hawkish views on the Middle East. He joined 87 former lawmakers and policymakers in sending a letter to President Obama Tuesday that urged an attack on Syria.”At a minimum, the United States, along with willing allies and partners, should use standoff weapons and airpower to target the Syrian dictatorship’s military units that were involved in the recent large-scale use of chemical weapons.  It should also provide vetted moderate elements of Syria’s armed opposition with the military support required to identify and strike regime units armed with chemical weapons,” the letter says.But to Reps. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Easier enrollment process could mean thousands more with coverage under Obamacare, researchers say

Having a seamless, one-stop shopping process for state residents to enroll in health care coverage could ensure that an additional 26,000 people get insurance, and 36,000 avoid losing their coverage, according to research released this week. Continue Reading →

Filed under: , , , , , ,