By Roger Senserrich, CAHS Policy Director
Another year, another budget deficit—but this year is truly worse.
The 2016 legislative session started like every session seems to start in Connecticut, with a hefty budget deficit for FY2017. Projections indicated that the state would spend $570 million more than what it would raise next year, so the Governor and General Assembly had to look again for a way to balance the numbers.
Making matters far worse, in mid-February new revenue numbers came in, and the deficit turned out to be much larger than expected. In addition to a considerable increase in this fiscal year´s budget (up to $266 million deficit), the hole for 2017 ballooned to $911 million, and is likely to rise.
As a result, even if Governor Malloy’s proposed midterm budget adjustment did balance the budget, we will need more cuts—or new revenue, for which there seems to be no appetite in an election year among the Governor and legislators.
Another challenge for advocates is that it was hard to know from the Governor´s proposal exactly how he planned to balanced the numbers, and we know even less now. In the budget adjustment, instead of the usual list of line items showing which programs receive funding and which are cut or eliminated, all programs are bundled under a single “agency operations” line, without any specifics. We know that “agency operations” will get a 5.75% cut in funding, but we don’t know which programs are cut.
Here’s what we do know: for starters, the bulk of Connecticut’s state budget (about two-thirds of it) cannot be cut, as it covers mandatory spending, entitlements, interest payments and contractual obligations. Most of the remaining third is where social services, health care, and education funding gets its money from. So the proposed cuts are not really across the board, but fall mostly on the needy and the social service providers that serve them. More than $400 million of the $570 million in cuts Governor Malloy proposes cuts would come from nonprofit providers that have seen their resources dwindling for years. Although they offer essential services for low-income families, they are facing the bulk of the cuts.
As of now, the General Assembly seems poised to unbundle agency operations and provide more transparency with line items, so we at least will be able to discuss what is being cut. CAHS’s focus, as always, will be championing programs that deliver results, with an eye on improving social services. Before we can do that and work to achieve systemic change, we need to know where the money is going. It is a first step.
A Question & Answer Session with Elaine Zimmerman of the CT Commission on Children, Regarding Two-Generational Initiative
Q: Why is there a “buzz” about two-gen?
A: Over the last several decades, the family has been fragmented in service delivery and consumer voice by the mechanisms of funding and the discrete functions of various non-profit and government agencies. Two-gen puts the family back in the center - not the provider or the funds.
Q: What makes this different from other approaches?
A: Two-gen addresses a problem that has bedeviled families for many years: the social services they need are “siloed,” forcing them to go to one agency for one service, then to another agency for another service, and so forth. Worse, these agencies often don’t communicate and co-ordinate with each other, which creates more headaches for families in the form of duplicative paperwork, needless waiting, and conflicting information. Two-gen gives an opportunity to deliver services more effectively and more efficiently.
For instance, we don’t yet coordinate efforts to help a child succeed in school with efforts to help that child’s parents succeed in the workforce. If we can help the parents place their child in a good school-readiness program, it will give them the time and trust they need to move forward with such essentials as learning English, finishing high school, and employment training. Even better, if these programs are co-located (such as a child-care center in the same building as a GED program) or linked with transportation for parents without cars, it will render them more accessible and therefore more successful.
Q: What do you hope to achieve?
A: In creating the 2015-17 state budget last spring, the Connecticut General Assembly earmarked $3 million for the creation of a pilot program for two-generational approaches. It will operate in six communities: Bridgeport, New Haven, Colchester, Meriden, Norwalk, and the Hartford region. Once all the participants in those communities are fully trained, they will submit plans for their sites. With evaluators assisting them at every step, they will enact those plans and carefully gather data to help determine whether (and how) two-gen can be expanded. Among the questions to be answered:
- Does intentional two-generational planning create better school outcomes for the child, employment for the parent and less stressors for the family?
- What are the cost savings, if any?
- What do we need to change in how we do service delivery and run government to help our customers be economically self-sufficient and successful?
Q: How can we meaningfully engage parents to shape this effort?
A: Families are the entire focus of two-gen, so parent input at every stage of development is essential. At each pilot site, the plan will be parent-informed. Parents will have the authority to not only give input and feedback, but guide the program and policies. They are the customers, and we will rely on them to tell us what is or isn’t working. They will be part of the policy and program trainings, have opportunity to be interns, work peer-to-peer to bring parents in with real outcomes and perform outreach to assure that parents know about this two gen opportunity. Entrepreneurial ideas will be assisted by business leaders, to help parents build in creative opportunity. We are also talking about a mobile two gen parent van that would spread the word-parent to parent.
