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Julie Kushner

Running for State Senator

5 CTNewsJunkie Reader Endorsements

Party: Democrat

CEP Status: participating


Age: 70

Marital Status: Married

Current Residence: Danbury

Current Job: State Senator, 24th District

Previous Job: Director, United Auto Workers

Previous Job:

Education: BA University of Wisconsin


What action(s) will you take to reduce out-of-pocket drug costs and reduce the impact of the cost of prescription drugs on taxpayers and insurance premiums?
Too many residents are paying thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for prescription drugs that are vital to their health and well-being. I support increasing price transparency from drug manufacturers, wholesalers, insurers, and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) to help guide policy-making around acceptable drug costs. I voted to cap out-of-pocket costs for insulin and insulin supplies–I support setting caps for other critical, life-saving drugs to ensure people aren’t forced to ration care. I’m also interested in exploring the establishment of a state affordability board to review the costs of prescription drugs and make recommendations on those that are deemed unaffordable, which is an approach that states like Maine and New Hampshire have taken.
In these inflationary times, what will you do to help ensure that Connecticut’s middle-income retirees on fixed incomes are able to keep more of their hard-earned money in their pockets?
I support comprehensive planning to reduce the costs of necessities like housing, transportation, and healthcare that eat into the incomes of middle-income retirees on fixed incomes. The state government has an enormous role in ensuring affordable housing, investing in affordable and sustainable transportation, and regulating healthcare costs. I also support improving our tax system to ensure that we’re raising enough revenue from folks in the top 1% to ensure that the financial responsibility for providing essential state services isn’t increasing for middle-income retirees.
How do you plan to address the growing long-term care workforce crisis in the state?
First, I want to underscore how much we owe to long-term care workers who during the pandemic risked their lives, and the lives of their families. These workers were hit hard and suffered the greatest impact taking care of the sick and elderly. Long-term care workers are a critical part of Connecticut’s healthcare system and economy, and we need to ensure that our workforce is robust and supported. This includes increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates to support long-term care and investing in training programs for the next generation of care workers. We also need to address the cost of housing to make Connecticut a competitive, affordable place for care economy workers.
Gas prices are higher than ever, which is difficult for older adults on fixed incomes. Yet, alternatives to cars in Connecticut are limited. What will you do to help older adults access other forms of transportation?
While gas prices are coming down, there’s no question that commuting costs impact seniors and low-income and middle income families. Connecticut needs to make substantial investments in our transportation network— including public transportation—to ensure that people of all ages and income levels are able to travel to work, doctors’ appointments, and to visit friends and family. The recent funding available for infrastructure improvements from the federal government makes now a great time both for capital improvements and expanding the service and frequency of bus routes and paratransit services. I look forward to working with residents, municipal officials, and transportation planners to make sure this funding improves commutes and travel times for our communities.
What are the two most urgent problems facing Connecticut within the context of climate change and the environment, and what will you propose to solve them?
Connecticut is set to receive $5 billion in federal infrastructure dollars. I would like to see these dollars focused on "greening our infrastructure". Last legislative session, we allocated $10 million to redesign and engineer improvements in I-84 to reduce congestion. That's really important, however major investments in creating more public transit (light rail/Fast Track bus corridors) from Danbury to Hartford and Hartford to Boston will provide great alternatives to sitting in traffic for hours. The state budget includes dollars for E-bikes -- we need to pair that with a network of safe and accessible bike lanes, sidewalks and trails. We need to transition away from fossil fuels, while ensuring that the jobs created from transitioning and investing in green energy and infrastructure are good jobs with good benefits.
How can Connecticut's education systems create better outcomes for students in low-income communities?
To create good outcomes for all students in Connecticut, we need to make sure that kids in every community are given the resources and high-quality instruction they deserve. This means reducing class size, increasing salaries and providing packages that will attract the best teachers. In some districts it means providing funds to recruit minority teachers, especially bilingual teachers in my district. To do this, we must ensure that we have an equitable state funding formula for school districts across the state that takes into account the varying economic circumstances and available resources of different school districts and communities.
Pedestrian deaths spiked a few years ago and remain high, and it's fairly clear that driver behavior, such as distracted driving, is only getting worse despite significant efforts by law enforcement to stop it. How can Connecticut's streets be made safe for pedestrians and bicyclists?
