Lamont highlights how he’d like to spend federal COVID aid
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont provided an early look on Friday at how he wants to spend billions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief funds, pledging to focus on initiatives ranging from continued COVID-19 vaccination and testing in the state’s hardest-hit areas to summer learning camps for youth and more assistance for struggling small businesses.
The Democrat is required to provide the General Assembly with a proposed allocation plan by Monday for legislators’ consideration.
Connecticut is receiving $2.6 billion for “state recovery” efforts, as well as more than $1 billion in education funding — a portion of which is being directed to the state Department of Education. There’s also $145 million in capital project funding and $1.6 billion that will go to cities and towns. That’s all in addition to the earlier financial relief Connecticut received from the federal government.
“This is our opportunity to come back. And the American Rescue Plan gives us an opportunity to come back,” Lamont said during a news conference at Naugatuck Community College. He promised his proposal helps those most affected by the pandemic, which has led to historic unemployment and more than 8,000 deaths in the state.
Lamont’s plan dedicates some of the federal aid to expanded broadband access; mental health services for children and adults, including mobile crisis units; K-12 education; child care and early child education programs; home visits to new mothers; summer youth employment; workforce development training and more.
It’s unclear, however, whether his proposal will become the final blueprint for spending Connecticut’s allotment of federal money over the next several years. Wanting to weigh in on how the money is allocated, the Democratic-controlled General Assembly unanimously passed a bill last month that requires Lamont to provide legislative leaders with his spending recommendations and then allow the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee to approve or modify the plan by May 16.
Some Democrats, including politically progressive lawmakers, have criticized the governor for not truly recognizing in his proposed two-year state budget the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 had on communities of color in Connecticut and not addressing long-standing inequities in the state.
“The legislature has to make a decision as to whether we feel that we’re an equal branch of government,” said Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, the co-chairman of the General Assembly’s Finance Revenue and Bonding Committee. “And sometimes it’s easy to opine on what the governor has to say, as opposed to leading as an equal branch of government. And I think this is a time when we have to do that.”
Appearing Friday at a virtual news conference organized by the advocacy group “Recovery for All,” Fonfara said he’d like to see the allocation of federal coronavirus relief funds follow the tenets of the proposed Equitable Investment Fund, which focuses heavily on addressing education, economic and other inequities facing communities of color and providing long-term investment. The fund was included in a wide-ranging Democratic tax package that cleared the finance committee on Thursday but was panned by Lamont for increasing taxes.
“We can say all the things we want. We can protest. We can wave a flag. We can put a sign in front of our house. But when it comes to your actions, that’s what really represents what you truly care about, what you mean,” Fonfara said. “And we have an opportunity, an unprecedented opportunity to put our flag down here with respect to that and with respect to these recovery dollars.”
Lamont, however, contends his administration has focused on spending federal relief funds on those most impacted by the pandemic in an attempt to “make a difference in people’s lives, especially those who were hardest hit.”
“This governor has put forth a plan that allows for Connecticut’s children to thrive,” said Department of Children and Families Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes. “They are smart. They are beautiful. They are resilient regardless of their zip code, regardless of their skin color, regardless of their special or unique ability.”
Other groups are weighing in on how Connecticut should spend the large influx of federal funds. The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities plans Monday to announce a task force of business and communities leaders that help cities and towns administer their share of the money earmarked for local governments.
In other coronavirus-related news:
More than 220,000 Connecticut households are scheduled to receive $32 million in emergency federal food assistance on April 27 and 28. It marks the first time emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits will be provided to all enrolled households. It’s due to an executive order signed by President Joe Biden.
All eligible households will receive the benefits on their Electronic Benefit Transfer cards. About 100,000 households that are already eligible for the maximum monthly SNAP benefit will receive an extra $95 while about 120,000 households that don’t usually qualify for the maximum will receive at least an extra $95 but will average roughly $187.
Meanwhile, $19.6 million in special food assistance benefits will begin being distributed Sunday to households of nearly 29,400 school students eligible to receive free or reduced-price school meals but do not receive services from the Connecticut Department of Social Services.