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.

Oh Governor! Malloy Whacks Public Colleges and Universities again.

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

Still reeling from the deepest budget cuts in Connecticut history, Governor Malloy has targeted UConn, CSU and the state’s community colleges for another $8 million in cuts.

The $135 million in additional budget cuts that OPM Secretary Barnes released yesterday included an additional $2 million cut to UConn, $3 million cut to the UConn Health Center, $1.6 million to CSU and $1.2 million to the community colleges.

While the concept of “cuts” is always appealing, parents, students and taxpayers deserve to know the truth and the truth is definitely not what they were provided.

The additional budget cuts were euphemistically referred to as “Technology Savings” on the Governor’s press release but, of course, that isn’t how the budget really works.

Connecticut’s institutions of public higher education are provided with a “block grant” to help pay some of the costs of running the institutions.

Twenty years ago, the state covered about 50 percent of the total college budgets.  Parents and students picked up most of the other half.

As a result of Connecticut’s failure to provide sufficient funds to our colleges, students and parents now pick up about 70 percent of the total cost of running the schools.  Tuition has increased almost 300% due to the state’s unwillingness to invest in Connecticut’s economic future.

Earlier this year, Governor Malloy’s proposal to cut the block grants by over $50 million dollars was approved by the Legislature.

Since the block grants are used almost exclusively to pay faculty and staff salaries, cuts to block grants mean more and more of the costs of running the schools are transferred to the students.

Now Malloy, who claims to be the “jobs governor”, is cutting another $8 million from the block grants.  His claim that it will mean a little less technology is misleading at best and perhaps it would be better to describe it as an outright lie.

The Governor does not have the authority to micro-manage higher education budgets.  That is the job of the various boards of trustees.  He can recommend that they cut technology – although he could also have recommended that they reduce the number of senior administrators and reduce the salaries of those who are left.

Cutting $8 million on top of $50 million will not be achieved by reducing technology spending.

Speaking to reporters yesterday about the package of additional cuts, OPM Secretary Barnes said “This is another example of the governor’s commitment to making government smaller and more efficient…We’ve said all along that there were a number of cuts proposed in the so-called ‘Plan B’ budget that made a lot of sense and didn’t harm necessary services.”

In the midst of the greatest recession of our lives, when Connecticut’s economic future hangs in the balance, cutting our colleges and universities makes absolutely no sense and does do harm to necessary services.

This isn’t about a little less technology, this is about cutting real programs and services at our colleges.

To put the whole thing into stunning perspective, Connecticut is now giving TicketNetwork, the Internet ticket-reseller about $8 million dollars to add 250 jobs to Connecticut’s economy while cutting $8 million dollars that would have gone help prepare Connecticut’s students for jobs of the 21st Century.

Oh…. Governor…

Shocking News as Connecticut Moves to End Premier Birth to Three – Early Connection Program (again!).

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

Under the cover of night (or in this case under the cover of the recent state employee layoffs) it now appears that the state of Connecticut is going to eliminate the extraordinarily successful Early Connections Program.

Early Connections is the “primary source of intervention and care for infants and toddlers with special needs, including children with Autism Spectrum Disorder”,  providing essential support services to about 250 children and their families in up to 100 communities around the state.

While there are a number of community based non-profit agencies that provide birth to three services, the Early Connections program plays a fundamental and unique role in serving some of the most vulnerable young children in our state.

Early Connections is both nationally acclaimed for its level of service and has been at the forefront of developing successful interventions and curriculum that provide young children and their parents with the support they need to become more successful and productive students in later years.

Parents have said that the Early Connections Program has been the single most important factor in the development of their developmentally challenged children.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time that the State Department of Developmental Services (DDS) has attempted to end the Early Connections program.  Following the Rell/SEBAC deal and the massive number of early retirements that took place in 2009, DDS tried to end the program by prohibiting new admissions to Early Connections.

After a significant out-cry from across the state, DDS reversed itself and re-opened the admission process and preserved this stellar program.  But rather than make this program the priority that it needed to be – neither Governor Rell nor Governor Malloy have invested the resources necessary to expand the present program.

Ending admissions and phasing out the Early Connections program was part of Governor Malloy’s Plan B budget.

Upon approval of the Malloy/SEBAC agreement all layoff notices were supposed to be rescinded and existing programs maintained.

However, according to sources close to the Early Connections program, staff and parents with children in the program are being told or will be told that no new admissions will be allowed and Early Connections will cease to be when the existing infants and toddlers graduate out of the program over the next three years.

While the state agency has the legal authority to end admissions, acting without the full review and approval of the Connecticut General Assembly is particularly troubling.

