“The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.” – Bell Hooks
On June 5, 2020, my friends and I joined thousands of other protestors, fists clenched in the air, chanting “Black Lives Matter” through our masks, demanding justice in front of the New Haven Police Department. Some of us carried signs; others arrived with shatter-resistant goggles, bandanas soaked in lemon juice, and gloves to protect ourselves; all of us were draped in black cloth, armed with hand sanitizers, and had the phone number of an attorney scribbled in ink on our forearms.
This rally was organized by members of Citywide Youth Coalition, who called for divestment from the carceral system and reinvestment into the education system. Students highlighted policy change is fundamental in disrupting and dismantling systems of oppression and racism.
Art has taught me that we, as a society, are always in the context of each other and that nobody can thrive if the most vulnerable among us are not healthy. Illness swept the globe last year, exposing longstanding inequities that exist, making that truth abundantly clear. It has also been a time of great contrast; it is both pain and opening; it is pause and action; it is reckoning and healing. Invisible communities are now visible and brought to the public policy discourse, and it has forced us all to look inward and grow.
That evening in June, Union Ave was brimming with drumbeat, song, and poetry that communicated both collective joy and grief. New Haven residents performed Bomba as an act of resistance and spiritual expression. Dancing bodies used storytelling to share their journey of suffering and resilience and to honor Black lives. Throughout the summer, similar protests erupted across the state; artists painted Black Lives Matter on the pavement of Trinity Street in Hartford to illustrate the need for racial justice; community members took action by contacting their legislators and elevated their stories through testimony to support a sweeping police accountability bill; money poured in to support Black-owned businesses and Black-led advocacy groups; and by the end of July, the legislature passed a law to help mitigate the harm done to Black communities through policing. This bill was monumental, but there is still so much further we need to go to advance racial justice, and through relationship building and community action, I believe we can.
Jen and I learned, through movement building, that it is our stories that connect us.
When I first moved to Connecticut in 2017, I met Jen, a fellow community organizer. She shared that she had a family member who was incarcerated for eight years, but the white teenager who accompanied him did not receive any sentencing. She discussed the precarious nature of Black life, the inequitable access to resources in urban centers, and how even conversations on anti-Black racism erase the experiences of Black women. She told me she struggled with truancy in high school, and I shared that I struggled with it as well.
My father migrated from Pakistan, and I was one of the few children of color in my school district. I grew up in a post-September 11th world, where my community was vilified and perceived as radicalized Brown bodies. I felt denied of a sense of belonging to American culture due to perpetual foreigner stereotypes and cultural scapegoating. Additionally, I experienced constant taunts and threats from my classmates.
As women of color, we are forced to navigate a society that was never meant to be ours. Our rights were violated through surveillance culture, we were denied safety, endured violence, and the lack of cultural competency in the districts we attended made school feel unbearable. We started working in the education field to address some of the challenges we faced as students, even though we are still grieving.
Together, Jen and I worked to build and move power; we organized grassroots communities to enact policy change to ensure the liberation of our families, communities, selves, and future generations. We organize because we dream of a better world than our own, rooted in compassion, radical love, safety, and self-determination. Over a year ago, we both transitioned to Connecticut Voices for Children to progress that vision further.
At Connecticut Voices for Children (CT Voices), we envision a Connecticut that is thriving and equitable, where all children achieve their full potential. Just like the Citywide Youth Coalition underscored, we know that foundation of racial inequality is racist policies. Thus, in a collaborative relationship between scholarship and community engagement, we now work at CT Voices to identify policies that produce and perpetuate inequalities and to replace them with anti-racist policies that ensure that power is shared equitably. Our research strives to eradicate racism by dismantling racist systems, structures, and policies.
Connecticut must address the structural issues causing a disproportionate impact on the health of low-income families and people of color during this pandemic, or inequities will persist for many generations to come.
Connecticut has one of the highest levels of economic inequality as well as racial disparities in education, housing, policing, and so much more. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these already existing inequalities, contributing to the disparate blow COVID-19 has dealt to communities of color.
