House chamber
House Speaker Matt Ritter addresses the chamber on the last night of the 2023 session Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Policymakers and advocates disagree on what, if anything, the Connecticut legislature should do next session after data from the U.S. Census last week showed child poverty doubled nationwide. 

Some lawmakers and advocates said the trend demonstrates the need to bring back child tax credit at the state and federal level. Others, including Gov. Ned Lamont, said the state has other ways to help families in poverty, though. 

“There are a lot of different ways we can make sure we keep faith with the kids,” Lamont said after a press conference in Hartford Thursday. 

The Census Bureau released new data last Tuesday showing Supplemental Poverty Measure, or SPM, child poverty rate rose from 5.2% nationwide in 2021 to 12.4% last year. The bureau said that’s the highest measure since it began using SPM in 2011. 

The report did not include state-level data, but Connecticut’s average SPM rate between 2019 and 2021 was 9%.

The bureau attributed the spike to several factors, most of them at the federal level. The COVID-19 pandemic caused many people to lose their jobs while inflation made it more difficult for families to provide for children during a year when real median income fell. 

Pandemic-era relief for families, including a federal Child Tax Credit, also expired. 

United Way President and CEO Lisa Tepper Bates said in a statement that Connecticut lawmakers should take action instead of waiting for a partisan Congress to address the problem. 

That includes bringing back Connecticut’s program, which also expired in 2022, she said. 

“Combined with the lapses in enhanced federal benefits that pulled critically needed support out from under these same families, it is not surprising that the data point toward an increase in child poverty,” Tepper Bates said in her statement. 

Lamont didn’t directly say if he has softened on his opposition to a state-based Child Tax Credit, but touted funding in the budget to expand free school lunches, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits and support for childcare. 

The program that expired in 2022 was a temporary one, which offered rebates to families of up to $250 per child based on income requirements. 

House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said he remains opposed to a state level Child Tax Credit, and noted much of the root causes in child poverty growth were at the federal level. 

He mentioned many of the same benefits as Lamont, but also pointed to the recent launch of a Baby Bonds program that sets aside money for children born into poverty. 

“I think from a financial perspective, Connecticut has one of the most robust welfare programs, and so I do think there are a lot of safety nets there to prop our children up,” Candelora said. 

He said his caucus would prefer to offer a child tax break to the income tax, similar to what is offered in the federal tax code, rather than a credit that requires an application. 

Children’s Committee Vice Chair Rep. Sarah Keitt, D-Fairfield, said she wants the legislature to at least discuss bringing back the tax credit, though. 

“I think putting money into the hands of families who need it just to survive is an excellent way to help families get on their feet or stay on their feet,” she said. 

Keitt also said the state needs to do more to help working families, including a tax credit to encourage employers to offer childcare for their employees. 

“Having affordable, reliable childcare allows parents to stay in the workforce,” she said, recalling she quit a part-time job because her income was less than the cost of childcare. 

She said she was lucky that her husband earned enough income on his own to allow that, and that many families are not as fortunate. 

Keitt also said the state needs to provide incentives for municipalities to revise local zoning rules to expand affordable housing. 

The Census Bureau uses two methods to evaluate poverty, one of them being the traditional measure that looks at whether households make enough income to meet a certain standard of living. SPM factors noncash benefits, such as food stamps and utility assistance, and accounts for additional expenses, including child care and medical bills.