Legislature Steps Up: Rejects Malloy’s Heating Assistance Plan

Last night, after hours of testimony about the impact Malloy’s inhumane heating assistance plan would have; the Connecticut Legislature showed real leadership and said enough is enough and rejected his plan.

The plan they did adopt doesn’t go far enough and Malloy and the Legislature will have to return to this issue before the winter is over but it was an important first step.

There is much more to be said about this development but start with these two  news stories for the latest;

CTNewsjunkie: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/three_legislative_committees_change_malloys_heating_assistance_plan/

CTMirror:  http://ctmirror.org/story/14033/liheap-hearing

 

Does Connecticut have an independent Legislative Branch or Not? Today is a Test

At 3pm today, 56 or so Democratic members of the Connecticut General Assembly will be joining with their Republican colleagues to approve or reject Governor Malloy’s plan to slash the number of Connecticut residents getting heating assistance from 117,000 to 36,000.

The Malloy Administration’s plan is to pass on 100% of the federal cut in heating assistance to Connecticut’s poorest citizens.

The Governor says that there are simply no available state funds in this year’s $20 billion dollar to budget to help these people pay their heating bills.

No available funds despite the fact that a couple of weeks ago the Executive Branch found an extra $15 million thanks to the work of the Treasurer’s Office.

No available funds despite the fact that there are tens of millions extra in certain line items such as the budget to pay for retiree health benefits.

No available funds despite the fact that there is an $80 million dollar surplus built into this year’s budget and a $546 million surplus in next year’s budget.

No available funds despite the fact that while state employees are facing wage freezes and reduced benefits, thousands of high paid managers will get millions in new longevity bonuses later this week.

No available funds despite the fact that the size and salaries of the Governor’s personal staff has grown substantially and that the highest paid employee in the Governor’s Office is not even his  Chief of Staff but his PR advisor at $160,000 – $10,000 more than the Governor receives.

The Malloy Administration has been clear – if nothing else – tens of thousands of our neighbors must go without state supported heating assistance this winter and his rationale is that at least they won’t freeze to death because the utility companies cannot shut off their electricity and gas until May 2012.

At 3 p.m. today the members of the Appropriations, Human Service and Energy Committees will be holding a joint hearing and immediate vote on Governor Malloy’s incredible and inhumane proposal.  Legislators will vote to approve or reject this plan.

If rejected the Governor will have to develop an alternative plan.

It is nothing short of the clearest most concise test of how the democratically elected members of the Connecticut General Assembly perceive their role.

Will they overlook the facts and the truth and cut off heating assistance to some of Connecticut’s most vulnerable, infirm and elderly citizens or will then stand up and tell the Governor to find the funds necessary to maintain this most vital and essential
of programs.

Call your legislators and find out how they intend to vote or check back later for a list of how people voted.

F is for Failure: Poverty Up, Incomes Down in Connecticut

Yesterday morning I wrote about Connecticut’s responsibility to our neighbors and fellow citizens who cannot afford to heat their homes during this coming winter.

I quoted the Great American Hubert Humphrey who said that  “the moral test of Government is how that
Government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped. “

Later in the day, Connecticut Voices for Children released their annual report about poverty in Connecticut.

The numbers of Connecticut residents who live in poverty are up dramatically over the past year.

And the numbers of Connecticut children who live in poverty are up dramatically over the past year.

If former United State Senator, Vice President of the United States and humanitarian Hubert Humphrey was alive today he would proclaim Connecticut’s grade on that “Moral Test” an F.

The numbers are hard to face.

Connecticut residents living in poverty – real poverty – below the federal poverty level – poverty – has topped 10%.

There are now 103,000 Connecticut children, or 12.8% of all Connecticut children, who live in households
that exist below the Federal Poverty Level.

For a two-parent household with two children, the poverty level was $22,113 in 2010.

The percentage of children living in poverty in Connecticut’s major cities is beyond incredible.

Hartford 44.5% of all children live below the federal poverty line

New Haven (43.7%)

Waterbury (31.7%)

Bridgeport (31.2%)

New Britain (26.5%)

Stamford (11.9%)

Danbury (9.9 %)

This is Connecticut.  As I noted in yesterday’s blog, if we were our own country, we would be one of the wealthiest countries in the entire world.

