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Black and Puerto Rican Caucus Fights for ‘agenda for equity’


By KELAN LYONS and KEITH M. PHANEUF

Members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus added their voices Tuesday to the growing calls for systemic reforms that would make life safer and more equitable for Connecticut’s residents of color.

Recognizing that “no single bill can right centuries of wrongs, let alone a few summer days in the Capitol,” Rep. Brandon McGee, D-Hartford and caucus chair, said the proposals were “a table-setting moment for what we hope will be viewed as a years-spanning commitment to racial equity in Connecticut.”

The proposals are similar to Senate Democrats’ Juneteenth agenda released last month. McGee said the measures are not in conflict with the ideas raised by his legislative colleagues, several of whom joined him Tuesday on the Capitol steps.

“Together they emphasize a growing commitment to systemic change among members of this legislature,” McGee said. “What we’ve done as a caucus, however, is honed in just a little bit more on some of those very, I would say, low-hanging fruit opportunities that would provide again, a larger conversation for policies that we’ve been working on so long, to be able to be passed, supported by our governor.”

Caucus members identified six pillars for reform: voting rights, economic justice, police accountability, education and housing equity and environmental justice. They called for more personal protective equipment for those on the pandemic’s frontlines, closing opportunity and resource gaps for children living in under-resourced school districts and expanding “no-strings-attached homeownership” opportunities. And they proposed updating environmental laws to account for the disproportionate impacts of poor air quality and industrial pollution on communities of color, especially important in the COVID-19 era.

“An individual with underlying health conditions attributed to poor air quality [and] industrial pollution are more susceptible to the detrimental effects of the virus,” said Rep. Geraldo Reyes Jr. , D-Waterbury, vice chair of the caucus.

McGee said caucus members are working with Sen. Gary Winfield, a New Haven Democrat and co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, on a police accountability bill for the upcoming special session. It isn’t clear whether those bills will be separate proposals or a part of the same measure, but they have similar themes: ending discriminatory policing that leads to a disproportionate number of minorities behind bars, expanding community oversight of police officers and creating an independent entity to investigate and hold cops accountable for breaking the law.

The particulars of the proposals are still being negotiated. McGee suggested parts of the agenda, like police accountability measures and new laws that would make it easier to vote, could be floated in the upcoming special session later this month, but others could be dealt with in a second special session later in the summer or fall.

A notable absence: tax reform

Absent from the caucus’ agenda were any proposals to redistribute wealth through tax reform.

Over the past few years, various progressive groups have advocated for higher income tax rates on Connecticut’s wealthiest residents, new and expanded credits to provide state income tax relief to poor and middle-income households, and increased municipal aid to the state’s urban centers.

The Black and Puerto Rican and House Democratic Progressive caucuses, which share many members, pushed for many of these initiatives as recently as last January, when the regular 2020 General Assembly session began.

“True economic justice cannot be achieved until we end the criminalization of poverty and level the playing field for all,” McGee said.

Democrats advocating for a more progressive state and local tax system know one major obstacle to sweeping reforms lies at the head of their party — Gov. Ned Lamont.

The governor, a wealthy Greenwich businessman, defeated a Democratic proposal during his first year in office to impose an income tax surcharge on the capital gains earnings of the state’s wealthiest people, and consistently has argued that higher taxes on top earners would drive them to move out of state.

Connecticut ranks above nearly all states in terms of both income and wealth inequality. Wealth, which takes into account stocks, other investment holdings, property and debt, is even more concentrated at the top here than income.

Critics say Connecticut’s tax system, with its heavy reliance on municipal property taxes and a state sales tax, exacerbates this inequality. These levies are largely regressive, meaning the rates are the same regardless of the taxpayers’ wealth. And many businesses can transfer their tax burdens onto consumers, also disproportionately harming the low-income households.

The working poor in Connecticut pay nearly one-quarter of their earnings to cover state and local taxes, or to cover business taxes shifted onto their households, according to a 2014 state tax analysis. The middle class pay about 13%, while the top 10% of earners pay 10% and the top 1% pay almost 7.5%.

Advocates for progressive state and local tax reform argue increased public sensitivity toward systemic racism make now the right time for legislative action. They attribute this awareness both to the disproportionate toll the coronavirus pandemic has taken on communities of color as well as the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

But McGee said that while his caucus is committed to mobilize “a growing commitment to systemic change” among legislators, leaders also realize the planned July special session offers a limited “window of opportunity” for change.

After the news conference, McGee said the caucus was still discussing potential progressive tax proposals they could float in a special session, perhaps after the July session, which will be focused on policing and voting access.

“As you can imagine, there are a lot of moving pieces to this,” McGee said. “I really believe that we will have ‘Part Two’ of special session, and (tax reform ) is a part of our long list of items that we want to support.”

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A grassroots policing alternative in Hartford spreads its wings


Men Standing Up Against Violence’s community-based stewardship model is expanding

YEHYUN KIM :: PHOTO CT MIRROR

By ISABELLA ZOU

Fred Phillips, right, founder of Men Standing Up Against Violence, and Charles K. Evans share a fist bump on Thursday, July 2 in Hartford.

On a recent night, Fred Phillips stood on a historically violent street corner in his childhood neighborhood in Hartford and greeted dozens of people as they passed by him.

He talked with a woman carrying an enormous bottle of gin and found out her best friend had been killed. He comforted her. He met a man who had been shot several months ago and was out to find the one who did it.

