Towns and cities across Connecticut are set to see a major windfall from the $1.7 trillion bill to fund the federal government, thanks to the practice formerly known as earmarking where lawmakers secure large pots of money to benefit their state and districts.
More than 170 projects were approved for Connecticut and tucked into the federal funding bill that passed Congress on Friday. The total amount for the state is upwards of $236 million — a number that greatly exceeds the previous year.
The programs and initiatives run the gamut. The largest group — about a third of projects — focus on infrastructure, while the remainder largely falls under economic development, health, housing, energy and the environment.
Nearly 70 localities in Connecticut will see investments flow into their communities, with New Haven, Hartford and Bridgeport set to receive the largest amount of money for projects like flood mitigation, expansion of health care facilities, educational programs through schools and libraries and improvements of railway lines. Smaller towns like Hebron, Bethany and Redding also stand to benefit.
“This has been the most productive year than any year I’ve been in public service,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said at a Friday press conference from Hartford. “This budget, which invests billions of dollars in Connecticut, is going to help people and save lives over the course of this winter.”
Earmarks are mutually advantageous for members of Congress and the people they represent. Lawmakers can tout the federal dollars flooding into their states and districts, while constituents reap the benefits. And Connecticut stands to profit again.
The funds are back for a second iteration after a 10-year moratorium. Many see them as direct ways of reaching the needs of communities that they know best, as well as having more influence in a major part of governing. Others, mainly Republicans, have a negative connotation of earmarks, viewing them as extraneous measures for pet projects that balloon overall spending by Congress.
They are placed in massive appropriation bills to set new funding levels for federal agencies and to keep the government funded. If Congress did not pass such legislation by Friday, a shutdown would have occurred and Connecticut would not have gotten any of the money designated for it.
But because the government is fully funded, all seven Connecticut lawmakers — two senators and five House members — are getting nearly all of their earmark requests approved.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, played an integral role in crafting and negotiating the overall bill as chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. And with Republicans set to take over the House next year, this was DeLauro’s last budget at the helm of the committee.
On the House side, DeLauro helped bring back earmarks in 2021 for the first time since 2011 with a new set of rules and terminology. The funds adopted new names — Community Project Funding in the House and Congressionally-Directed Spending in the Senate — with more limits and transparency.
Lawmakers and their immediate families must certify they have no financial ties to their requests. Government and nonprofit entities can receive funding, but for-profits are ineligible. House members can only request up to 15 projects, but there is no cap on the number for senators.
The money Connecticut’s lawmakers are bringing back home has grown significantly since the last round of earmarks when they first came back. In fiscal year 2022, the total funding for state projects was nearly $150 million.
The amount increased in part because House members could request more projects than a year earlier. In 2021, they had a cap of 10 projects.
While most of it came from the delegation, one other member of Congress requested an earmark for a major nonprofit based in the state. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., got approval for nearly $1.1 million to go toward Save the Children. It is an international organization, but its headquarters is based in Fairfield.
In addition to member-directed spending, a number of Connecticut legislative priorities made it into the government funding bill, while a couple of others did not make the cut. That includes an election reform bill, mental health and gun safety funding and defense measures that will bolster the state’s submarine and aerospace industries.
Here’s a breakdown of various approved projects and other funding for Connecticut (a full list of requests are publicized on each member's congressional website):
Senate: Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal
Congressional appropriators approved more than 90 Senate-only requests made jointly by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Murphy, totaling about $104 million. Some were requested by both House members and the two senators.
The highest-funded projects for the senators are related to physical infrastructure: $12 million for the Connecticut Department of Transportation to improve track speed on the New Haven line, $7 million to expand the Shoreline Greenway Trail in New Haven, $5 million for construction on Lafayette Circle in Bridgeport and $3.4 million for a "multi-use path, sidewalk, and three pedestrian bridges in Oxford on Route 67."
But the dozens of requests are wide-ranging.
For housing, the Waterbury Housing Authority will receive $420,000 to aid in the implementation and construction of more affordable housing. The Habitat for Humanity of Coastal Fairfield County will also get $2 million for similar housing efforts in Bridgeport.
