FROM THE CAPITOL – How the Budget will Adversely Affect Families & Seniors

May 9, 2011

Last week the state Senate and the House of Representatives passed Governor Malloy’s $40 billion biennial budget into law. The budget includes an increase in overall spending by almost a billion dollars and a $3.7 billion tax increase – the largest in state history.

I voted “no” on the Governor’s budget because of its unaffordable spending and tax increases on middle class families when they can least afford it and because the Republicans offered a no tax increase alternative budget. I was also disappointed in the Governor’s failure to prioritize spending in a way that would protect some of our most vulnerable citizens; including seniors.

Despite increases in funding to many nonessential programs, including $1 million for new “scoreboards” to display voting tallies in the House and Senate, the Malloy budget cuts funding to several essential programs that our seniors rely on.

For example, the budget makes changes to the Marital Asset Exemption for Community Spouses. This program previously allowed the spouse of an institutionalized senior, otherwise known as a community spouse, to keep the maximum amount of assets allowed by federal law (up to $109,560) and was created to prevent the community spouse from becoming impoverished due to the high costs of long term care when the first spouse to get sick needs nursing home care.

With the passage of this budget, the law changed so that now the community spouse can only keep one-half of the couple’s assets up to $109,560. This change will reduce the ability of the community spouse to pay the high taxes and costs of living at home and accelerate her admission to a nursing home should long term care be required. This saves taxes because the State pays about $8,500 a month for nursing home care and only $2,500 for care in the community.

Moreover, the budget includes a reduction to the Personal Needs Allowance (PNA) of Medicaid residents in nursing homes. This small amount is withheld from the resident’s social security and other income to be used at their personal discretion.

This meager allowance is relied upon by our seniors to buy basic items such as clothing, personal phones, and reading materials, which are not provided by the facility or Medicaid. However, the Governor cut the allowance from $69 to just $60 per month to save about $2 million in a $40 billion budget.

While I am in favor of reducing the size and scope of state government, I am appalled by the Governor’s disregard for the wellbeing and financial stability of Connecticut seniors. Government spending reductions are being blatantly and unsympathetically misappropriated.

Even more upsetting is that these cuts are made alongside comparably trivial expenditures that stand to benefit decidedly more well-off members of society.

For example, in addition to the $1 million appropriation for new tote boards for the House and the Senate, there is another $1 million expenditure for chauffeurs and press personnel of Constitutional Officers. Other fringe expenditures include a $15 million allotment to statewide marketing efforts

Meanwhile, the Governor hurts middle class families by imposing the largest tax increase in our history by increasing taxes on income and purchases of nonprescription drugs, smoking cessation products, and clothing to name a few.

I am alarmed by the incongruity displayed by majority party leadership who are comfortable allotting large amounts of money to trivial projects and programs when our families and seniors are struggling to balance their own budgets.