“Listen, you can’t live for revenge,” Phillips, 66, counseled him. The man broke into tears.

Phillips and members of his group, Men Standing Up Against Violence, go out into what he called the North End’s “hotspots of crime” about 40 times a year, especially on holidays and during city events when they tend to see more activity and violence on the streets.

They aim to have conversations with youths, mediate conflicts and deter crime. The 40 active members, most of them retired and volunteering full-time with the group, know these spots and these people well. They grew up here.

“It’s our duty as people who grew up in the community to protect and serve,” said Phillips, retired from a long career in teaching, youth services and government work.

It’s our duty as people who grew up in the community to protect and serve.”— Fred Phillips

At a time when the role of police is being reevaluated, especially in Black communities, the group’s work — which extends beyond crime mitigation to holistically care for the needs of their own community — shows the effectiveness of hyperlocal, grassroots groups not just for community self-policing, but also for improving community wellbeing more broadly.

It’s a blueprint that’s spreading throughout the state – Phillips said that in addition to Hartford, there are growing chapters in New Britain, New London, Waterbury and Bridgeport. And there’s a chapter in the works in Phoenix, Arizona.

Bosco James Miller recently started the New London chapter by gathering old friends and church members in the area.

“We want to be a bright light in the community,” he said, explaining that he’s in the thick of organizing their first action — hosting a voter registration drive for his community that will also pass out food and COVID-19 supplies.

It’s in keeping with Phillips’s vision. He founded the group five years ago to “fill in the gaps” for the community’s needs. Last Tuesday, the Hartford branch hosted a COVID-19 supplies giveaway at Phillips Metropolitan C.M.E. Church on Main Street, which Phillips and several other members of the group attend. They handed out more than 200 meals and 2,000 face masks to members of the community. Half the supplies had been donated by local pharmacies and catering companies, Phillips said. The other half was paid for out-of-pocket by members of the group.

Phillips said that other COVID-19 supply giveaways have been hosted in locations that are hard for community members to reach.

“We tried to fill that void by bringing the stuff directly to the people, so it’d be within hands’ reach,” he said.

They volunteer to assist individuals familiar with their work in the neighborhood too. If an elderly person needs someone to help mow their lawn, they’ll call someone from Men Standing Up. Last week, Phillips cut up and removed a tree that had become buried in a man’s backyard.

When people offer them money, they refuse it.

“We just say, ‘It’s a pleasure for us to be of service to you,’” Phillips said.

They also focus on youth mentorship, beginning with looking out for children’s safety. Members of Men Standing Up have stationed themselves along streets with drug activity to make sure children got to and from school safely.

Steve Harris, a former city councilman, retired firefighter and key North End figure and advocate, said that he watched Phillips and the other men in the group grow up. Now, they’re widely known and trusted in the community.

“In my community, you gotta have cred — street cred,” he said. “A lot of their success comes from the fact [that] these are homies. These guys grew up in this neighborhood.”

Essential partners

Men Standing Up members say that they deter violence just by being a visible presence on their neighborhood’s streets, an action that is often more effective than policing but can put them into potentially dangerous situations.

“At any point, our lives are in jeopardy,” Phillips said. “The police have guns, and we have each other.”

Both Phillips and Harris attributed the group’s success to its reputation in the neighborhood, and the trust members have cultivated with community members. It’s something that Hartford Police Chief Jason Thody said is an essential complement to policing in the city’s higher-crime areas.

JOE AMON :: CONNECTICUT PUBLIC RADIO

Hartford Police Chief Jason Thody takes a knee at the Hartford Public Safety Complex with protest leaders during the Self-Defense Brigade Anti-Oppression Rally for George Floyd in Hartford on June 1, 2020.

“They’re doing work that, frankly, I don’t think we can do,” he said. “These guys are old school, they’ve been around a long time, they’ve got credibility with people.”

Occasionally, Thody said, he reaches out to the group to help address a “particular pocket of violence” by “walk(ing) through those streets and have(ing) conversations with people.” The police department also asks them to be out on North End streets during events with a “potential for violence,” such as Hartford’s Riverfest, to intervene in conflicts and deter violence.

The group’s relationship with the police didn’t start out this friendly. Two years ago, Phillips and three other members were standing on the corner of Barbour Street, monitoring the kids in the area to make sure they were safe, when several police officers confronted them and said they had to move.

“We explained to them who we are and what we were doing,” Phillips said. “And when we did that, he said, ‘Well, we got a complaint that you guys are loitering, and you can’t stand here in front of this store.’”

They complied, he said, but “no sooner than we crossed the street, the dealers were back on that corner.” Fuming, Phillips called then-police chief David Rosado, he said, and they met the next morning. He recalled telling the chief, “It’s so strange that we get put off the corner by your officer only to get replaced by people who were up to no good.”

They’re doing work that, frankly, I don’t think we can do. These guys are old school, they’ve been around a long time, they’ve got credibility with people.”— Hartford Police Chief Jason Thody

After that, he said, they established a relationship with the department, and the officer who confronted them two years ago even came to assist with the mask giveaway last Tuesday. Phillips said that the group has had an “ongoing positive relationship” with the police department. “We have similar objectives,” he said. “We just go about doing our thing differently.”

Growing up, Phillips said, police brutality was commonplace.

“When we saw the police, we just took off running, whether we did anything or not,” he said. The first of several times he remembers being mistreated by law enforcement, he was 16. “I was picked up for something I didn’t do, and beat up by the police. It was traumatic.” As a result, he said, there was a deep fear and distrust of the police within his community that persists to this day.