More than two years ago, Jonathan Kantrowitz, who writes a blog for the Connecticut Post, Stamford Advocate and other Hearst papers wrote a great piece about the need to properly fund this vital program.  See: http://blog.ctnews.com/kantrowitz/2009/10/27/fully-funding-early-connections-vital-to-connectcut-school-districts/

Robert A. Kennedy – Malloy’s choice for President of the new Connecticut Board of Regents

Earlier this afternoon, Governor Malloy held a press conference to introduce his pick for the position of President of the combined Connecticut State University and Connecticut Community College System.

See CTNewsjunkie, CTMirror, the Courant for the latest details

Kennedy recently stepped down as the President of the University of Maine which is one of the seven universities that make up Maine’s University System.

After becoming provost and vice president of academic affairs in 2000, he was later named executive vice president and provost and then selected as the University’s President in 2005.

Kennedy earned his Ph.D. in botany from the University of California-Berkeley and has held faculty and
administrative positions at the University of Iowa, Washington State University, Ohio State University, the University of Maryland and Texas A&M University.

At the University of Maine he presided over a series of significant budget cuts that included reducing the number of university employees by 7 percent.

An interesting side note is that even in the North Woods of Maine the corporatization of higher education continues to take place as the line between academia and business becomes more and more blurred.

Two years after being named President of the University of Maine, Kennedy was given a position on the Board of Directors of FairPoint Communications.

FairPoint is a North Carolina based telephone and Internet company that owns and operates at least 30 local phone companies in 18 states.  Three years ago FairPoint purchased Verizon’s telecommunications operations in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

According to published news reports, Kennedy was appointed to FairPoint thanks to Verizon.  As part of the sales deal between Verizon and FairPoint, Verizon had the right to appoint three members to FairPoint’s Board of Directors and Kennedy was one of those appointed.

One of a number of controversies that developed occurred when FairPoint and the University of Maine System were competing head-to-head for federal dollars as part of an effort to enhance high-speed internet in Maine.  However spokespeople for Fairpoint and the Maine University System both reported that Kennedy was not involved in those discussions.

As a member of FairPoint’s Board of Director, Kennedy was paid $84,068 in 2008 and $89,229 in 2009.  At the time his University of Maine salary was $210,405 (not including benefits).

In June 2009 Kennedy was re-elected to serve on FairPoint’s board through 2012.

However, FairPoint corporate filings reveal that Mr.  Kennedy resigned from the Board of Directors
effective September 28, 2009.  There was no explanation as to why Kennedy left the Board.

A possible clue behind Kennedy’s decision to leave the lucrative post might be revealed in an article in Down-East Magazine’s September 2009 issue.

The article, entitled “The FairPoint Fiasco” highlights what the magazine described FairPoint’s ten month slide from Maine’s newest company to one of Maine’s “most hated.”

More recently Kennedy, a Minnesota native, was nominated to become a member of the Minnesota Board of Regents but the legislatures there choose another candidate.

Robert Kennedy will now be coming to Connecticut to oversee Malloy’s controversial plan to merge the four Connecticut State Universities with the 12 Connecticut Community Colleges.

Considering the historic and massive budget cuts that Malloy proposed and the Legislature adopted for Connecticut’s public colleges and universities, Kennedy’s retrenchment experience might be just what the Governor was looking for.

UPDATE:  So Kennedy’s Connecticut salary will be $365,000 including a $25,000 per year performance bonus … a nice increase from the $210,000 he was making as President of the University of Maine.

News Flash: Connecticut’s Consumer Utility Hotline Saved

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

Word this morning is that Dan Esty, the Commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, has reversed his earlier decision to end Connecticut’s popular consumer utility hotline.

Layoff notices to the hotline’s staff have apparently been rescinded – just a week before the hotline was scheduled to be eliminated.

Although the hotline is paid for by a surcharge on the utility companies, the Malloy Administration had decided to layoff the 14 employees who worked on the hotline.

The proposed cut was NOT part of Governor Malloy’s Plan B Budget (the plan that he was implementing in response to the initial failure of the Malloy/SEBAC Concession Agreement). Rather it was a budget cut made in response to the Legislature’s decision to support Malloy’s merger and cut to what were the energy and environment departments.

Opposition to the decision to eliminate the hotline included strong statements from the co-chairs of the General Assembly’s energy committee.  State Senator John Fonfara and State Representative Vickie Nardello wrote to the Malloy Administration “asking that the decision be scrapped and the unit be allowed to continue to do its good work.”