Q: How does two-gen fit with other initiatives in Connecticut?
A: Two generational work is an effort to reduce the cycle of family poverty and to create more intentional coordinated services and programs for both parent and child. The goal is school readiness and school success for the child and workforce readiness and workforce success for the parent.
This work dovetails well and partners with, among others: a) the state’s early-care and education programs; b) home visitation programs, c) fatherhood initiatives, including an innovative effort in Waterbury to assure the engagement of non –custodial parents; d) TANF efforts to reach out to both dads and moms; e) Second Chance and restorative justices as well as f) Secure Jobs, the two-year demonstration pilot designed to increase the income of families transitioning from homelessness to housing by connecting them to the education, training, and supports they need to secure and maintain stable, competitive employment.
Q: What have other states learned with this approach?
A: This effort is emerging as we speak. Cities and states are learning from each other. For example, through the Aspen Institute, NGA and NCSL, we are sharing data and experiences. Colorado, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Maryland are undertaking versions of two-gen, and we are all beginning to share data and experiences.
Q: How can we ensure that two-gen has staying power?
A: If the customer finds this useful and successful, it will work.
Excellence in design and planning will help drive the direction.
Constant monitoring and fine-tuning are essential. That, in turn, requires detailed data. We will look at: a) child, b) parent, c) family, and d) systems change outcomes. We are raising the funds now to begin with the evaluation design in all site implementation.
From Jim Horan, Executive Director, CAHS
Welcome to the re-launch of the CAHS Newsletter, Connections. Our intention is for this to be more than an update on CAHS’s work to promote Family Economic Success, but also a resource to readers to engage in fighting child and family poverty and building opportunity and equality.
This is a great time launch, because we have very exciting news: the W.K. Kellogg Foundation recently awarded CAHS a three-year, $600,000 grant to support two-generation work at CAHS and throughout the state. “Two generations” refers to efforts to promote the financial and educational success of young children and their parents simultaneously.
Connecticut is on the cutting edge of two-gen work, thanks to the efforts of the Connecticut Commission on Children and the General Assembly, which last year enacted legislation to create better outcomes for children and parents statewide and in six pilot communities. You can learn more about two-gen strategies throughout this issue of the newsletter, including an interview with Elaine Zimmerman of the Commission on Children.
The Kellogg grant validates CAHS’s work on Family Economic Success over more than 10 years. Kellogg awarded the grant in part because of CAHS’s experience with both policy change and fostering effective programs in low-income communities. The grant also reflects recognition among nonprofits and funders that we need to do business differently to achieve “collective impact”:
- Kids grow up in families, so we need to create opportunities for children and parents.
- Families need a range of supports, from quality early education to adult and post-secondary education, and including health and mental healthcare and connections to jobs.
- Two-gen provides a framework for policies, programs, and systems to work together to support the family as a whole and build family success.
This two-generation initiative is a true public-private partnership. Private philanthropic support allows all state funding to go to the pilot projects in Bridgeport, Colchester, Greater Hartford, Meriden, New Haven, and Norwalk, to create true two-gen initiatives and fill gaps in funding. Kellogg funds will support development of templates to create better outcomes, technical assistance to the communities, and evaluation. Kellogg’s support builds on a prior grant to CAHS from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and on-going TA to the Commission on Children from ASCEND at the Aspen Institute, a leader in two-gen initiatives.
CAHS’s roles will be to do what we do best, serving as a facilitator, partner, resource, and innovator. Liz Fraser, a CAHS Policy Analyst with programmatic two-gen experience before she came to CAHS, will lead our efforts working with local communities, ensuring adequate technical assistance, and helping coordinate a robust evaluation.
Elsewhere in this issue:
- CAHS Policy Director Roger Senserrich, on the 2016 Legislative Session
- A conversation with Elaine Zimmerman, Executive Director of the Connecticut Commission on Children
- Hope you enjoy
- To learn more about the work we are doing or this very exciting grant and the two-generation work it will soon by supporting, call 860-951-2212
Yesterday afternoon President Obama stopped by Central Connecticut State University in New Britain where he made his case for increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 (current federal minimum wage is set at $7.25, Connecticut's minimum wage is $8.25). Flanked by Governor Dannel Malloy, as well as the Governors from Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island, the President called on Congress to "give America a raise" and highlighted how the increase would help women and young people.