Harris agreed.

“I’ve lived on this street for 70 years, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen my community service officer,” he said. “When I see police, they’re usually riding past. And even if they look as they ride past, they kinda look at you like, ‘OK, is this one of the people I’m supposed to be looking for today?’”

Still, Phillips said, Men Standing Up has been hesitant to join in the current protests for racial justice and police abolition. He said that his group’s work fundamentally relies on the community’s trust, which could be jeopardized if the group associated with a protest that turned violent. Instead, they “try not to get caught up in the political stuff” and instead focus on their own community work, which he sees as “proactive, not reactive.”

“We all have our different ways of protesting, just like we all have our different ways of grieving,” he said.

Thody said that community groups like Men Standing Up, and larger groups like COMPASS Peacebuilders and Mothers United Against Violence, are essential partners for the police in the work of reducing crime. “We should expand the use of civilian and citizen-based groups to help us,” he said.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin recently announced the creation of a civilian crisis response team that would respond to certain 911 calls instead of police, or alongside them.

Harris said he finds Bronin’s initiative “insulting,” given the underfunding of groups like COMPASS, Mothers United Against Violence, and Hartford Communities That Care, and the fact that more informal groups like Men Standing Up receive no government funding at all.

“Why don’t we just take those funds and distribute them to these organizations that are already doing the work?” he said.

A harmful system

Reaching a point where civilian groups can take over more completely requires time and deep systemic changes, said Thody, not just an isolated, immediate defunding of the police.

“I hope that, for whoever is still here a hundred years from now, that we’re in a place where we need less police, where order and management can be done on a civilian and neighborhood basis,” he said. “But I don’t think we can flip the switch and do that in a year, or even five years… there are bigger issues in socioeconomics and access that have to be addressed, too, before you get a neighborhood that can self-sustain in that way.”

YEHYUN KIM :: CT MIRROR

Rodney Matthews (left), owner of a custom t-shirt store, talks to Fred Phillips.

Phillips said that over the decades, things haven’t gotten better in North Hartford. He sees street violence even more frequently than in childhood, he said. Amid an overall downward trend in Hartford crime in recent years, the Northeast District saw a 58% increase in gun violence from 2018 to 2019, according to the Hartford Courant. Harris pointed out, too, that COVID-19 has ravaged the community, as it has other communities of color — due in large part to underlying health conditions like diabetes and hypertension, resulting from food deserts and lack of health care.

Harris said that 15 years ago, he and other community advocates were negotiating with several major grocery chains to get one to open a grocery store stocked with fresh produce in the North End. Ultimately, not a single one agreed.

There’s a whole built-in system that’s not designed to really lift us up and help us out.”— Steve Harris, former Hartford city councilor

“They didn’t feel that a store in our neighborhood could financially sustain itself,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the dollars and cents.”

In his community, and in other communities of color, he said, health disparities, poverty and unemployment, drug addiction and crime, lack of access to basic resources, simply “haven’t changed.”

“There’s a whole built-in system that’s not designed to really lift us up and help us out,” he said.

Lifting hopes

One of Men Standing Up’s primary goals is give a sense of hope and direction to the community’s youth to help create lasting change, Phillips said.

They do this by modeling educational attainment — all members of Men Standing Up completed high school, and some graduated from college as well, and successfully pursued a variety of careers from professional basketball to law to religious leadership.

And they do it by modeling behavior, particularly for young men.

“We must show the young men in the community, who are doing all kinds of stuff, this is how men run things, this is how men conduct themselves,” Phillips said.

Men Standing Up members also directly engage youth in a variety of ways. They regularly visit high schools to share their life stories and speak against bullying and violence.

LISA CLAYTON :: HARTFORD PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL

Members of Men Standing Up Against Violence wait to speak to students at Hartford Public High School at a Black History Month assembly on February 27. From left to right: Hartford Hospital nurse Marlene Harris, Hartford Police Officer Jaquan Samuels, Men Standing Up members George “Shorty” Davis, Fred Phillips and Joseph Pina.

Lisa Clayton, a music teacher at Hartford Public High School, said that she knew Phillips through church, and she invited his group to speak as part of the school’s Black History Month programming this year. On February 27, they spoke to the ninth-grade class about the trauma and challenges they experienced growing up, and their journeys since. Clayton remembers “looking at [the students’] faces and seeing them being inspired.” They then moved into individual classrooms to have more intimate conversations.

Students need to see that there’s a way to be authentically themselves and authentically successful.”— Lisa Clayton, teacher, Hartford Public High School

“The kids were captivated,” she said. “They did such a great job inspiring the young people to take pride in who they are, to take pride in their community.”

Clayton said that students hear from various speakers every year — in the past, these have ranged from U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes to city councilmen and local pastors. But it’s especially helpful for them to hear from people who grew up in their own community. After Men Standing Up’s visit, she said, students told her how encouraging it was to “hear from people who are from Hartford, who have been able to do amazing things in their lives, being from the same streets, being from the same neighborhoods.”

“Students need to see that there’s a way to be authentically themselves and authentically successful,” she said.

Before schools closed due to the pandemic, she said, her colleagues were working with Men Standing Up to connect them with students who were on what Phillips called a “downward spiral,” with low grades and attendance. Once schools reopen, Phillips said, the group plans on mentoring these students one-on-one, taking them to dinner and baseball games and offering consistent guidance and encouragement.