The press release from Connecticut Voices for Children reminded Connecticut’s policy makers that in 2004 the Connecticut Legislature created the Child Poverty Council and “became the first state in the nation to set a goal of reducing child poverty”.

Connecticut’s official goal was to cut child poverty in half by 2014.

The year that goal was created the percentage of children who lived in households below the poverty level was 10.8%.

Now that percentage has increased to 12.7% and continues to grow.

The CT Voices report also shows that Connecticut’s working and middle-income households are suffering from this Great Recession.  Household incomes in Connecticut dropped from $68,174 in 2009 to $64,032 in 2010.

Connecticut’s drop was the 2nd largest decline in the nation.  Only Nevada had a steeper drop in household income.

The Connecticut data comes from the new American Community Survey which found that there are now 46.3 million Americans living in poverty.  That is 15.3% of all Americans living in poverty.

The entire CT Voices for Children report can be found at http://www.ctkidslink.org/censuspoverty10.html

If we must, we must… And we can (one last look at the heating assistance issue)

[Apologies to those who felt my flurry of posts about the cuts to Connecticut’s heating assistance program were over the top.  Obviously I feel very strongly about this one and I want to return – “one last time” – to this pressing issue.  However, for those who are tired of hearing about it, please feel free to skip this post]

Of course, one must be carefully when using numbers and statistics, but the basic facts are these;

Connecticut’s per capita income is about $56,000, while the per capita income in the US is about $33,000;

Luxemburg’s is $38,000, Switzerland’s $37,000; Japan and Norway come in with per capita incomes of about $35,000.

If Connecticut was its own country it would be one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

Yet despite that wealth almost one in ten Connecticut residents lives below the federal poverty level and in some of our urban centers the number of people living in poverty exceeds 30 percent or more. (For a two-parent household with two children, the poverty level was $21,200 in 2008.)

With such wealth and such poverty, the challenge facing Connecticut, yet again, is the point Hubert Humphrey often made when he pointed out that “the moral test of Government is how that Government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped. “

When it comes to this heating assistance issue, the underlying factors are two-fold:

(1) Washington vs. the States and (2) can Connecticut afford to make up the difference with the heating
assistance program if it has to.

Number #1:  Washington vs. the States:

As a result of the massive cuts that are taking place at the federal level, states will be increasingly forced to deal with the corresponding reduction in vital and essential services.  Obama’s proposed cut to heating assistance is cruel and unfathomable but it is a drop in the bucket compared to what will be taking place in the coming years.

While Connecticut media coverage about the impending heating assistance crisis is finally increasing, a recent Connecticut Post editorial revealed that there remains a fundamental lack of appreciation about the dire nature of this problem.

The Connecticut Post Editorial wrote “Gov. Dannel P. Malloy should have a simple answer for anyone who doesn’t like his plan to restructure home heating aid this winter:  Talk to the White House.”

The CT Post added “It was President Obama, not Malloy, who recommended a plan that will leave Connecticut with less than $50 million for the coming winter from a federal assistance program after the state spent more than $115 million last year. The shortfall can mean only one thing — people in need will go without.”

Yes, of course calls should be going to Washington and late yesterday Malloy’s press office put out a press release entitled “GOV. MALLOY JOINS NEW ENGLAND GOVERNORS TO URGE LEVEL-FUNDING FOR HOME HEATING ASSISTANCE.”

But that “solution” begs the question.

The federal government is polarized, dysfunctional and broken.  To make matters worse, those in Washington will spend the comings months fighting over how to cut trillions more from the federal budget.  It would be great if Washington came through with the $5 billion in funding for the Low
Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), but the immediate question facing Connecticut is what happens if it doesn’t.

(2) Can Connecticut afford to make up the difference in LIHEAP energy assistance funding if necessary.

Governor Malloy’s approach takes the position that Connecticut can’t and won’t make up the difference in funding if that becomes necessary.

The Governor plans to use all of the remaining energy assistance funds to support those who heat with oil, leaving no public support for those who heat with electricity or gas.