In our previous post, we discussed the the benefit a wage increase has on both our lowest-earning workers and the state's budget. Several news reports following the event, that can be viewed here and here, featured quotes from Democratic lawmakers indicating the high probability of the legislature passing a minimum wage increase during this legislative session. Tom Foley, the likely Republican candidate in this fall's governor's race, has stated he favors a minimum wage increase. There is also overwhelming public support, with the latest Quinnipiac poll showing voters backing the measure 3-to-1.
An increase in the minimum wage is an important first step in helping our state's families move out of poverty and towards economic security. In future posts, we will discuss other aspects of the President's economic agenda for 2014, which includes a more robust earned income tax credit with new support for single adults, additional job training programs, and expanded early childhood education opportunities.
A story from one of our CAHS outreach staff, not for too long ago:
I used to go to the VA Hospital in West Haven, in Connecticut. The social services office is in the old wing of the building. Old dinky offices with old furniture, yellowed American Legion posters and creaky floors, were many vets go get some information about services available to them. There, I was the food stamp guy; Roger, helping people with paperwork every other Tuesday. Every time I go there was a line of vets, always punctual, waiting for me at the office door.
A few months ago, one of the guys in the line was Michael. He is a former Army corporal, just out of the service. He had come back from Afghanistan last year, and was living day to day, sometimes sleeping in a friend’s couch, sometimes on the back of his van. He had been diagnosed with severe post traumatic stress disorder, and was receiving treatment at the VA. Unfortunately, his disability claim had not come through yet, so he had nothing to eat.
Michael had a kid. Nine year old kid, actually. He was going to school in West Haven, staying with a distant relative on and off, with Michael barely being able to hide his shame in front of him. He had two meals a day in school; not much else. He tried to apply for SNAP, but he could not handle the 12 page application. He was desperate. The stress was tearing him apart. Back from war, but unable to take care of himself or his kid.
We helped him apply for SNAP. Filled the paperwork, brought it to DSS. I guess the New Haven office had a dedicated person for handling vet applications; he started receiving SNAP benefits the following week. Now he had money to put food on the table and take care of his son. He had some stability; he started getting better.
Six months later, I ran into Michael again, at the VA office. He had rented a small condo by the water, barely a week ago. He was working as a mechanic part time. He was still recovering, but he had a place to call his own. He came back just to tell us that the food stamps had saved his life.
These programs are lifelines. People’s lives depend on them. People rebuild their lives on them. Cutting SNAP means leaving people behind, and we Americans don’t leave people behind.
This program is under risk. The Republican house majority has proposed huge cuts on SNAP benefits. Without SNAP, many families will not be able to support themselves. Stories like the one above show why we need this program.
CAHS has long been one of the leading voice in Connecticut to defend SNAP, but we need your help. If you think this program is important, if you don't want to see families in need be left behind when they need help, please donate to CAHS to help us fight for this program.
You can find more information here; it is easy, and we will greatly appreciate your help. Thanks for your support.
CAHS is build on two pillars: our program side, working with community based organizations across the state to help low income families become self sufficient, and our policy work, advocating for those families both at the Capitol in Hartford and in Washington DC. Our program work informs our policy efforts; a lot of the issues we see on the ground when working with clients and talking with people in the community end up being front and center in our policy agenda.
We advocate for the state EITC because we know that the Earned Income Tax Credit is important thanks in no small part to our own VITA work. We support the Affordable Care Act because we have seen how important health insurance is to keep a family out of poverty. What we hear on the ground informs what we say at the Capitol. It is one of our main strengths, are we are proud of it.
We do advocacy, however, for another crucial reason: politicians will not listen to low income families otherwise. In a classic study Larry Bartels, a political scientist from Princeton, analyzed how US Senator votes relate to the average policy positions of their voters by level of income. What he found is the following:
My analysis includes broad summary measures of senators’ voting behavior as well as specific votes on the minimum wage, civil rights, government spending, and abortion. In almost every instance, senators appear to be considerably more responsive to the opinions of affluent constituents than to the opinions of middle-class constituents, while the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent statistical effect on their senators’ roll call votes.
In other words: US Senators´voting patterns closely mirror what polls show to be the opinions of the wealthiest voters in their states. What people on the bottom third of the income distribution think turns out to be almost entirely incidental, bearing no relation to how the legislator will vote. This pattern holds for politicians from both parties, but it is even more pronounced in the case of Republicans (surprise), that tend to be almost twice as responsive to the wealthy.
What does this mean? We need voices. We need advocates. The idea that politicians only listen to the wealthy might be a cliche, but happens to be true. Corporations have lobbyists, fast food cooks do not. CAHS, and other organizations like us, work very hard to try to readdress this imbalance, trying to get the voices of those usually unheard to the Capitol. And you can help us do it with your support.