On the education front, there will be large tranches of money coming in to support both public schools and workforce development programs, like $204,000 for 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm's summer programming camp for disabled students in Bloomfield.
And veterans-related projects will see investments like $630,000 for renovations at a veterans residential PTSD treatment program at Continuum of Care, Inc. in New Haven.
"It is not perfect, but it is very good. We have refused to allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good," Blumenthal said at Friday's press conference, referring to the overall spending bill. He added that the legislation "keeps promises" to Connecticut veterans, workers, small businesses and families.
Connecticut’s 1st District: John Larson
Rep. John Larson scored the highest amount of funding for his 15 projects compared to the rest of his House colleagues: more than $38 million.
The Hartford-area congressman also got the largest individual earmark approved: $16.1 million for a manufacturing and technology innovation center at Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology in East Hartford.
At least $15 million of Larson's earmarks goes toward infrastructure-related projects. And more than $6 million focuses on education initiatives that are largely geared toward workforce and economic development.
Goodwin University in East Hartford will get $2.2 million for a mobile manufacturing and nursing program. The Hispanic Federation Financial Education Initiative will receive a $650,000 boost. Hartford Communities That Care will get more than $1.3 million for a program to provide job training for violence prevention professionals.
And the Connecticut Historical Society Museum and Library in Hartford received $2 million to boost civics and postsecondary education.
Connecticut’s 2nd District: Joe Courtney
Rep. Joe Courtney’s 15 projects totaled more than $21 million for his eastern district.
The congressman's largest-funded project was earmarked for $4 million for research at the University of Connecticut to study "long-term risk management and mitigation strategies" of crumbling foundations in homes.
Like other members, Courtney requested a number of infrastructure projects like the Bolton Gateway Sewer Extension Project in Coventry, upgrades to the Quinebaug River Trail in Plainfield, upgrades to a facility in Lebanon to help those with alcohol and substance abuse issues and a fisherman's dock in Stonington that was also requested by Blumenthal and Murphy.
Other pots of money will go toward expanding services at a childcare center in Groton, a domestic violence shelter for northeast Connecticut and mental health services for children in New London and surrounding communities.
The Suffield Police Department will also get funding for new equipment related to computer-aided dispatch and a records management system.
Connecticut’s 3rd District: Rosa DeLauro
DeLauro also got all of her 15 requests, which added up to nearly $27 million.
Her largest earmark of $4.1 million is for flood protection measures for the Stratford Water Pollution Control Facility. Other highly funded projects include construction of a road to support economic development in Seymour, expansion of the Fair Haven Community Health Clinic and improvements to facilities at a hospice in Branford.
Two of her requests focused on two YMCA facilities. She secured $1.9 million for childcare expansion at the Naugatuck YMCA and $750,000 for the Aquatics Center at Wallingford Family YMCA – West Side Branch.
Other projects include town hall renovations in Bethany, investments in the Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership, Inc. that provides services particularly for children of color, and energy efficiency improvements for an administrative building in Hamden — a joint request with the two senators.
Connecticut’s 4th District: Jim Himes
Rep. Jim Himes’ 14 requested projects came out to a total of more than $22 million.
The largest of those projects is $5.5 million for the Wall Street Corridor Revitalization Project in Norwalk.
Stamford, one of the biggest cities in the district and the state, will benefit from several projects. In a joint request with Blumenthal and Murphy, the Women's Business Development Council will receive $2 million in grant and technical assistance to help minority-owned and women-owned businesses.
Other Stamford projects include school-based health centers expansion, the city's bioswales initiative and a new facility for a library and community center in the city's East Side.
Himes' district will see similar projects focused on workforce development like the one in Stamford. The WorkPlace, Inc. in Bridgeport will get $1 million to help with digital skills for unemployed and underemployed women of color.
Connecticut’s 5th District: Jahana Hayes
Rep. Jahana Hayes’ 15 projects totaled more than $23 million.
She secured three investments for law enforcement in her district: $2.1 million for upgrades to the emergency communications system for New Fairfield Police Department, $172,000 for Waterbury Police Academy League for children’s sports and activities, and $3.3 million for communications upgrades for Watertown Police Department.