“You need people in your corner telling you, ‘You can,’ rather than telling you why they believe you can’t,” Phillips said. He believes this so strongly because credits his own success to his neighborhood mentors — neighbors, church leaders, family friends — with helping him get through high school and into college.

Phillips graduated from Allen University, a historically Black university in South Carolina, in 1976 with a degree in education. He married his college sweetheart, and for 36 years, he followed his “love for kids.” He taught at Wintonbury Early Childhood Magnet School and Laurel Elementary School, both in Bloomfield, worked in Bridgeport’s department of mental health, ran a program for high school dropouts at the (now-defunct) SAND corporation’s North End housing project in Hartford, worked as a youth services officer in the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (which closed in 2018), and returned to teaching before retiring in 2012.

Founding and working with Men Standing Up, he said, is his way of continuing his passion and “giving back to my community.”

“We can’t keep the neighborhood from deteriorating,” Phillips said. “But we can lift the hopes of people in the neighborhood up until things improve.”

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2020 Political Round Up


By Thomas Nocera, Staff Writer

All five of Connecticut’s U.S. House of Representative seats are up for grabs in this year’s election. A field full of Republican hopefuls are intent on staging their own small upset against the five Democratic incumbents. While they might not agree on much, candidates from both parties claim this election could well shape the face of politics for years to come. The Republican primary will be Aug. 11. The general election will be Nov. 3.

With virtual conventions wrapped up, here’s a list of the heavyweight contenders, who have gotten nods from their respective parties.

First District: Central, includes Bristol, Torrington, and Hartford

Republican: Mary Fay

Mary Fay is currently West Hartford’s town councilor. A self-professed fiscal conservative, Fay intends on bringing that ideology with her to Washington if elected. She has a long history of campaign experience, winning two-terms as an elected member of the West Hartford Town Council where she served on the budget and finance committee. In her professional life, she was an executive director for the Connecticut Retirement Service Authority, and worked in finance for General Electric and ING. Fay will be running against incumbent John Larson – her former high school history teacher.

Democratic: John Larson

John Larson has served as the first District House Representative since 1999. Before that, he was a multi-term state senator. During his time in D.C., he has championed a number of causes: in 2007 he sponsored the Energy Independence and Security Act, which sought to increase the development and use of renewable energies. He also introduced the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 to Congress, which sought to provide loans and support to small businesses nationwide. Most recently, he was allegedly involved in a social experiment with food stamps, Medicaid, and social security issues to help shape policies in congress.

Second District: Eastern, includes New London, Enfield, Norwich

Republican: Tom Gilmer

An Ohio native, Gilmer moved to Connecticut in 2014 where he founded and operated a large a construction management company that has worked throughout the state. He also served as a trade market manager for energy giant BP. Gilmer believes the private sector thrives when the government is kept on the periphery. He favors the looser regulations in the private sector, and has struck a heavy economic note on campaign trail thus far.

Democrat: Joe Courtney

Courtney was a lawyer and Connecticut House of Representatives member before being elected to Congress in 2006. There, he serves on the Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Education and the Workforce. Courtney was a vocal opponent to the Trump corporate tax cuts and Muslim travel ban. He is well known for his support of District 2’s large defense jobs industry.

Third District : Central, includes New Haven and Middleton

Republican: Margaret Streiker

Streiker hopes her background managing large real estate investments and operations will give her an edge in the uphill battle to replace District 3’s long serving incumbent, Rosa DeLauro. Her flagship company, Newcastle Reality, managed and invested millions in residential and commercial properties in New York City. However, it was not without controversy. Before closing in 2019, Newcastle Reality was accused of cost inflation on projects, receiving illegal kickbacks from construction contractors, and illegal buyouts of rent-stabilized apartments. Streiker herself was never singled out – but other employees, and the company as a whole, were.  She has made it a point to highlight that, though she is a republican, she would be willing to oppose the president and work across the aisle when necessary.

Democrat: Rosa DeLauro

DeLauro began serving as District 3’s representative in 1991. Since, has a history of championing progressive causes in D.C. DeLauro’s taken vocal and progressive stances on healthcare, gun control, and campaign finance reform. She is one of the original members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and currently sits on a subcommittee dedicated to the organization of federal funds for coronavirus relief efforts.

Fourth District : Southwestern, includes Stamford, Bridgeport, and Norwalk

Republican: Johnathan Riddles

Riddles is a New York native and self-professed “green” republican who has worked extensively in the financial services industry as a private wealth manager. He is currently vice president of The Private Bank, a division of Bank of America catering to clients with substantial assets. With little previous entanglements in party politics, he is hoping voters will see his appeal as a political outsider.

Democrat: Jim Himes

Himes has served as District 4’s representative since 2009 and currently sits on the Committee on Finical Services, and the House Intelligence Committee. He has been a consistent advocate of financial industry reform and a supporter of green energy initiatives. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare reformation will be one of his campaigns central initiatives.

Fifth District : Northwestern, includes Waterbury and Danbury

Republican: David X. Sullivan

Sullivan has been an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump and his economic policies. He’s running on a platform centered on lowering taxes and the deregulating the private sector. Sullivan has voiced strong opposition to the ‘Green New Deal’ and ‘Medicare For All’ initiatives in Congress – efforts supported by District 5’s incumbent, Representative Jahana Hayes. Prior to being nominated, Sullivan worked as a prosecutor for the Connecticut Office of the Attorney General. 