As discussed in earlier posts, Malloy’s plan is try to prevent people who use oil from freezing to death while relying on a state law preventing utility companies from shutting off services during the winter months as the best way to keep the 80,000 low income families who received heating assistance last year from freezing this year.

As noted, the problem with Malloy’s strategy is that it will mean tens of thousands will lose their utilities when May 1st rolls around – the date which utility companies can start shutting people off for non-payment.

The Malloy administration’s claim is that there just aren’t available funds to help all of those in need.

But that simply isn’t true.

The two-year budget that Malloy proposed and the Legislature approved during the summer includes a combined surplus of over $550 million dollars and that number assumes no further revenue growth (even
though revenue has been growing in some key categories).

For example, Connecticut’s second gas tax – the gross receipts tax that is charged on the wholesale price of gasoline – continues to bring in more and more revenue as a result of the record gasoline prices.

In addition, the existing projected surplus doesn’t even count the tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions that are hidden in various line items including the account that pays for retiree health benefits.

Just a few weeks ago, the Governor’s Office of Policy and Management reported to the State Comptroller that two state agencies were running at least $15 million over budget but that it wouldn’t affect the bottom line because a new $15 million had been found thanks to activities in the State Treasurer’s Office.

When all is said and done three committees of the Connecticut General Assembly will be required to
approve or reject Malloy’s heating assistance plan next week (September 27, 2011).

Considering the factors outlined above, I believe it will be the most important vote they will be taking this year.

Governor? Democratic Legislators? Sorry – didn’t catch your response – 80,000 CT families without energy assistance and…

48 hours ago the Malloy Administration announced that their plan for the coming winter is to drop the number of households who will receive fuel assistance from 118,000 households to about 37,000 households.

As a result of federal budget cuts, Connecticut will leave 80,000 lower-income households who use electric or gas heat without any aid at all.

The official position, as articulated by OPM Secretary Ben Barnes is that since state law prevents electric and gas utility companies from shutting off service between Nov. 1 and May 1 for failure to their pay bills no one using electricity will freeze to death so State Government will use its funds to exclusively help families who use oil.

Good to know no one will freeze to death, but the net result is that low-income electric and gas users (who mostly reside in our cities, many of whom are low-income elderly and who, over all, are predominantly minority) will face almost certain shut off of their utilities in May 2012.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that the utility company programs aimed at helping low-income families pay their utility bills all require the households to apply for a get a government-funded energy assistance grant – something they will not be able to get as a result of Malloy’s plan.

So not only will tens of thousands face the prospect that their electricity and gas will be shut off in May but they will be left with utility bills that they will never be able to pay.

Then, when utility companies are left holding the bag, we can be sure that they will be coming in for a rate increase to off-set those bad debts.

Bottom line – thousands of people with no utilities starting in May and the rest of Connecticut’s electricity and gas customers facing higher rates to cover the utility company’s loses.

One would think this story would be on the front page of every newspaper in the State and leading the evening news but as of now the only media outlet to cover the story is the CTMirror.

Malloy now needs legislative approval to implement his plan.

The legislature’s Appropriations, Human Services and Energy and Technology committees will hold a public hearing on the plan on Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 3 p.m., in the Legislative Office Building.

As of now there has been no response – what so ever – from the Democrats in the General Assembly.

Rick Perry? ah…No Dan Malloy! CT to leave 80,000 low income households without energy assistance

Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point at the New Haven Advocate

Now will Legislative Democrats approve it?

The Must Read Story of the moment:  CTMirror: Malloy plan would end heat aid to gas and electric utility customers   http://www.ctmirror.org/story/13906/liheap

NEWS FLASH:

The Malloy administration has released their plan to deal with the federal government’s cut in funds to Help low-income people heat their homes this coming winter.

Their plan:  Leave more than 80,000 households who use electric or gas heat without any aid at all.

Faced with a cut of up to $69 million dollars in federal aid the Malloy Administration is proposing to use all the available energy assistance funds to help those who use oil while relying on a state law that prevents electric and gas utilities from shutting off services to their customers during the winter months.

If implemented, more than 60 percent of the households who have participated in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program in the past would not get any help this coming winter.

Present law prevents electric and gas utility companies from shutting off service between Nov. 1 and May 1 for failure to pay bills.