Waterbury, Hayes' home town, is set to receive money for a few other projects: pool replacements at Fulton Park, the purchase of Google Chromebooks for the public schools and the development of K-12 STEM education programs for both Waterbury and Hartford.
Like in other members' districts, housing efforts will see large investments: $750,000 was allotted for the expansion of affordable multi-family rental housing for the Falls Village section of Canaan.
And $50,000 will go toward the Childcare Incubator Project for YWCA of New Britain, which will provide training to help people open childcare facilities.
What other CT priorities made it into the funding bill?
Aside from earmarks, Connecticut saw other legislative wins in the year-end bill.
A bill reforming the Electoral Count Act was part of the final package. Murphy had been part of a bipartisan effort to amend the century-old law to try to prevent a repeat of the Jan. 6 attack when Congress certifies the results of the next presidential election. Murphy was eager to get it done before the end of the year while Democrats still control both chambers.
The legislation raises the threshold to object to electors from one member in each chamber to one-fifth of all members. It also establishes an “expedited judicial review” to deal with candidate legal challenges and clarifies the vice president’s role as ceremonial in overseeing the certification process.
Murphy also helped secure new funding for mental health and gun violence prevention, which is in addition to his funds in the gun safety bill he championed — the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. Some of these investments include $50 million for a Community-Based Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant program, $125 million for operation of the national background check system on firearms purchases and about $1 billion in Mental Health Block Grants.
There is also a big bump in money for the Long Island Sound. More than $40 million was allocated to “improve water quality, restore coastal habitats and protect its shoreline” — an additional investment that comes after separate funding from the bipartisan federal infrastructure bill.
The spending package also includes the $858 billion recently authorized in the annual defense bill. The National Defense Authorization Act is a major boon for Connecticut’s major defense manufacturers — Sikorsky, General Dynamics Electric Boat and Raytheon Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney — as well as the smaller suppliers. Courtney’s role as the chairman of the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces has given him leverage on behalf of Connecticut when Congress negotiates new defense projects and funding.
In addition to those defense priorities, the legislation also implements the Honoring Our PACT Act, which seeks to expand benefits for veterans and service members by removing the burden on veterans to prove an illness is related to exposure to toxins and burn pits. Blumenthal has worked for years to help pass this veterans bill. Now, around 10,000 veterans in Connecticut will be eligible for these benefits after previously not qualifying.
But other pieces of legislation were left on the cutting room floor.
DeLauro vigorously pushed for reviving the enhancement of the federal child tax credit that lifted millions of children out of poverty last year. While it was in place, the rebate gave families $3,600 per child under age 6 and $3,000 per child between 6 to 18, depending on their income.
The expansion of the tax credit, however, expired at the end of 2021. Republicans have so far been successful in opposing its return in some form. Because of their resistance, Democrats would not support the inclusion of a tax break into the spending bill that would allow businesses to once again write off research and development expenses every year.
And as lawmakers in Congress seek to rein in Big Tech, many of those bills were excluded from the end-of-the-year bill, including one from Blumenthal. He wanted to see passage of his bipartisan legislation with Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., to protect children on social media platforms.
The Kids Online Safety Act aims to put in place stricter settings on social media by giving children and parents the ability to disable addictive features, enable privacy settings and opt out of algorithmic recommendations. It also requires social media companies to conduct an annual independent audit to analyze the risks to minors and see if they are working to reduce it.
Despite support from lawmakers in both parties and hundreds of advocacy organizations, the bill faced pushback from dozens of LGBTQ rights and civil rights groups that commended its intent but warned of “unintended consequences” related to content filtering and limited access to information for vulnerable children in abusive situations and LGBTQ youth.
While both of those bills ultimately did not get attached to the larger legislation, DeLauro and Blumenthal are likely to keep pushing for passage in the new session of Congress, even as Democrats lose some governing power.
The Connecticut Mirror/Connecticut Public Radio federal policy reporter position is made possible, in part, by funding from the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation and Engage CT.