HARTFORD, CT — The Office of Early Childhood and the Office of The Chief Medical Examiner are among a handful of state agencies experiencing budget shortfalls this year.
The governor’s budget office is projecting a $29.5 million deficiency for the agencies, including a small $276,608 deficiency in the medical examiner’s office and a $16.8 million deficiency in the Office of Early Childhood.
Chief Medical Examiner James Gill told the Appropriations Committee Friday that the reason for the deficiency is the increased case load. Over the past three years cases have increased over 60 percent and because of staffing shortages they’ve needed to resort to overtime to cover numerous essential shifts.
“We do not expect the number of death investigations to decrease,” Gill said. “. . . In addition our office is losing full national accreditation because we simply do not have staff to carry out this work.”
The governor’s office has downplayed the issue of accreditation, saying most of the offices responsible for death investigations are not accredited. However, Gill said most of the offices not accredited are coroner’s offices, which would not meet the same standards as a medical examiner.
He said they should have 50 full-time positions and they currently have 40. He said they only have two employees working the 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. shift checking in bodies. They also don’t have enough scene investigators. They normally have 15 and they are down to 11.
“So we can’t cover all the shifts,” Gill said.
He asked lawmakers to imagine the lawsuit if they accidentally released the wrong body to the wrong family.
But the deficiency in Gill’s office pales in comparison to the deficiency in the Office of Early Childhood.
Part of that agency’s deficiency is related to Care4Kids, a popular program that subsidizes child care for working families.
Based on federal changes to the program earlier this year, enrollment was closed to any new families as of Aug. 1.
State officials hoped closing the program to new applicants would handle the projected deficit, but after four months of monitoring they say the program could run a deficiency of $9.5 million if they do nothing.
Linda Goodman, acting commissioner of the Office of Early Childhood, told the committee that in order to save money the state will have to change the program’s requirements, which will mean kicking some families off the program.
“The Office of Early Childhood is exploring all possible options to balance the needs of children and families with the level of resources available for the program,” Goodman said.
A small group of lawmakers and administration officials met earlier in the week to discuss options for closing the deficiency, but many are not comfortable for what that means for children and families.
At the moment, it means families currently receiving services may lose their childcare subsidy.
“Clearly, pushing some low-income families and taking away their access to affordable childcare is an enormous kick in the chest to those families and would cause disruption,” Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said. “They would have to change work schedules, change day care arrangements, potentially lose employment and there would be adverse consequences for them and for the state.”
Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden, said she believes Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program dollars can be used for the Care4Kids program. Others have suggested borrowing to cover the shortfall.
But at the moment there’s no money to cure the deficiency.
During the meeting Friday the governor’s budget office released its monthly budget report showing the 2017 budget running a $67.7 million deficit .
Lawmakers and the administration are looking to figure out a solution, but have yet to announce one.