Democrat: Jahana Hayes

Waterbury resident Jahana Hayes is the first African American woman to represent Connecticut in Congress. Before politics, the one-term incumbent was a career teacher. The first term representative won the 2018 election with nearly 56 percent of the vote and has since focused heavily on education and healthcare reform. In her first term, her key vote was to impeach President Donald Trump. During the coronavirus pandemic, Hayes has been vocal in highlighting disparities and difficulties in distance learning regiments, and has been critical of the safety of economic re-openings. But Hayes is unaware of a pending lawsuit against her for political obstruction by her former campaign staffers, who helped sabotage a stronger candidate than Hayes to run for congress against former House Representative Elizabeth Esty. Hayes waited out Esty’s scandal and jumped in the race after she resigned amid a scandal about sexual harassment in her office. Some say Hayes had news of Esty’s impending resignation and her cronies worked for three years to stage adverse experiences for the other black woman, who was deemed the most eligible to be the first African-American congresswoman from Connecticut. The plan to put Hayes in congress began when she enrolled in graduate school while the other black woman was a professor at a top 20 university.

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Most Americans Want to Reopen–Not


By Dr. Juan Andrade, Jr.

Anyone who says that most Americans want to lift restrictions and reopen the economy is simply not following the data; much like the President is ignoring scientific and medical data on COVID-19. If you think the states should reopen and everybody you know agrees, well, think about this. An overwhelming majority of Americans disagree with you and with everybody you know.

This is where we are today. We have approximately 1,250,000 COVID-19 cases today and roughly 75,000 have died. Three months ago, we had 15 cases and one death. Still want to reopen?

A very recent Washington Post/University of Maryland poll found that 67 percent of Americans said they would feel uncomfortable shopping at a retail clothing store, and 78 percent would be uncomfortable at a sit-down restaurant. These were just two of eight places a big majority of Americans said restrictions should not be lifted. The other six were gun stores (70 percent), nail salons (74 percent), barbershops and hair salons (69 percent), gyms (78 percent), golf courses (59 percent), and movie theaters (82 percent). Grocery stores, whether well stocked or not, have remained open throughout the pandemic.

Governors in 30 states have begun to reopen at some level, possibly ignoring the fact that the U.S. has already surpassed 1.2 million cases, more than Spain, Italy, France, England, and Germany combined. The following are three highly reliable models of what Americans could expect, which hopefully will make those states reconsider.

In an article in USA Today, Jorge Ortiz reported that the U.S. has had an increase of at least 20,000 COVID-19 cases each day since mid-March. According to the New York Times, a CDC (Center for Disease Control) model projects the number could rise to 200,000 cases with 3,000 deaths per day.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projected 134, 475 deaths in the U.S. by Aug. 4.

A new model from Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania projected that 117,000 Americans would be dead by June 30 and if states fully reopened, the number of Americans dead would hit 466,000 by the same date.

The obvious is that many more people will die. The question is how many and whether you will be one of them. I hope not.

Dr. Juan Andrade, Jr. is president of United States Hispanic Leadership Institute, Inc.

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Opening the Economy: Data-Driven and Public Health Approaches


By Jagdish Khubchandani

Policymakers around the world are in a triangular tug of war between fighting COVID-19, economic rehabilitation, and ensuring societal normalcy, well-being, and health. There are no easy answers or cookbook recipes and each question among the how, why, and when to open the economy is more daunting to answer than the other one. However, it is becoming increasingly evident that we cannot make decisions based on social, cultural, religious, or economic preferences alone. Also, decision making cannot be an absolute top-down approach, but a regionally driven strategy with citizen engagement. A few suggestions for our leaders and the public:

*        Analyzing regional data on COVID-19 such as number of cases and deaths, racial/ethnic distribution of the disease, age and gender groups most affected, and social and medical history of those who are affected will help define the unique nature and extent of disease spread among communities and to strategize for customized prevention priorities. We need more testing based on population density so that the maximum number of infected people can be quarantined to break the chain of spread (the 3 T model= trace, test, treat).

*        The key data points to consider in making a decision on opening the economy should be: number of COVID-19 cases, deaths, and recoveries mapped by the smallest geographic unit; the total population of the region with sociodemographic distribution; the number of primary care and emergency services; the number of hospitals and healthcare facilities, COVID-19 testing capacity, and healthcare-related assets available (i.e. materials, devices, and human resources).  Throughout the process, ensure protection of frontline healthcare workers.

Photo Credit: Yahoo Finance

*        The rates of increase or decrease in COVID-19 cases play a major role in estimating regional transmission patterns. If a geographic region does not witness a case for more than a week, that’s positive news. Once the 2-week mark is crossed without a positive case, plans to allow many essential human activities should be formulated and implemented. Additionally, regions should be classified as high risk, moderate risk, and low risk. Those regions that should qualify as high risk should exhibit high numbers and rates of cases or deaths that remain the same or increase over time (call them “hotspots”).

*        We should categorize and redefine services as: highly essential, needed, and wanted. Based on relative importance, we should use a staggered time-phased opening approach. These classifications should keep in view, for each service, the amount of human to human contact, needs and capacities, the potential for large gatherings, demand versus supply of the service, the cost versus benefit of these services, and preparedness at service facilities as it relates to practicing aggressive hygiene and sanitation measures and social distancing for the clientele served. There should be ways to enforce the use of temperature screening devices, masks, sanitizers, and social distancing for all clients.