By directing money only to those who use oil, the Malloy administration would be leaving the low-income electric and gas users (who mostly reside in cities) facing the almost certain shut off of their utilities on May 1, 2012 – along with bills that they will never be able to pay.

A secondary impact would most certainly be that utility companies would seek a rate increase from the rest of their customers to pay off the bad debts from those whose bills were once subsidized by federal and state funds.

By way of an explanation, Ben Barnes’ Malloy’s Budget Director said that while having up to 80,000 households lose their utilities in May is a concern, the administration is “far less concerned about
people facing shutoff in May than people facing shutoffs in December.”

As if the choice was only one option or the other.

Those most knowledgeable about the impact this new policy would have here in Connecticut have not remained silent.

“It’s going to have a devastating effect” according to Patricia Wrice, Operation Fuel,

While Shirley Bergert, an expert at Connecticut Legal Services called Malloy’s plan “by far the most harmful thing we’ve ever seen in Connecticut.”

Additional Background from CTMirror:

LIHEAP (the low-income aid program) served 117,876 Connecticut households last year.  The Malloy plan would be to serve about 36,826 households this winter (with heating oil up about 64 cents per gallon).

Connecticut actually needs about $120 million but thanks to the cuts implemented by the federal government, Connecticut will be getting about $46 million.

In addition, Malloy’s plan tightens eligibility rules which will cut off all aid for about 10,000 lower-middle income families who received help with their bills last year.

Apparently Malloy’s Commissioner of the Department of Social Services, Roderick Brembly is okay with the impact that the plan would have on his watch.  He called the plan realistic.

PS – The administration’s plan requires legislative approval.

The legislature’s Appropriations, Human Services and Energy and Technology committees will hold a public hearing on the plan on Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 3 p.m., in the Legislative Office Building.

The tradition has been to hold the vote immediately after the public hearing.

It will be interesting to see if the Democrats in the General Assembly join this effort to curtail the most vital of services.

Malloy eliminates state funded bus to the casinos? Wait, What?

Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point at the New Haven Advocate)

These are tough economic times for Connecticut and cutting the Department of Social Services’ bus to Foxwoods and Mohegan seems like a “no brainer”.

When Ben Barnes, Malloy’s budget director, outlined the Governor’s $135 million in budget cuts, the “casino bus” was front and center on the list.  Barnes pointed out that the cut would save more than $270,000.

Wait. Connecticut’s Department of Social Services is paying $270,000 a year so people can go to the casinos?

Ah….no.

The bus is part of the Capitol Region Jobs Access program and it transports employees from Hartford to their jobs at the casinos.

Furthermore, the employees pay $60 a month each for their bus tickets.

Secretary Barnes said “the casino bus was put in place at a time when there was a very difficult time filing positions at the casinos—15 years ago—things have changed,”

Mr. Barnes… That actually isn’t correct.

The bus was and is part of the on-going effort to provide jobs to residents of Hartford and its surrounding communities.

Connecticut’s two Native American casinos are two of the five largest employers in the state.

Unlike other employers, the casinos have made a major effort to reach into Connecticut’s urban areas to recruit staff.

Often in conjunction with public agencies, the casinos have held numerous job fairs in our cities.  Those
outreach activities have helped recruit people who have been able to successfully shift from welfare to work.

The fact is, both casinos have extraordinary job training programs.  Together they have provided literally thousands of people with jobs and a career that they would never have been able to have had the casinos not gone above and beyond the call of duty to expand the benefits of their economic activities well beyond southeastern Connecticut.

The truth is that the “casino bus” was not put in place because the casinos were having trouble filing positions, it was created to provide Hartford residents with the opportunity to get to the casinos so they could have good jobs with great benefits.

The bus is not a throw-away government service.  It is a vital part of Connecticut’s effort to create and retain jobs for Connecticut residents.  And to top things off, the employees who use this service pay toward the cost of this bus.

The casino bus is not some effort to throw tens of millions of dollars at some corporation in return for their promise to create jobs.  It is a very real and very successful service that allows working people to get to work.

There are a number of Governor Malloy’s new budget cuts that deserve further examination and explanation but none stands out as much as the Malloy Administration’s decision to eliminate the “jobs bus” that goes to the casinos.