To create good outcomes for all students in Connecticut, we need to make sure that kids in every community are given the resources and high-quality instruction they deserve. This means reducing class size, increasing salaries and providing packages that will attract the best teachers. In some districts it means providing funds to recruit minority teachers, especially bilingual teachers in my district. To do this, we must ensure that we have an equitable state funding formula for school districts across the state that takes into account the varying economic circumstances and available resources of different school districts and communities.
How should the state and its school districts deal with COVID-19 going forward?
The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to so many people, and I’ve been glad to see life return to a semblance of normalcy finally this year. The best way to ensure that residents and students are able to hold onto that normalcy is to ensure that transmission rates remain low in our communities by making sure that it is easy for residents to get vaccinated and that schools have the funding for safety measures like ventilation. I have been appointed as the Senate Chair of the Working Group on Indoor Air Quality in Public Schools. We’ve been given responsibility to recommend legislation that will address aging HVAC systems, setting standards for temperature and humidity and standardized reports by licensed technicians. Of course, our ability to enact standards and attain acceptable air quality will also rely on adequate funding sources.
What should be done on the state level to further address Connecticut's lack of affordable housing? Do you support, for example, mandating or incentivizing towns and cities to alter their zoning codes to be friendlier to affordable housing?
Housing affordability is a growing concern that is making it more difficult for workers and families to call Connecticut home. I support increased funding for affordable housing, including looking at innovative mixed-income social housing programs like a pilot program recently enacted in Rhode Island. I also support comprehensive zoning reform efforts to create more affordable housing, multi-family housing, and accessory dwelling units (ADUs) to increase the supply of housing that’s affordable for residents of all income levels. It’s clear that local voices and decision-making needs to be part of this process. We all need to work together to make real improvements in affordable housing.
What can be done to prevent excessive consolidation of the healthcare industry and the loss of services – or, in some cases, the loss of small hospitals themselves – in the state's rural areas?
Consolidation in the healthcare industry creates a danger of reduced competition and, in the case of rural areas, can lead to the loss of vital services to communities altogether. To prevent this, we need to promote both competition and regulation. This includes empowering the State Attorney General to do effective antitrust enforcement and promoting price transparency with comprehensive claims databases and regular insurance and provider rate reviews. We should also explore the creation of a public option healthcare plan to compete in provider markets and help guarantee low costs for residents.
Do you think the state's two major electric utilities (Eversource and United Illuminating) are sufficiently regulated? If not, what measures would you take to ensure that consumers are protected to the greatest extent possible against prolonged loss of services and unfair rate increases?
Especially at this time when inflation and energy prices are squeezing middle and working class residents, I support efforts to increase transparency and regulation of Eversource and United Illuminating to ensure that utilities aren’t passing costs on to consumers just to increase profits for investors.
What is your position on whether Connecticut should open its election primaries to unaffiliated voters?
I support opening primaries in Connecticut to unaffiliated voters. Primaries are a significant part of our electoral system and allowing more residents to have a say in shaping who the candidates in our elections are will strengthen democracy in our state. We should look to other states in the Northeast that have done this effectively to guide us in making this change.
What can be done to improve the business climate in Connecticut while COVID-19 continues to be a risk?
I think two initiatives of the Lamont administration are good beginning steps: $5,000 grants to small businesses (20 or fewer employees) who have been adversely impacted by the virus; and rent assistance paid directly to landlords whose renters are unable to pay because of Covid. The rent relief program helps not only the landlords, but also the renters who are struggling to make ends meet. I’d like to see more programs like this, programs that provide financial help in a direct way. We also need to work with the Department of Labor to enhance job placement programs and training opportunities. We need to focus our efforts to help small businesses and independent contractors who were left out, or didn't have access to the earlier federal CARES Act grants and loans.
With so much uncertainty ahead about COVID-19, how would you ensure that the people's business – both at the legislature and in all of our elections – will be conducted effectively, and with full participation, in the safest possible manner for the foreseeable future?
