What can be done to improve the business climate in Connecticut while COVID-19 continues to be a risk?
There is a lot of business that can be safely conducted if we as a state-wide community adhere to mask wearing, social distancing and other responsible scientifically-based practices. We all want to return to normal pre-pandemic lifestyles. Unfortunately, those people who fail to comply with reasonable safety standards put our lives and livelihoods at risk. We need to reiterate within our communities that mask wearing, in particular, is not primarily for the safety of the wearer. We must wear masks to reduce the risk of us spreading COVID-19 to others. We may feel fine and feel no symptoms (and assume that we are not a carrier) but the virus that we carry will kill some other people if they are exposed. If everyone acts responsibly, we can all safely conduct more business. With regard to the needs of businesses, this pandemic has presented both universal and unique challenges. I recognize that every business has different needs. Legislators need to be in constant conversation with businesses, especially small businesses, regarding what they and their industry need support with during this pandemic.
What specific legislation would you support to reduce racism in Connecticut?
Racism factors into all aspects of life: schooling, healthcare access and treatment, housing and homeownership opportunities, employment options, food deserts, wealth disparities, the criminal justice system, voting access and much more. I would support legislation to reduce racism, increase socioeconomic opportunity and political enfranchisement across all of those issues as well as others. As a former educator, I’ll take the topic of school funding as an example. Over 30 years, Connecticut’s ECS formula has rarely been fully funded and it has failed to adequately address inequities across schools. Access to a high-quality public education is essential to increasing opportunities for students, especially for minorities. I would support legislation that actually assures that we address the disparities in our public school system.
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?
The people’s business is more important than ever during this pandemic and we need to be proactive about addressing the obstacles to full participation. The legislature’s recent technological updates (including allowing legislators to vote from their offices) is an important first step. We also need to better facilitate the remote participation of the public. I am particularly concerned about the inequities in terms of people’s access to consistent high-speed internet. We need to dramatically increase consistent high-speed internet access across all of Connecticut. It is as necessary for us as individuals as it is for our government or our businesses. This pandemic has highlighted the fact that internet is no longer a luxury but rather a fundamental and urgent need. Regarding elections, I believe that in-person voting needs to be protected, especially in the interest of people without a consistent home address. That said, we need to allow excuse-free mail-in voting in all future elections as well.
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?
As a former educator, I am certainly aware of how expensive higher education can be. Both the public and private colleges and universities in Connecticut are major assets to our state. An important difference is that our public institutions have an inherent duty to be affordable to residents. To begin to address the issue of affordability Connecticut already has the PACT program in place for community colleges. It provides a financial bridge for students who have unmet financial needs beyond the federal and state grants that they receive. It would be reasonable to explore expanding the program. In this pandemic, higher education faces some special challenges that are new obstacles to reigning in cost. It is certainly true that institutions have had to reexamine costs and revenue since the start of the pandemic and will continue to do so. The results of those analyses will obviously inform how those institutions proceed and what support they request. I think that it is important to note that college is generally worthwhile as graduates usually earn significantly more over their careers because of their education. Cost effective job training (including in the trades) will be even more important moving forward as new areas of the economy need more workers whereas other areas contract. I think that this pandemic might lead to a shift in priorities of some students who will want to be more confident that the debt they accrue for an education will lead to a career and earnings that justify that initial debt. I think that at the same time that public higher education needs to strive for lower costs, the information about growing sectors needs to be made more widely available to students before they choose a career path.
What is one specific policy you support to help protect African Americans as an at-risk group during the pandemic?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and other expert sources have highlighted some of the factors that put Black communities at much higher health risks during this pandemic. Notably, many Black people face reduced healthcare access, are compelled to work on-site during the pandemic at higher rates than Whites (both because of their higher representation in essential roles and because of wealth disparities), frequently live in more dense housing situations and face other systemic problems that are not resolved by a single policy change. That said, some simple policy changes could be quite impactful. Essential workers should not be required to shoulder the cost of personal protective equipment. They should be provided PPE at no cost by their employer or by the government. That could be legally required through legislation. It is urgent to assure that minorities, particularly those who are essential workers or who live in more dense/multigenerational homes are provided with PPE. Mask wearing by the general public needs to be more strictly enforced to protect populations that are at a higher health risk, including minorities. I would support legislation to induce more stringent compliance of mask wearing (but still allow exceptions for the very rare cases of people who medically cannot do so).
How can Connecticut lower healthcare costs while also improving quality and access to care?
Because healthcare costs are often unaffordable many people delay seeking care. Delayed treatment leads to worse health outcomes and sometimes premature death. What right is more fundamental than healthcare? Critics of expanding healthcare access and reducing cost claim that those goals cannot be accomplished. We can address those issues if we have the political will to do so. Comptroller Lembo already proposed expanding the public health insurance option in Connecticut to all residents who are willing/able to pay the premiums. He notes that it could be accomplished at 80% of the cost of traditional private plans. For those who can afford state insurance plans, they would save 20%. That is an important step toward affordable universal access to healthcare. Twenty years ago, I had to have an unexpected surgery overseas while visiting relatives. The high-quality surgery was provided on short notice and at no cost because of that country’s universal healthcare system even covers visitors (and it co-exists alongside an optional private health system). On average, as Americans, we pay more for healthcare and get less. That will not change unless we challenge the status quo. There are many more avenues for saving cost without sacrificing quality. The pandemic has highlighted the ability of telehealth to increase access and reduce cost. We also can cap the cost of some medicines, as the legislature just did for insulin. We need to realize that it is much more costly for our entire communities to shoulder the cost of emergency healthcare in the ER than it is for us to all have access to preventative care.
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?
As I mentioned earlier, we need to expand access to healthcare while addressing cost and quality in order to provide less costly preventative care rather than expensive emergency care. That would significantly address chronic illnesses. Moving forward, we must assure that relevant testing is free during this and any future pandemics. During this pandemic, some people have not sought testing because they could not afford it. This public health emergency has undoubtedly been exacerbated by that fact. If people do not know that they carry COVID-19, they are at a higher risk of spreading the virus. Also, a pandemic cannot be addressed if our patchworks of medical centers are not able to survive financially. We need to take a comprehensive look at the revenue and costs of medical centers and ascertain how they can best weather these and future turbulent financial times while continuing to provided necessary care. We need to continue to refine how routine medical care can safely be provided amidst the acute pressures of a pandemic. We need to have conversations with all stakeholders throughout this pandemic in order to address urgent issues promptly and plan for the future. Looking forward, we also need to build up a larger strategic reserve of some types of PPE and testing equipment. We also need to secure manufacturing capacity and a long-term pipeline for materials that have a shorter shelf life – such as gloves.
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.)
The ongoing nature of this pandemic means that we cannot yet know how much the pandemic will affect state revenue over the current fiscal year. That said, the Budget Reserve Fund allows Connecticut to weather some revenue volatility while adhering to the balanced budget requirement. Whatever the economic fallout of the pandemic ultimately is, working people and retirees should not be forced to pay more than their current share.
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