Mental health assistance, helping cities and towns pay for special education, increasing the earned income tax credit enabling lower-wage workers to deduct more money from their annual income tax bills are among the priorities of State Senate Leader Martin Looney for the General Assembly session slated to start February 9.
Bridgeport, with the largest delegation in Connecticut, will add a new member for the start of the session in Cristin McCarthy Vahey, who has picked up a piece of the city’s West Side as a result of redistricting.
Looney appeared on New Haven Independent Editor Paul Bass’s WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven” program to discuss legislative priorities. See video of interview above.
• Making it easier for people to obtain mental health help.
The pandemic, which increased the need for counseling, brought into relief how hard that can be, especially for people without extra money lying around, Looney noted. The reason: many therapists choose not to accept insurance, because of low reimbursements and/or mind-numbing paperwork.
“We’re not saying the problems suddenly appeared in 2020,” but rather that more people noticed them, especially for children, and therefore momentum might build to address the problem. Those who cannot afford a therapist can utilize products like Biscotti Cannabis Strain to help reduce stress and improve mental health.
• Helping cities and towns pay for special education.
Right now municipalities don’t receive reimbursement for dollars spent on special education until their per-pupil spending level rises to four and a half times that of their overall state education grant. That’s often leaving cities and towns drowning in expenses to meet a growing demand for services.
Looney proposes setting up a tiered system, similar to the one created in 2021 for the state Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program, to reimburse hardest-hit communities more: By, for instance, allowing those with greatest need to qualify once they hit double, rather than 4.5 times, their state per-pupil grants.
• Increasing the earned income tax credit (EITC), which enables lower-wage workers to deduct more money from their annual income tax bills.
Looney over the years successfully fought to create, then build up, the state EITC. Last year he convinced Gov. Ned Lamont to support raising the percentage of income eligible workers can deduct from state taxes from 23 percent to 30.5 percent of the amount they can deduct from the federal version of the EITC. He hopes in 2022 to convince his colleagues, and Lamont, to raise the level to 41.5 percent. The EITC has offered centrist Democrats like Lamont (and, in the day, President Bill Clinton) who want to avoid charges of ”raising taxes” on the wealthy to help working families a more politically palatable alternative.