COVID-19 harming our communities of color is not an accident, but rather a predictable (though preventable) outcome. It results from the convergence of other long-standing inequities disenfranchised communities experience—from their heightened prevalence of various diseases that place them at greater risk of serious illness if infected by the virus, to their lower-paying (but deemed “essential”) jobs that increase exposure to the virus, to their inequitable access to the quality healthcare necessary to avert death. In turn, these outcomes arise from the multiple structural inequities that have long disadvantaged communities of color in Connecticut. Current public policy contributes to Black, Hispanic , and indigenous people generally having high social vulnerability in the state, but good public policy can help decrease social vulnerability and address the structural issues that enable and enforce our racial and economic divides.
Poverty and poor health are inextricably tied; socioeconomic status is a primary factor predictive of a person’s health outcomes and ability to prepare and recover from a crisis. Indeed, public health experts have found that social and economic conditions are the most powerful indicators of who will survive the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, it is critical to reduce poverty to achieve health equity.
Currently, 97,721 children in Connecticut, or 13.3 percent of children, live in poverty. Twenty-seven percent of those children living in poverty are Black, 29 percent are Hispanic, and 5 percent are white. And the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated child poverty in Connecticut. According to the most recent U.S. Census Pulse Survey, with data collected from February 17 through March 1, 120,950 families with children (24% of families) reported that their children were often or sometimes not eating enough food because food was unaffordable; 137,092 renters in Connecticut (23%) reported being behind on rent payments; and 824,673 Connecticut adults (30%) reported that they have found it either very or somewhat difficult to pay for household expenses during the coronavirus pandemic.
Without mitigating action, COVID-19 will deepen Connecticut’s already existing inequalities. While many steps can be taken to reduce current harm, our focus at CT Voices is to create policies that advance racial and economic justice. Currently, our state’s tax system perpetuates poverty and the pandemic’s disparate impact on communities of color; thus, in this 2021 legislative session, our advocacy efforts center on restructuring Connecticut’s tax system, so it is fair and works for everyone.
Rising economic inequality and slowing economic growth exacerbate the harm done on Connecticut’s families and children.
Connecticut’s economy has a highly unjust distribution of income and wealth in general as well as a highly unjust distribution of income and wealth by race. This economic injustice has been rising for several decades, benefitting a small group of wealthy families while the state’s working- and middle-class families, especially those of color, fall further behind. A major cause of economic injustice in Connecticut is the unfair distribution of pre-tax income and wealth gains from economic growth, which have gone primarily to the wealthy for the last several decades. Another major cause is Connecticut’s regressive—or unfair—tax system which intensifies an already high level of income inequality and a substantial racial income gap.
For example, in 2018, the median household in Connecticut had a median pre-tax income of $76,106. In contrast, the top one percent of tax filers in Connecticut had a pre-tax income of $3,092,389, an income nearly 41 times greater than the median household.
Income disparities are even worse for households of color. In 2018, the median Black household in Connecticut had a pre-tax income of $47,856, meaning the top one percent had a pre-tax income nearly 65 times greater than the median Black household. Additionally, the median Hispanic household in Connecticut had a pre-tax income of $45,730, meaning the top one percent had a pre-tax income nearly 68 times greater than the median Hispanic household. Even when compared to the U.S. as a whole, income inequality is greater in Connecticut.
What’s more, while the top one percent of tax filers have an average effective state and local tax rate of only 6.5 percent, the median household in Connecticut—earning approximately $76,106—has an effective tax rate of 13.66 percent; the median Black and Hispanic households—earning approximately $47,865 and $45,730, respectively—have an effective tax rate of 14.72 percent. Hence, our tax system increases the disparity in income between the top one percent and everyone else. For example, in 2018, after accounting for state and local taxes, the median household had an income of $65,710, and the top 1 percent of tax filers had an average income of $2,891,384, which is 44 times greater than that for the median household, an increase of 3.4 times.
Adding to economic injustice, by disproportionately burdening the typical household, especially those of color, with a higher effective tax rate that exacerbates income inequality and the racial income gap, Connecticut’s regressive tax system decreases the amount of income that the typical household, especially those of color, can turn into wealth each year, which in turn contributes to rising wealth inequality and the racial wealth gap. Further, by decreasing the amount of income and wealth available for the typical household to spend and boost economic demand, Connecticut’s regressive tax system contributes to slowing economic growth.