Photo Credit: New York Post, Dow Jones

*        Increasing the base of health prepared and health trained people in the communities would be another asset. Rapid and swift measures to educate and train lay health workers, non-physician professionals, and accelerating volunteer health services could be a priority. Academic-community partnerships and the use of professional organizations to provide data and scientific services should be done as soon as possible. All of this can be done remotely by data transfer and coordination between regional healthcare facilities, health departments, and state or federal agencies. Existing data are assets that must be utilized.

*        The last strategy is to remain prepared for shutting services again based on real-time regional evidence on COVID-19. We must also estimate, how long after we open the economy will business and industries flourish and how much time it will take to bring normalcy to life (that would create another lag in reaching our full potential). Despite phased openings, we will still see fewer workers, fewer service demands, and lesser clientele.

It is time to utilize these strategies and aggressively prepare for the next phase- opening the economy and looking into the future. We have saved millions of lives by avoiding the disease and cannot lose our gains. However, we also have to be mindful not to lose lives due to other diseases, poverty, and psychological upheaval. Based on regional data and the unique nature of COVID-19 in a community, decisions should be left to counties and local governments on opening the economy. Such decisions should also engage regional healthcare providers, scientists, business owners, and representatives of the general public. We need to reappraise the values of our democracy- of the people, for the people, and by the people. Finally, it is high time, we think global and act local.

Jagdish Khubchandani, MBBS, PhD is a Professor of Health Science at Ball State University and has a doctorate in both Medicine and Public health.

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As New COVID-19 Deaths Grow, Lamont Considers Executive Order On Masks


By Patrick Skahill, CTPublic Radio

HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday that he is considering an executive order spelling out when and where Connecticut residents should wear face masks in response to the ongoing pandemic.

Despite a few flickers of hope that Connecticut was rounding the bend on COVID-19 cases, Lamont said Wednesday that virus infections continue to grow, with nearly 200 newly reported deaths.

“If you can keep your social distance, you don’t have to wear a mask,” Lamont said. “If you’re walking down the block and you’re by yourself, that’s fine. If you get to a crowded group, wear a mask. If you go into a store … wear a mask.”

Lamont said the masks don’t need to be medical quality face coverings. A cloth bandanna or handkerchief will suffice.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance recommending people wear face coverings in certain situations to protect others from contracting COVID-19. Evidence shows asymptomatic people may be able to spread the virus to others, the CDC said.

“This is the way that we can get this virus — stop it dead in its tracks — and help this state get moving again,” Lamont said.

As of Wednesday, nearly 2,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in Connecticut. The state reported an additional 197 deaths, which Lamont said was attributable to a numerical backlog in reporting — not a one day death spike.

Still, hospitalizations are growing. In New Haven County, the number of people hospitalized from COVID-19 surpassed 600 on Wednesday.

As he works to contain the virus in New Haven, Mayor Justin Elicker signed an emergency order Wednesday that will require the use of face coverings in essential retail businesses, including grocery stores, big-box stores or wholesale clubs, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores, and package stores.

Elicker’s order also specifies that business owners may refuse customers not wearing facemasks. The order will go into effect on Friday morning.

“Wearing a mask is an important way to protect your neighbors, family members, and others from contracting COVID-19,” said Elicker, in a statement. “We are fast approaching 800 positive cases in the Elm City … Please stay home as much as you can and stay safe.”

Millions In federal aid slated for Connecticut airports 

While Bradley International Airport remains open and domestic flights are operating, the Connecticut Airport Authority, which runs Bradley, said many of its airline partners have reduced schedules or dropped their flights completely. To help mitigate similar stoppages nationwide, the government released a multi-billion dollar relief program aimed at shoring up operations at U.S. airports impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Aer Lingus, Air Canada and Spirit Airlines have temporarily stopped all operations from Bradley,” said the CAA’s Ryan Tenny in an email Wednesday. “Our other airline partners continue to adjust operations on a daily basis…we are currently experiencing over a 95% decrease in passenger traffic.”

Roughly $28.5 million of the federal aid package will go to Bradley, according to a joint statement from Connecticut’s congressional delegation. The money can be used for airport capital expenditures, operating expenses such as payroll and utilities, and debt payments.

“The impacts to our operations will likely persist for months to come,” said Kevin Dillion, executive director of the CAA in a statement. “This assistance is an essential piece of the solution.”

In addition to Bradley, Tweed-New Haven will receive roughly $1.1 million, and Igor Sikorsky Memorial Airport, which is owned by the city of Bridgeport, will get about $150,000.

UConn Health using patient blood to fight COVID-19

As doctors continue to seek new ways to fight the novel coronavirus, UConn Health announced Wednesday that several employees who have recovered from COVID-19 are now in the process of donating their blood to help critically ill patients. The trial will test if the antibodies in that blood could potentially attack the virus and help patients who are sick with COVID-19 more rapidly recover.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved four healthcare systems for the study,including the Mayo Clinic and Trinity Health Of New England, which runs St. Francis Hospital in Hartford. UConn Health said Wednesday it’s joined the effort using a protocol developed by the Mayo Clinic.

“The use of convalescent plasma is not at all new to medicine, and can be traced back to the 20th century,” said Mauricio Montezuma, site principal investigator for UConn Health, in a statement. “Data on convalescent plasma in COVID-19 is limited; however, two small reports from China are promising.”