State Consumer Counsel Mary Healey also weighed in telling the Hartford Courant “elimination of
the entire consumer services unit is a concern for me as a ratepayer advocate because I am not clear as to who [consumers] will be directed to when they are directed on their utility bills to a number that sends them to the consumer service unit.”

Last year 45,000 consumer calls and complaints were handled by the consumer hotline.

If the news is accurate, it is good news for Connecticut’s utility consumers.

Updated on Consumer Utility Hotline: Deafening Silence

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

As reported early here and elsewhere, when faced with a cut in state funds to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Commissioner Daniel Esty decided to end the popular consumer utility hotline that logged 45,000 calls last year.

Although the hotline is paid for by a surcharge on the utility companies, the Malloy Administration sent out layoff notices to the 14 employees who work on the hotline.

Their last day of work is just two weeks away.

At a press conference following news reports that Esty was ending the program, State Senator John Fonfara, co-chairman of the legislature’s energy committee, called the move “a lousy idea.”

Rep. Vickie Nardello, the House co-chair of the committee joined Fonfara in a letter “asking that the decision be scrapped and the unit be allowed to continue to do its good work.”

State Consumer Counsel Mary Healey told the Hartford Courant “elimination of the entire consumer services unit is a concern for me as a ratepayer advocate because I am not clear as to who [consumers] will be directed to when they are directed on their utility bills to a number that sends them to the consumer service unit.”

More recently Senator Fonfara told WCBS radio that the Malloy Administration told him that the utility hotline will continue in “some presence” but didn’t elaborate.

Meanwhile, from the state agency been “deafening silence” and time is running out for this key program that has helped thousands and thousands of Connecticut citizens with their utility problems.

Update on Respite Care Centers: Another essential service “saved” as Malloy steps back

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

CTnewsjunkie has a must read article today – Respite Center Employees Get Reprieve http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/respite_center_employees_get_reprieve/

Last month Governor Malloy’s Administration sent layoff notices to all the employees who staff Connecticut’s eight respite care centers as part of his Plan B budget.

These centers provide respite care for developmentally disabled children and adults.

They are some of the most vital and essential support services that Connecticut state government funds.

Now the Malloy Administration has announced that those layoffs have been put on indefinite hold.

Although they claim that the delay is not related to the ongoing second union vote, the delay does allow these vital services to continue – for the time being.

Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management Ben Barnes told CTNewsjunkie that while he didn’t know the details behind the decision to delay the respite care layoffs, he did say that the Malloy Administration was delaying a number of cuts and layoffs pending the outcome of the second union vote.

Over the last couple of weeks the Malloy Administration has announced that it would delay closing DMV regional offices, would not be ending the vo-tech high school athletic programs and would also hold off laying off the staff that runs the ferry boats that cross back and forth on the Connecticut River.

The underlying problem is that the Governor and Legislature had the moral and legal obligation to pass a balanced budget.

However, instead of hold off passing a budget until AFTER the state employee agreement was reached and approved, Malloy and the Democrats adopted and signed a budget into law that contained an unachievable $2 billion dollar concession package.

When the original SEBAC/Malloy proposed agreement failed to get the required 80 percent, instead of returning to the bargaining table and developing an agreement that could pass, the Governor decided to move forward with his Plan B budget.

Weeks later it still isn’t clear whether the Malloy Administration took this action because it wanted to “scare” the state employees or whether they actually thought Plan B was an acceptable alternative.

With the Administration delaying some of the cuts and the unions voting on a revised agreement there is a growing sense of hope that a reasonable conclusion can be achieved.

But then, just when there is some light at the end of the tunnel, OPM Secretary Ben Barns tells the CTNewsjunkie “We’re not backing down. We are fully prepared in the event that it’s not ratified to go through with the entirety of our plan.”

Go through with your entire Plan B budget?

Really?

Hasn’t this process taught you anything?

Shredding the safety net and cutting services to some of the most vulnerable people in our state is not an acceptable approach to governance.

Closing the respite centers was not only an inhumane proposal, but if even 10% of the families who utilize those services throw in the towel and move their loved ones into publicly funded group homes, the cost to taxpayers will be far greater.

The fact is – NO Democrat – especially the first Democrat to hold the Governor’s Office in 20 years should ever – ever – have proposed to close the Connecticut’s respite centers. (And no Democratic legislator should have allowed such a plan to go forward).

In the end a Plan B budget may not be needed, but if it is, the Democrats have a lot of work to do to improve the plan that is now on the table – and they all know – that there is a variety of alternatives to choose from including requiring the super rich to pay their fair share, closing corporate tax loop-holes that have been left in place, reducing municipal aid to the state’s wealthiest town, utilizing the surplus that is built into this budget or actually finding cuts that are less harmful.