“The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you can alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change the world.” – James Baldwin
We see this time of strife and upheaval as an opportunity to join together and take the bold actions necessary to tackle the structural foundations of racial, income, and wealth inequalities in our state. Two current pieces of legislation, if implemented, will provide needed financial relief for Connecticut’s children and families, especially those impacted by the pandemic, are:
• HB 6654: An Act Establishing a Child Tax Credit Against the Personal Income Tax; and
• SB 178: An Act Increasing The Applicable Percentage Of The Earned Income Tax Credit
These two bills will work in conjunction with each other to support Connecticut’s most marginalized communities.
SB 178 restores the state-level earned income tax credit (CT EITC) to 30 percent, the level which it was set when enacted in 2011. Expanding the CT EITC from our current rate of 23 percent of the maximum federal credit to 30 percent would benefit families making up to $56,844 (for joint filers), by reducing their tax burden by approximately $34 million a year. This legislation would strengthen a progressive component of Connecticut’s regressive tax system because the credit is based on income level and number of children and would benefit working-class families, who have the highest effective tax rate; it would especially benefit families of color, whom, as mentioned, have lower incomes and higher effective tax rates on average; it would reverse a tax increase on working-class families, and it would reduce poverty and boost economic growth.
HB 6654 would create a Connecticut child tax credit (CT CTC) that would cut taxes by up to $1,800 per year for families earning less than $210,000, making it the state’s largest and most inclusive tax credit for working- and middle-class families with children. Establishing a state-level CTC will work in combination with the federal CTC and EITC to help lift children out of poverty, reduce the tax burden of the state’s working- and middle-class, stimulate the economy, advance economic and racial justice, and make the state a more attractive place for families.
The EITC and CTC help offset the negative impact of rising income and wealth inequality, especially in the areas of education, health, and economic opportunity. Research from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) highlights that income from these tax credits leads to benefits at virtually every stage of life. For instance, research indicates that children in families receiving the tax credits do better in school, are likelier to attend college, and can be expected to earn more as adults. Additionally, implementing fair taxes by providing tax cuts for working- and middle-class families boosts the economy because it increases the amount of income available for the typical household to spend and increases aggregate demand.
Your voice will influence decision-making.
Personal stories guide successful movements; storytelling is critical in developing relationships, inviting others into issue campaigns, and motivating the community into action. Pediatricians can be powerful child advocates because they work directly with impacted communities and thus, have nuanced insight into the barriers to well-being that children and families in the state face, such as the impact of poverty on children’s health. Sharing your stories with fellow medical practitioners allows for common challenges to surface and will help identify what policies are causing these conditions and how they can improve to lead to better patient outcomes; your story will also cultivate learning, connection, and empathy. Sharing your stories with decision-makers will have a significant impact on the daily rendering of patient care. Issue campaigns to advance sound policies for children’s health and well-being, specifically those who have been historically disadvantaged, can be strengthened by physicians’ voices and perspectives. Through power-sharing and power-building with the communities you serve, providing testimony, organizing fellow direct-service practitioners, and other political actions, pediatricians can leverage their personal experience and insight to influence legislation that will advance racial and economic justice.
The time to act is NOW.
• Submitting testimony is an important method in taking legislative action.
o You can submit testimony in support of SB 178 and HB 6654 in a Word or PDF format to FINtestimony@cga.ct.gov.
o We hope to get this legislation passed before its deadline to be voted out of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, so please email your testimony before April 22, 2021.
• Take a look at our digital toolkit here. This toolkit aims to support you with easy-to-use advocacy language to push out via social media. While the frame of the toolkit is based on Twitter, we encourage you to combine tweets for social media posts that don’t have word limits. And, of course, feel free to tailor the language to make it your own. We’ve included a sample e-mail and will periodically update the toolkit with more resources, so stay tuned!
• Join our Fiscal Coalition. This coalition is comprised of community members, practitioners, and advocates, who come together to co-create policies and strategically advocate for these issues. If you register to join here, someone from our team will contact you.
• Contact your legislator. You can find out who your legislator here.
• Send a letter in support of HB 6654 to every member of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee and Appropriations Committee here.