Increasing voter participation strengthens our democracy. Giving people the opportunity to vote by absentee ballot in this election is the right thing to do. We learned a lot during the primary election, and the absentee ballot program for the November election has been much smoother. When the legislature stopped meeting last March, the business of the legislature didn't stop. We had daily briefings, frequent hearings, and met with and advised members of the Governor's emergency operations team. We did this while working night and day to help people in our community who were struggling with food insecurity, delayed unemployment payments and health crises. It's clear that social distancing, mask wearing and prohibitions on large gatherings will be with us well into the next legislative session. The legislature will have to implement rules and procedures that will allow us to continue our business remotely -- meeting in committee, holding hearings, and even meeting in session.
With higher education facing major changes because of the pandemic, what steps will you take to make sure that Connecticut’s residents have access to college and/or other job training that won’t leave them tens of thousands of dollars in debt?
In 2019, we passed a bill that provides for free community college. It's critical that we make sure this program continues; it's essential to keep our community colleges and state universities strong, economically viable and accessible to those who are struggling to get by. I also believe all state aid to businesses should be looked at in terms of job potential and the corresponding need for training.
What specific legislation would you support to reduce racism in Connecticut?
I worked with my Senate Democratic colleagues to develop a comprehensive legislative agenda to combat racism in Connecticut, our Juneteenth Agenda. This program sets forth legislative steps we must take to address systemic racism in housing and education. It creates Renaissance Districts for economic development. Furthermore, it included two bills we passed over the summer, Environmental Justice and Police Accountability. Over the past four years, we've seen racist attacks on the rise. It's past time for all of us to get our priorities straight and fight racism in all of its forms.
What is one specific policy you support to help protect African Americans as an at-risk group during the pandemic?
The shortage of PPE and testing for months after the pandemic began had a disproportionate impact on Black and Brown communities. While most of us sheltered at home, Black and brown workers were on the front-lines working in nursing homes, in grocery stores, in service industries and as personal care attendants to our sick and elderly. They were asked to work without adequate or proper PPE, they weren't prioritized for regular testing. While nursing homes tracked and reported resident cases, they weren't required to report on infection and deaths of their workers. Based on the infectious nature of this disease and what we know about community spread, we need to take steps immediately to prepare for a spike and address these issues through executive orders or legislative action.
Connecticut’s revenues will sharply decline as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and, unlike Congress, Connecticut has a balanced budget requirement. What changes would you make to balance the budget? (If you want cuts, be specific what will be cut. If you want to raise taxes, be specific about which taxes.)
While Connecticut will need help from the federal government to recover from this world-wide pandemic, recent news places us in a better position than expected -- the Rainy Day Fund has grown to more than $3 billion and revenues are higher as well. I'm optimistic that there will be a mandate on November 3rd to help our states and cities. I believe voters around the country understand we must have effective federal relief that will help our towns and cities and will help small business and working families.
What should Connecticut do to re-tool our public health for COVID-19 and the possibility of future pandemics, while also addressing other chronic illnesses that put people at risk every day?
We should look at our experience from the first six months of the pandemic and employ best practices to protect people and reduce community spread. For instance, mandating mask-wearing quickly in the future. Stockpiling PPE, and requiring a rapid distribution plan for every health care facility, including long-term care and congregate living situations. We need to also be prepared for massive testing and contact tracing. We know what worked to reduce community spread, we need to keep doing this until we have the virus under control, and we need to be prepared for another outbreak of coronavirus or other future pandemics.
How can Connecticut lower healthcare costs while also improving quality and access to care?
The impact of the pandemic has brought the need for affordable health care into even sharper focus. Many people lost their health insurance when they lost their jobs. And now, with the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Republicans are emboldened to repeal Obamacare and strip healthcare away from millions of Americans. No matter what happens with Trump, states will be the next line of defense when it comes to protecting care for people. Connecticut's economy will suffer unless its residents and businesses have access to high quality, affordable health insurance. I've fought to cap the cost of insulin this summer and won but we still need to address other ways to bring down the cost of all prescription drugs. One way is to allow the state to leverage its heft in the marketplace to provide Connecticut employers the best quality and most efficient health plan choices possible. The bottom line -- Connecticut residents should have access to the same health care plan legislators give themselves.