Before any donor blood would be transfused to coronavirus patients, it will be tested for several things, including virus-resistant antibodies, UConn Health said.

If the blood is suitable, the plasma will be donated.

Donors must have tested positive for coronavirus, be asymptomatic for 14 days, and have a subsequent negative test for the disease.

‘No cost’ life insurance offered to frontline healthcare workers

Medical professionals in Connecticut and Massachusetts who are risking their lives to providecare to patients infected with the novel coronavirus could soon be eligible for free life insurance, state officials said Wednesday morning.

COVID-19 Resources Page - Bullet Points

The no-cost, three-year term life insurance policy would be for medical workers employed at a licensed hospital, an urgent care center, or with an emergency medical services provider. The workers must have exposure to COVID-19 patients.

The life insurance policy, which is offered through Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, would provide up to $25,000 in no-cost benefits if the worker is between the ages of 18 and 50. Workers between the ages of 51 to 60 will receive a no-cost $10,000 death benefit. Lab technicians, custodial staff, maintenance crews, cafeteria workers and security personnel will also be considered for coverage, according to state officials.

More details and information on enrollment availability is on the MassMutual HealthBridge webpage.

Support requested for domestic violence and sexual assault victims

A bipartisan group of 39 U.S. senators, including Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), is calling for more federal funding to be made available to support programs for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

The $2 trillion coronavirus relief package already approved by Congress includes about $47 million for some domestic violence services, but no funding was allocated for sexual assault and domestic violence support programs operated by U.S. Department of Justice.

Local police and representatives of support services around the U.S. are reporting increased numbers of calls for help from victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The senators seeking more funding for such programs warn that “abusers are using COVID-19 to isolate their victims, withhold financial services and refuse medical aid.”

Murphy and Blumenthal, along with their colleagues, are asking that any additional relief legislation related to the pandemic include money for sexual assault service providers, law enforcement, transitional housing and other support services.

Connecticut seeking full federal disaster funding for pandemic costs

Gov. Ned Lamont and the state’s congressional delegation are asking that the federal government reimburse Connecticut for 100% of the state’s emergency spending relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. President Donald J. Trump has issued a federal disaster declaration for Connecticut as requested by Lamont, but that would only provide the state 75% federal reimbursement for state costs.

“The size and scope of this public health emergency is unprecedented,” Lamont said. “If approved, this request would bring much needed additional financial assistance to the state and our municipalities.”

In his request, Lamont said the state has already spent about $500 million on pandemic-related programs and services, money that wasn’t in the state budget. The governor said current projections are that Connecticut state government spending on COVID-19 issues “will at least triple to $1.5 billion.”

Relief requested for local farmers

As states across America adopt social distancing mandates aimed at combating the spread of COVID-19, the economic wiring of many local farms has unraveled.

Traditional buyers like nearby restaurants or schools have closed, and many farmers markets have shut down.

In response, the federal CARES Act sets aside $9.5 billion, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture will use to provide support to farmers across the nation.

Last week, senators Blumenthal and Murphy wrote to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, advocating that a portion of that money go to local food producers.

Additionally, the senators said they want the USDA to issue direct payments to qualified local farmers that are equal to 25% of annual revenue, up to a maximum of $25,000.

“For those local food producers who can provide information regarding actual COVID revenue loss and added costs, additional disaster assistance should be made available,” the senators wrote.

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COVID-19 Local, Resources for Hartford


The Hartford Guardian is working to keep you up to date about daily breaking news that educate and inform Hartford residents. Please check back as we continue to alert you of ways to cope with the corona virus epidemic.

Can’t get be at a hospital to test for the coronavirus? Take a telehealth test and find out if you have the virus. Click here: TELEHEALTH TEST FOR CORONAVIRUS.

FREE RIDES TO COVID-19 TEST SITES: Call 311 for more information or 860-757-9311.

Feel isolated at home? Lonely? Get together online for a virtual social soiree: Click here.

CLICK HERE FOR : HEALTH GUIDE ON THE CORONA VIRUS

Find out more about the city of Hartford’s effort to educate the public about the Coronavirus: See link here: https://coronavirus.hartford.gov/

MOBILE FOODSHARE: Foodshare.org/mobile

FOODSHARE 24 HOUR HOTLINE: 860-856-4321

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS : filectui.org

Check on Gov. Ned Lamont’s effort to help Connecticut residents stay up to date: https://portal.ct.gov/coronavirus

COVID-19 RESOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Updates

Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) Updates

Covid-19 in Connecticut, Latest Data

Hartford Healthcare Updates

WHO daily report

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In These Times, CT Journalists Demand Transparency, Free Speech and Accountability


By Dr. Ann-Marie Adams

In these times, information is crucial. So is transparency, free speech and accountability. That’s because Gov. Ned Lamont recently issued his “stay home, stay safe” executive order, and the state is on lockdown. Therefore, the order effectively quarantined many residents infected by the coronavirus. And other residents stayed home to stay safe. Moreover, state officials adopted other efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus, such as text messages. For instance, the state recently sent out a CTALERT message about the COVID-19 virus; however, many residents did not receive that message.

Dr. Ann-Marie Adams

In fact, some residents with prepaid phones did not get an alert from the Connecticut Emergency Alerting and Notification system. However, those on two-year phone contracts apparently received the text messages. This implies that about 30 percent of Connecticut residents, including the elderly population on fixed incomes, did not get any text alert. That’s alarming.