Obama’s heating oil cut indefensible; Okay, what about Malloy’s?

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

Today, in an editorial, The Connecticut Post joined the chorus of voices condemning the Obama Administration’s proposed cut to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Calling it “indefensible.”

The Connecticut Post states “We’d call the federal budget provision that would literally leave poor people in the cold an outrage, but it is much more than that. It’s yet another confirmation that if you are poor and powerless, the best you can do is hang on, hope for the best, and pray you don’t get crushed by Washington as it dives to kiss the feet of the rich and powerful. “

The editorial writers at the Connecticut Post are absolutely right.

President Obama’s proposed budget for the federal fiscal year starting on October 1, 2011 cuts the federal Energy Assistance from $5.1 billion to $2.5 billion. Connecticut’s share of the funding would drop from $98 million to $41 million.

Representative Rosa DeLauro has pointed out that nearly 80% of the US households that use heating oil are in New England and she has said that while she applauds Obama’s budget plan she has “deep concerns” about his proposed cut to fuel assistance.

Congressman and candidate for the U.S. Senate Chris Murphy has gone even further saying that the “LIHEAP cut is dumb” and pointing out that “It really plays with people’s lives.”

Faced with the criticism, the President has explained his rationale by saying that when energy prices were spiking when he took office he proposed dramatically increasing federal support for LIHEAP but that “Energy prices have now gone down but the cost of the program has stayed the same” and that is why he has proposed to “go back to a more sustainable level.”

But even if prices have declined some, the need is still great and without the fuel assistance thousands of people will be unable to afford to heat their homes and apartments.

Last week, State Senator Martin Looney led a press conference with Connecticut legislators and advocates calling on Obama to withdraw his proposal.

Senator Looney said that over 110,000 Connecticut families needed heating assistance help last year and that “nearly a third of those who received help were elderly, while 26 percent were disabled, and 24 percent had children under the age of five.”

The Connecticut Post and every newspaper editorial writer should speak out against this mean-spirited, short-sighted and disgusting cut.

But what is so interesting about this issue is that the Connecticut Post and the Democratic legislators who are being so articulate and outspoken in their opposition to the proposed federal cut to low income fuel assistance were silent when, back in May, Governor Malloy announced that his Plan B budget would eliminate funding for Connecticut’s Operation Fuel heating assistance program.

And they were all silent again when Malloy actually moved to implement that budget three weeks ago.

At the time, Senate President Don Williams said “If you talk to any legislator they will tell you they don’t like these cuts…But unless the state employees have a second vote and ratify the concessions, there are few alternatives — and the alternatives aren’t appealing as well”

A Hartford Courant editorial went ever further proclaiming “Don’t Blame Malloy For Deep Budget Cuts.” The Courant added “the scope of the state budget cuts ordered this week by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is breathtaking. But they are made necessary by the failure of the state’s employee unions to make reasonable concessions in their benefits and wages.”

While it may be true that Plan B was Malloy’s “response” to the original failure of the Malloy/SEBAC agreement to get sufficient votes, the Governor (and Legislature) could have and should have proposed alternatives to cutting Connecticut’s fuel assistance program.

The fact is there are plenty of alternatives to making such a drastic cut including requiring the wealthiest in Connecticut to pay their fair share in taxes, closing corporate tax loopholes, reducing municipal aid for the state’s wealthiest communities or identifying some other cut that doesn’t do as much damage as cutting fuel assistance for lower income families.

Instead, the Governor (and the President at the federal level) has put fuel assistance programs on the chopping block.

Here in Connecticut, our state legislators have thrown up their hands saying that there is no alternative and apparently, according to the Harford Courant, we shouldn’t even blame our elected officials but instead should be blaming our public employees.

Meanwhile, back here in reality, cuts to heating oil assistance would be devastating.

That holds true for Obama’s proposal and for Malloy’s proposal.

It would be nice to think that our elected officials and our editorial writers would be consistent when it comes to articulating the need for the most essential government programs and services.

CTnewjunkie: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/operation_fuel_calls_on_congress_to_preserve_liheap_funds/

CTMirror: http://ctmirror.org/story/13285/malloy-orders-one-largest-budget-cuts-connecticut-history

The Hill: http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/677-e2-wire/144167-obama-defends-proposal-to-cut-liheap-funding

The Courant: http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/editorials/hc-ed-state-cuts-20110716,0,1148722.story

The CT Post: http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/Heating-oil-cut-indefensible-1712666.php#ixzz1U5BX3vfa