Tax-free week, government assistance, affordability on CT politicians’ agenda

August 17, 2009
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Here’s what made news in Connecticut’s politics the past week.

Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell reminded Connecticut residents of the tax-free week which will start on August 16 and end on August 22. The nine-year old program which takes place on the third week of August will exempt clothing and shoes under $300 from sales tax this week. It is estimated that the state will lose about $3.3 million from this exemption. If an item costs more than $300, it will still become exempt from sales tax, if a discount or a coupon reduces its price to under $300.

Meanwhile, there will be no budget talks until Monday. Connecticut doesn’t have a budget yet, as there are disputes about tax increases and cutting government programs to balance the budget. About $8.6 billion is the projected budget deficit for the next two fiscal years.

The U.S. Department of Energy released a little more than $25.7 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, known as the economic stimulus package, for the Weatherization Program which is administered by the Connecticut Department of Social Services. Approximately 7,500 homes of low income residents in the state will benefit from the program which purpose is to make their homes more energy efficient. To qualify for the funds, a household must have an income of up to 200% of the federal poverty guidelines, as mentioned in the Connecticut Department of Social Services’ website. The state will be eligible to receive additional $32 million to expand the program once it is in place, as reported on Senator Joe Lieberman’s website who praises the release of the funds. A further more than half a million dollars will be spent for a better preparedness in emergency situations in Connecticut, as reported on Senator Chris Dodd’s website.

Senator Chris Dodd introduced a bill, the Measuring American Poverty Act, which would measure poverty differently—based on the costs of basic necessities at a particular period of time, along with unavoidable expenses and government social programs and direct the Census to assess the fiscal particularities in the different parts of the country. As reported on Chris Dodd’s website, current poverty measurements are mostly based on 1950s cost of food and pre-tax income.

The Colchester Hayward Fire Department has received a little more than $320,000 from federal grants through the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Energy Response (SAFER) program. The money will be used for creating jobs, as reported on Representative Joe Courtney‘s (D – 2nd District) website.

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services announced the release of $13.4 million from the economic stimulus package for two programs: the Nurse Education Loan Repayment Program and the Nurse Faculty Loan Program, aimed at helping 100 registered nurses across the country pay down their nursing education debts by 60% of their loan balance in exchange for two years of service at facilities facing a nursing shortage (Nurse Education Loan Repayment Program – $8.1 million) and 500 masters and doctoral students who plan to become faculty after completing their education (Nurse Faculty Loan Program), as mentioned on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ website. Three will be three awardees from Connecticut: Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, Hartford Hospital and Yale New Haven Hospital – one from each; and the University of Connecticut School of Nursing will be awarded a little more than $130,000 for the Nurse Faculty Loan Program.

Congressman Jim Himes (D – 4th District) will hold office hours in towns not served by a permanent office this week. They will be two hours (from 9:30 to 11:30 in the morning) and will take place in Oxford (August 19), New Canaan (August 20), Darien (August 21) and Shelton (August 24) as reported on his website.

State legislators are reportedly drafting a bill that will put regulations on the insurance industry. Affordability when proposing rate increases is among the proposed regulations. According to a report by Families USA, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, health insurance premiums for Connecticut’s workers rose more than 7 times, health care premiums for families rose roughly 96% and median earnings rose by merely 13%. State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal supports enacting a bill that takes affordability into consideration.

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