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Federal Budget Cuts Hit Connecticut

Mara Lee

April 15, 2011

As Connecticut's Congressional delegation voted 4-3 Thursday for a budget that slices $38 billion from federal spending in the next six months, people at schools, social service agencies and health centers throughout the state were just beginning to come to terms with what the cuts will mean.

One of the single biggest cuts identified by Sen. Richard Blumenthal's office is the termination of a $5 million grant to the University of Connecticut's Neag Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. But its director, Sally M. Reis, an education professor, was in Israel giving a speech and no one else could say how the cut would affect the center.

Connecticut's 14 community health centers rely on $20 million in federal grants, some of which appears targeted by the cut but how much remains a mystery.

Those health centers, such as Community Health Services on Albany Avenue in Hartford, saw a surge of patients during the recession, and a surge in funding, too, with the federal stimulus money that is now expected to disappear.

Kenneth M. Green, the agency's new CEO, said the center used the $267,000 it received with the stimulus to cover the increased demand to pay for a pediatrician and a new billing/collections person and to subsidize the salaries of another doctor and a dental assistant.

Even though that money was not supposed to keep coming, there was talk during budget planning that it would be added to baseline grants, because the number of patients is not diminishing. The center's patient visits went from 66,000 in 2008 to 77,000 in 2009, and to 91,000 in 2010.

Green said the baseline federal grants cover $2.4 million of the center's $15 million operating budget. Federal Medicaid dollars fill in some of the rest, for the roughly 50 percent of patients who are eligible. Many have no insurance at all, he said.

It's too soon to say how the expected loss will affect staffing, Green said. With better collections, the center is narrowing its operating losses. Still, he said, "If we all of a sudden have $267,000 of federal grants cut tomorrow, do we have enough volume to offset that? At this point, I would say no."

The cuts are supposed to apply immediately through the end of September, for the second half of the federal government's fiscal year.

Connecticut's hopes to win money for the Springfield-to-New Haven high-speed railcorridor remains viable, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation said, but the pool of money is now $400 million smaller.

Nonprofits in Bridgeport, Rocky Hill, New Britain and Hartford will lose federal grants that cover eviction prevention counseling. The budget eliminates the funding for that program entirely, Blumenthal's staff said.

At Hartford's Community Renewal Team, the federal government spent $20,000 on the counseling from October 2009 to September 2010, then increased its commitment to $40,000 this fiscal year.

The woman whose job was covered by that grant started as a part-time counselor three years ago, when her work was paid by the state government. When the federal money came through, she was able to go full time. The program served 680 people from Enfield to the shoreline with the federal grant, said Elizabeth Horton Sheff, director of community services at the agency.

"We had no idea this was on the table," Horton Sheff said Thursday. "We got no notice of even pending cuts. How are we going to serve customers who are already in the pipelines?"

Without homelessness prevention, she said, you end up with "overflow in shelters, you're ending up with families living in cars. There's a human side to this question. If they have a family, they may double up."

But that leads to more evictions, said Horton Sheff, a former Hartford city councilwoman and education activist. "It's like mercury. You're trying to scoop it up on one side, and it oozes out the other side."

Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3d District, and Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, voted against the budget; Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2d District and Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, voted for it. Both senators voted for it.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
     
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