During the month of October, stakeholders across Connecticut came together for a two-part virtual panel entitled “Bouncing Forward from the Pandemic – Moving CT Ahead”. Panelists discussed the opportunities that COVID-19 has provided when it comes to public service delivery and addressing economic and social justice issues. The event was co-hosted by UConn’s Department of Public Policy (DPP), the Connecticut Town & City Management Association (CTCMA), American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) and Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG). Below is a recap of the two panels as well as information on how to access session recordings.
October 1st: Next Steps for Public Service Delivery in CT
The first panel began with opening remarks from Mayor Shari Cantor of West Hartford, Connecticut. Mayor Cantor explained how the pandemic has exposed challenges, structural weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Yet she also highlighted how this exposure has provided opportunities for reinvention, adaptive recovery, equity, resilience and sustainability. She continually stressed the importance of providing accurate and timely information to the public, as well as the importance of building connections and sharing resources. This was a theme that continued throughout the panel.
John Elsesser the Town Manager of Coventry, CT spoke next and addressed “Digital Government: A Blueprint for Advanced IT for State and Local Services”. Town Manger Elsesser discussed how Connecticut’s governmental portals offer a window into various services and data. He proposed a one-stop source for information that would include program history. With an electronic data management system, Mr. Elsesser sees an opportunity to increase productivity and effectiveness. An opportunity that would also lower delivery costs and improve employee knowledge and communication with the public. In order to be accessible he encouraged mobile friendly systems, and routing requests to a program instead of singular individuals to ensure efficiency and effectiveness.
John Filchak, the Executive Director of the Northeastern Connecticut Council of Governments (NECCOG) continued next with the theme of efficiency and effectiveness with his segment called “Shared and Regional Service Delivery Options”. Mr. Filchak noted that the current service delivery is fractured, uncoordinated, inefficiency and unnecessarily costly. He encouraged educational service centers and regional governments as means to address programmatic needs of communities through shared resources. Recently, Mr. Filchak completed a report on the task force to promote municipal shared services, and he concluded his segment with the report’s findings. The report found that communities need to build upon shared and regional services, embrace technology and data innovation, expand the Office of Policy and Management’s government efficiency unit, provide flexible school governance, collaborate regionally on Special Education and pilot as well as incentivize shared and regional services to foster change.
The first day’s panel concluded with David Wilkinson who is the Executive Director of the Tobin Center at Yale University. He spoke about “Municipal Best Practices and Directly Associated Grant Programs”. He spoke about how universities can offer a tremendous amount to state and local governments. From data analytics, to economists, statisticians and data scientists, he sees universities as a place that can offer valuable knowledge and resources at a lower if not non-existent cost. He noted the importance of being driven by the social and public sector. Quoting President Obama, from his time serving in the Obama Administration, Mr. Wilkinson stated, “Find what works, and make it work for more people”. Efficiency and effectiveness are at the root of moving forward as we continually adapt and work to serve more people.
October 15th: Economic Disparities, School, Childcare, and Residential Integration
The second panel began with opening remarks from Commissioner Beth Bye from the Office of Early Childhood. Commissioner Bye welcomed everyone and agreed that it is going to take everyone joining in order to bounce back from this pandemic.
Dr. Steve Ross, a Professor of Economics from UConn, and an affiliated faculty member of the DPP began the panel by discussing the “State of the State on Economic Disparities”. He spoke about how our small cities and towns have less manufacturing jobs, which have low-income stress. Even with the state progressing in terms of housing, houseless ness and criminal justice, he noted we have still not recovered jobs and have underfunded pension liabilities from the last recession. Bankruptcies he stated, have affected those in low skill, customer oriented and service jobs by forcing them out of work. In response to the balloon payments from evictions and foreclosures, that will result from a rent and mortgage moratorium, Dr. Ross proposed a few steps moving forward. These steps included pension reform, support for nonprofits, remediation for education losses and help from moratorium created debt. He sees an opportunity for Connecticut due to the influx of high skilled individuals and innovators from New York City and Boston.
State Senator Anwar spoke next about “Residential Zoning Reform” and noted that an overwhelming majority of the patients he treated for COVID were from African American and Hispanic communities. Roughly 50% of African Americans and Latino/as live on 2% of the land in Connecticut but occupy two-thirds of the low opportunity areas. He noted this was because Connecticut is one of the most segregated states, with African and Americans and Latino/as having the lowest amount of social mobility in the State. Dr. Anwar noted that the health implications of low-opportunity housing represents a 10-year life expectancy difference that is morally wrong. Financially these implications mean inevitable care for life-long health issues. To create more equity, he proposes we educate town planners on this history and acknowledge that inequity impacts everyone and not just low-opportunity neighborhoods. He concluded with a need to enforce a dedicated percentage of affordable housing in communities in order to increase diversity.
Dr. Lauren Ruth is a Research and Policy Director for Connecticut Voices for Children who spoke about “Addressing Challenges Faced by the Working Poor”. The organization advocates for land use reforms to accessible and affordable housing, removing police from schools, rescuing early childcare industries so parents can work, using state dollars in a way that reflects values of children, families and working residents to the state, and restructuring the tax system so it’s fair for everyone. Dr. Ruth stated there is not enough affordable housing in CT often because of exclusionary zoning laws and unsafe living conditions. She noted that investing in early childcare creates jobs and contributes to the number of parents in the workforce. Roughly 60% of child care facilities have closed in Connecticut because of COVID, and Dr. Ruth and Connecticut Voices for Children recommend creating fair tax systems. Connecticut currently requires low income families to pay a higher percentage (13.66%) than those of the upper class (6.5%).
The two-part panel concluded with Dr. Lyle Wray who is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Regional Council of Governments (CRCOG), who spoke about “High Potential Programs to Boost High School Students to a Family Living Wage”. His segment focused on how we can increase the rate of disengaged students and the economic benefits of doing so. He cited the ALICE Report, which states that by lifting 360,000 people to a family living wage, the Connecticut GDP would be impacted by $42.6 billion annually. Dr. Wray proposed three ways to increase income and tax equality including taxing the more affluent, transferring more money from affluent people to low income people (child payments, universal healthcare, etc.) and/or increasing employability and wages (increase post-secondary or community college education). In Connecticut we can help by offering programs while students are in high school and increasing dual track programs, explained Dr. Wray. He emphasized a need for someone to own this and move forward as Connecticut falls behind other states. Connecticut needs to make investments that will pay off in the long-term. Connecticut needs to find the money to realize that $42.6 billion.