“This is the new era and the days of asking are over. The days of waiting are over.”
That was the sentiment that kicked off the “Equity for All” rally on the lawn of the Connecticut State Capitol on Wednesday night. Thousands of people turned out for the event, hosted by Recovery for All, “a statewide coalition of labor, community, and faith organizations.”
Attendees gathered to demand the state legislature pass what they are calling a “moral budget,” using a portion of the state budget surplus to invest in a number of social programs.
“I’m troubled because many of us spent countless hours testifying, sharing our collective stories, our collective struggles, providing real solutions to our regressive tax system, only to be met with leaders who refuse to lead,” said Pastor Rodney Wade of the Long Hill Bible Church in Waterbury. “Who have chosen to take the politically expedient approach of the status quo. Whose only response to the suffering people of Connecticut is maybe next year.”
The largest contingent of attendees came from multiple unions of higher education employees, including a group from the Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges (4Cs). The 4Cs have listed several legislative goals for this year’s session, including a halt to tuition hikes, greater access to developmental education, and a doubling of the block grant funding for the state’s community colleges. That amounts to about $330 million in additional funding.
If the currently proposed budget, endorsed by the Committee on Appropriations, passes, leaders with the system of Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) have warned that the lack of funding would cause them to layoff hundreds of employees and increase tuition by around 5%.
But higher education wasn’t the only thing on the assembled rallygoer’s long list of priorities. Longterm care providers, those working in facilities and in-home healthcare, made pleas for state lawmakers to support an industry they say is drastically underfunded and understaffed.
“We feel we’re unappreciated, we’re underpaid, we’re overworked,” Linea Moore, a provider at Oak Hill School. “But the sad thing is, and I work in a house that’s high behavioral, it is a nightmare. And that’s a word that’s been used by me, my supervisor. We have parents that are crying, staff that are crying, because they are so overworked. And they just want a fair wage, fair insurance, and just to be, to be told that they’re appreciated and not just a token gesture.”
“If you depend on us, if you know they depend on us, then you need to give us what we deserve,” said Tanisha Joiner, a full-time caregiver for her grandmother who says she and her fiancé have been without a place to live for the last nine months. “We need to have living wages. We need to have that PTO time. We need to be able to have retirement.”
The state’s strained mental health system was also on the table. The system has been struggling for years, but it has been stressed to a breaking point during the COVID-19 pandemic. The issues have been especially pronounced among children.
“Last young lady that I spoke to spent two years in her room, slightly outside in her living room, afraid, terrified, unable to have a pathway to services, afraid to go to those services. Last I talked to her, she said, dad, what am I gonna do?” said Darnell Ford.
Ford is an employee at the Solnit Center who has worked with the Department of Children and Families for the last 25 years. During his speech about his daughter he said that the center has seen a 20% decrease in services for their girls’ program and he is worried about futher cuts to mental healthcare for children.
The state’s Democrat majority listed mental healthcare among their legislative priorities for this session. At least one bill aimed at expanding access to mental health and other health-related services did pass out of committee and is expected to be brought before the Senate.
Notably, however, child mental health services were left out of the proposed budget.
Additionally, advocates in attendance at Wednesday’s rally were calling for an expansion of the state’s HUSKY health insurance program to all residents of the state, regardless of immigration status.
“We had this bill this session that extended HUSKY for Immigrants up to age 26. And our champions have been fighting an uphill battle that now has left that with funding only to age 15,” said Louis, the coalition manager for HUSKY for Immigrants. “And this is a slap on the face to all of us, immigrant or not … all the problems that we are facing are policy choices, right?
So these are choices are made by folks in this building right behind us and they need to find the courage to deliver a moral budget.”
Sen. Gary Winfield (D-New Haven) was also in attendance, leaving the current Senate session to offer his support, even while the legislature is still working to come to a budget deal with the Governor’s office. Winfield said that the current budget lets a lot of people “fall overboard.”
“We’re here to tell you that we are standing in support of the work you’re doing,” he continued. “We believe that when people go into our classrooms to help our children, we don’t want those people to be sick. We don’t want those people to be worried about whether or not they can make their bills. We want those people to be as healthy as they can be in every way possible. That budget that we have doesn’t currently do that. And so we’re gonna fight for that.”
A final budget deal is expected soon and must be passed by the end of the current legislative session on June 7th. While the exact provisions are somewhat up in the air, it is expected to include some tax cuts as well as funding for education and other programs, at least according to statements made by Gov. Lamont.