Deb Polun

While COVID-19 positivity rates and trends finally seem to be headed in the right direction, people across the state continue to be adversely impacted by the pandemic and the resulting economic downturn.

Inflation rose 7.9% last month, the highest annual increase since Cabbage Patch Kids took over Toys R Us and my elementary school. We have seen the cost increases at the grocery store, in our utility bills, and (perhaps most especially) at the gas station – this last driving other costs higher.

Fortunately, over the past two years, new federal initiatives – including stimulus checks and a Child Tax Credit – have helped many families keep up with these increases. But one by one, we’ve watched the funding for pandemic-related benefits run out – and those who are most negatively impacted are the ones who can least afford it.

With the loss of federal programs, Connecticut policymakers should prioritize supporting those residents who have been unable to thrive financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors.

As the state operates with a projected surplus of $1.48 billion, Governor Ned Lamont has proposed a tax cut package that would provide $336 million in relief for (mostly middle class) Connecticut residents. Other policymakers have proposed additional tax relief ideas, such as creating a statewide Child Tax Credit in place of the federal credit, and boosting the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

At a time when we are rightly focused on equity issues, tax relief efforts should be targeted to those who need them most.

We support the effort to create a statewide Child Tax Credit and to boost the EITC. In addition to helping our state’s poorest residents with necessary expenses like rent, food, and car repairs, those tax relief programs will also put millions of dollars back into Connecticut’s economy. We also know that programs that lift children out of poverty have long-term impacts, such as greater academic and economic success throughout their lives.

At the same time, we must also keep in mind that tax cuts and other funding fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t just help individuals and families directly. Federal relief funds also supported Connecticut’s nine Community Action Agencies (CAAs) and hundreds of other nonprofits, allowing us to continue to operate existing programs in new ways, while creating new programs to meet emerging community needs. In the absence of pandemic aid, nonprofits now require additional support to address rising costs, wage compression, and staff retention so that they can continue offering important services such as child care, case management, and job training.

Right now, state assistance is especially critical for improving access to child care. The high-quality care provided by CAAs allows parents and caregivers to go to work. Quality child care also sets kids up for success throughout their lives. Yet, the paradox is that, while child care costs eat up a large portion of parents’ paychecks, child care workers are not paid enough. Additional state funding and flexibilities are needed to raise wages for child care providers, ensure classrooms can stay open, and increase subsidies for parents.

In addition to child care, housing is another cause of financial distress for families statewide. After helping thousands of residents stay housed over the past two years, the eviction moratorium and the UniteCT program both recently ended. U.S. Census statistics, however, show that 33% of renters with children in Connecticut are still not caught up on their rent. Statewide resources are urgently needed for eviction prevention initiatives to extend protection for renters, provide support for landlords, and prevent evictions and homelessness. Connecticut’s CAAs stand at the ready to implement a re-established eviction prevention program.

If we’ve learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that putting money back in the pockets of individuals and families can help communities thrive and support economic recovery. Now is the time for policymakers to use the funding and resources available to help our most vulnerable neighbors meet their basic needs, keep up with inflation, and continue to count on nonprofit organizations. 

That way, when we finally do put the pandemic behind us, no one in Connecticut is left behind with it.

Deb Polun is the Executive Director of the CT Association for Community Action (CAFCA), the state association that works with CT’s 9 Community Action Agencies.

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