The role of the press is, heretofore, extremely important in helping government to disseminate information. Freedom of the press is the cornerstone  of democracy. Government workers and other civilians should play a part to ensure that they are transparent and that media get unrestricted access to news and information. This can only help retard the growth of the coronavirus.

Therefore,government workers, who help to suppress a journalist, must be held accountable, and perhaps be ceremoniously fired in these times of unprecedented hardship because of disruptions to many lives. That disruption includes job losses, medical emergencies, homelessness, and other social ills. The suppression of the Fourth Estate, such as refusing to send media advisories to a journalist or failing to respond to freedom of information requests, should be seen as a treasonous offense.

No journalist should be persecuted and suppressed for criticizing the government, or speaking truth to power. In fact, politicians and other officials who are sensitive to criticism by the press should not enter office in these times. It’s unfortunate that some politicians and other officials are still in office covering up malfeasance in this state since 2014. In fact, Hartford City Hall; now lacks transparency and suppresses the media–a first in the almost 20 years of observation by this publication. Unprecedented.

As a result, Connecticut journalists are calling on the General Assembly to pass a special resolution to protect journalists from those who harm them in the quest to hold elected officials accountable. Even if the perpetrators include other journalists, who may covertly suppress their competition.

The effort to retard the spread of the coronavirus must be dealt with from all angles. That includes an informed press–no matter the size or scope. Transparency of government officials, their intent and actions, is of the utmost importance because it will help gain the confidence of many scared residents relegated to work from their homes.

The role of the press in informing the citizenry is a treasured tenet of democracy. Therefore, we are calling for special resolutions from the General Assembly to help protect the fourth estate in Connecticut—in these times and beyond—as journalists work to ensure a free and robust democracy.

Dr. Ann-Marie Adams is the editor and publisher of The Hartford Guardian, the first award-winning, nonprofit, nonpartisan, hyper-local news organization in Connecticut. It aims to build communities by increasing the level of civic participation in the state. Before that, she worked as a journalist for 20 years at various newspapers and television stations in New York, Connecticut and Washington, D.C.

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CSCU Officially Launches ‘Free’ Community College Program


By Kathleen Megan

HARTFORD — Connecticut State Colleges and Universities president Mark Ojakian is getting the message out: first-time, full-time students can attend a community college at no cost next fall as long as they graduated from an in-state high school.

At its meeting Thursday, the Board of Regents for Higher Education approved a set of guidelines for the so-called “last dollar” scholarship program, which will make community college free to eligible students regardless of income and regardless of when they graduated from high school.

The program was approved by the legislature last spring and has been named the Pledge to Advance Connecticut, or PACT.

“The policy and guidelines we take up today, as required by law, reflect the letter and the spirit of the legislation and represents a powerful message to potential students in Connecticut that education is attainable and that we are investing in the future of our state,” Ojakian said Thursday before the board voted unanimously on the guidelines.

Other requirements for applicants are that they complete a federal application for financial aid and accept all awards and that they remain in good academic standing. Eligible students can graduate from a public or private high school or can be homeschooled.

The “last dollar” aspect of the program means that after all the other sources of federal, state and institutional financial aid grants are made to a student, a PACT award will be given to cover any remaining tuition or fee costs. The PACT funds can be used for tuition and various fees, whether a student activity fee or a transportation fee or supplemental course fees. Textbooks and supplies are not considered eligible expenditures.

After the board meeting, Ojakian held a news conference at East Hartford High School to officially launch the program.

“I think we have a responsibility to start to market this especially since the first awards are due in the fall of 2020,” Ojakian said. “As you know, other jurisdictions that have done free college have had far longer lead time to market this, so we need to start in earnest, which is why we are kicking it off today and really making a promise to our state and to our students that there will be free community college come fall.”

The PACT guidelines say that the cost of the program is expected to range from $7 million to $15 million — a wide range because it is uncertain exactly how many additional students will be attracted by the offer. CSCU is estimating an increase of about 5%, or 1,250 additional students. Exactly how it will be funded is also uncertain at this point. State statute requires the state to identity a funding source during the 2020 legislative session

The PACT guidelines say that “in the event that insufficient resources are made available to CSCU, the program is designed to allow for pro-rating of grants or awarding on a first-come-first-served basis” and notes that there is no requirement in the law that CSCU dedicate existing state appropriations or tuition revenue to the program.

Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system, explains budget details to the board at Thursday's meeting.
Mark Ojakian

PHOTO BY KATHLEEN MEGAN :: CT MIRROR

Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system, at a meeting earlier this year.

Ojakian said he thinks the conversations are happening now between the governor’s office and legislative leadership.

“I would anticipate that we would see funding in the governor’s budget in February, but that’s still be determined,” Ojakian said.

Rep. Gregg Haddad, D-Mansfield and co-chairman of the legislature’s higher education committee, said there is a commitment on the part of the state “to make sure one hundred percent of needs are met” and “only in extraordinary circumstances,” would it be necessary to to pro-rate the grants.

“All indications are that people inside the administration and the legislature think this is a worthy investment,” said Haddad, who was one of the key proponents of the legislation. “I feel like the success of this program has been dependent on the idea that the money is reliable. When we say we are offering free community college — that you mean what you say.”

“I think it gives hope to every student, no matter what their economic circumstance, that they can go to college,” he said. “It’s a benefit not just to them, but to our system.”

First published in CT Mirror.org

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