March 16, 2005
By COLIN POITRAS, Courant Staff Writer
Saying that Connecticut's
city poverty statistics can no longer be ignored, a group of
state legislators introduced a series of bills Tuesday designed
to cut the state's poverty rate by half over the next 10 years.
The legislators' "Blueprint to Reduce Child Poverty" follows
recommendations that the state's Child Poverty Council detailed
last fall. It is a potentially expensive endeavor that has been
estimated to cost between $500 million and $1 billion over the
But state Rep. Mary Mushinsky, one of the initiative's leaders,
said that the state's soaring poverty rates can be fixed if attacked
in small chunks.
"Every problem we look at in its entirety seems intimidating,
but if you look at it in an incremental way, it's doable," said
Mushinsky, a Wallingford Democrat and former chairwoman of the
legislature's Select Committee on Children.
"Connecticut's child poverty rate is embarrassing in a
state as advanced as ours is," Mushinsky said.
Connecticut ranks third in the country for children living above
the federal poverty level, which for a family of four is an annual
income of $19,350. Yet there are still about 90,000 children
living in poverty in Connecticut, many in the state's largest
cities, according to the state Commission on Children.
One in four Connecticut children under age 6 live in low-income
families making below 200 percent of the poverty level, according
to the latest statistics. In larger cities such as New Haven,
it's one in three. In Hartford, it's one in two, according to
state Rep. Jack Thompson, D-Manchester, another supporter of
Hartford, despite being the capital of one of the wealthiest
states in the nation, has the second-highest child poverty level
- 41 percent - for a city its size in the United States, second
only to Brownsville, Texas, according to the statistics.
"This, in my mind, is perhaps the most significant moral
issue we have an opportunity to discuss and do something about
in this legislative session," Thompson said Tuesday.
"It's so transparent what poverty does to children," Thompson
said. "In every single measure of well-being of children,
children living in poverty are at the lowest end of the spectrum."
Mushinsky said the plan's goal is to pull 12,000 families out
of poverty each year for the next 10 years by improving job training,
taking advantage of earned income tax credits, creating decent-paying
jobs and improving access to transportation, higher education,
child care and other services.
Several bills introduced Tuesday deal with the plan's incremental
first steps, the easily adoptable program changes that can help
families take better advantage of unclaimed federal funds and
other assistance at minimal expense to the state.
One bill proposed Tuesday called for creating a universal form
to help families receive their federal earned income tax credit.
It won't cost the state much, Mushinsky said, but could help
67,000 families get back between $1,500 and $4,000 a year. Statistics
show that 30 percent of the eligible families in Connecticut
are failing to take advantage of the credit.
The bill was later approved by the Select Committee on Children
and forwarded to the human services committee for review.
Families living in poverty must constantly struggle for adequate
health care, food, heat, housing, education and other services,
said Mary Ann Handley, D-Manchester. Poverty also has been identified
as a risk factor that leads to lower birth weights, greater risks
for lead poisoning and lower test scores.
"Poverty is not just a word that we use, but real people,
real children living in these conditions," Handley said.
Poverty also isn't just an urban problem, Mushinsky said. Salisbury
and North Canaan each carry a poverty rate of 30 percent; in
Thompson, Putnam and Killingly, it's 31 percent, according to
the Connecticut Association for Human Services.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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