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Rep. Frey Update: This Year’s Upcoming Session

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I hope you had a happy holiday season.

The 2018 legislative session is fast approaching and I wanted to make sure you are aware of how to stay up to date.

 

The Upcoming Session

The Connecticut General Assembly will convene for the “short session” on February 7.  The “short session” goes from the first week in February through the first week in May.

A major priority will be adjustments to the two-year state budget which will affect every resident in Connecticut.  As you know, the 2017 legislative session continued far past the June deadline date into last fall.

Legislators are able to propose specific bills this year that they request from specific committees. Since I was first elected, I have proposed bills that I thought would help Ridgefield residents and people across the state. Many bills I introduce originate from constituents who contact me with an idea, often at town hall forums and business council meetings in Ridgefield.

This year, Friday, February 9, is the deadline to submit proposed bills.  If you have ideas, questions or concerns about a current state law, or a problem that could be helped by legislative action, please contact me directly at John.Frey@cga.ct.gov.

 

Government Working for You

I also want remind you that as your state representative, I am here to serve as your resource in Hartford.

I can help if you are having a problem with a state agency or if you simply have a question about a state law or process.  We can work together and find ways for state government to better serve you, your family, or your business.

Please contact my office with any questions about state issues, how to schedule a visit to the State Capitol, or how to acquire an official citation, proclamation or flag to commemorate a significant achievement or life event.

You can find information about what I’m working on this session and sign up for my newsletter for Capitol updates through my website.

I continue to be grateful to have this opportunity to serve in our state’s legislature representing Ridgefield.

You can reach me anytime at 1-800-842-1423 or by e-mail at John.Frey@cga.ct.gov.

Rep. Frey Votes to Restore Funding for Medicare Savings Program as Legislature Approves Plan

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HARTFORD – State Representative John Frey (R-111) on Tuesday voted for a bipartisan plan that would provide funding for the Medicare Savings Program (MSP) through the end of the fiscal year. Last month, the legislators successfully petitioned the General Assembly back into special session in order to address the issue.

MSP is a Medicaid program that helps seniors and the disabled pay for Medicare co-insurance, deductibles and premiums. Connecticut was one of five states whose income eligibly limits exceeded the federal minimum level. In adopting the bipartisan budget in October, legislators reduced the eligibility to the federal minimum, consequently reducing or eliminating coverage for many of the program’s thousands of participants. The state’s Department of Social Services in December announced it would delay implementation of the eligibility reduction by two months, giving concerned program participants a reprieve from an unexpected jump in their healthcare costs as lawmakers worked to find $53 million to fund the program through June.

In December, Rep. Frey said the legislature had a “moral obligation” to reconvene and restore funding for this program in order to stop the harm that this provision of the budget would have on seniors and disabled populations.

“About 280 Ridgefielders rely on assistance from MSP, so today we are doing what is right for seniors in Ridgefield and across Connecticut,” said Rep. Frey.  “It simply wasn’t acceptable not to address the harm that abruptly losing all of part of their healthcare coverage would cause low-income seniors and people with disabilities.  After today, these vulnerable populations will have funding for their health coverage restored.  However, the state cannot let something like this happen again.  We have to continue to address our persistent budget deficit and pass policies that will stabilize and grow our economy.”

The MSP plan was approved in the House on a 130 to 3 vote. Among the methods used to restore program funding is a requirement that Governor Malloy reduce the number of managers and consultants—a provision included in the adopted budget ignored by the governor. Other components include moving human resources-related functions of some state agencies into the state’s Department of Administrative Services, and requiring the governor to find savings in Executive Branch functions while limiting his ability to cut more than 10 percent from any one program.

The State Senate approved the plan 32-1 in a vote later in the day. It now goes to Governor Malloy’s desk for consideration.  Although he has floated the idea of vetoing the bill, the plan passed with veto-proof majorities in both chambers.

The 2018 legislative session—a so-called short session—starts Feb. 7 and will see lawmakers focus primarily on issues tied to the state budget.

Rep. Frey Demands Urgency from Legislature in Convening to Fix Medicare Savings Program Reductions

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RIDGEFIELD – State Representative John Frey (R-111) attended a meeting of Ridgefield’s Committee on Aging with State Senator Toni Boucher (R-26)at Ridgefield Town Hall on Monday to discuss items in the recently-adopted state budget that affect seniors. During the meeting, which was attended by over 70 concerned citizens, he called on the legislature to have a “sense of urgency” and to commit to restoring funding for approximately 113,000 elderly and disabled people who would lose all or part of their health coverage as a result of cuts to the Medicare Savings Program (MSP). The two-year budget adopted by the General Assembly reduces the income eligibility limits for all categories of participants in the program, in many cases by as much as 50%.

“I am calling on my colleagues in the legislature to recognize that massive harm will be done to Connecticut’s elderly and disabled populations if we do not act immediately to address the provision of the budget that makes unexpected cuts to the MSP,” said Rep. Frey.  “We have a moral obligation to stand up for the vulnerable people who depend on this program and cannot afford the drastic increase in healthcare costs.  There is no excuse not to act on this pressing issue – the General Assembly needs to be reconvened before the end of the year to fix this and reassure our seniors and disabled populations that they are not forgotten.”

The Department of Social Services (DSS) announced last week that it would delay implementation of eligibility reductions to the state’s MSP program until March 1, 2018, while it conducts a review of coverage alternatives, a development Rep. Frey called “helpful in the short term, but absolutely not a solution or a reason for peace of mind for the 86,000 low-income seniors who would be disqualified from the program and the 27,000 who would have their coverage reduced.”  He also noted that many of these seniors might not qualify for alternative coverage.

The reduction of income eligibility for the MSP, which is paid for with Medicaid funding, was carried over from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget proposal. The changes would save the state $53.9 million in 2018 and $130 million in 2019. To explain why cuts to the program were included, Rep. Frey pointed to the devastating impact on the budget of the SEBAC union contract approved in July that locked in expensive state union benefits for ten years. 

“Connecticut residents are completely fed up with public sector union agreements like SEBAC getting top priority from the majority party while everyone else is ignored and left wondering what the future holds for them,” said Rep. Frey.  “When it came down to locking in expensive benefits for state employees for ten years, majority legislators fell over themselves trying to approve it as quickly as possible – before even working on a state budget.  With SEBAC passed, it is painfully obvious that ensuring vulnerable populations have access to healthcare is less of a priority for them as they continue to drag their feet.  That sends a disturbing message to Connecticut residents and the rest of the country.  Let’s address this problem with the sense of urgency that people worried about their health deserve.  We cannot keep them waiting any longer.”

House and Senate leadership are currently discussing a bipartisan plan to restore funding to the MSP and hope to soon announce a day to reconvene both chambers during the week after Christmas.

Rep. Frey Supports Budget Fixes that Clarify Funding for Renters’ Rebate Program

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HARTFORD – State Rep. John Frey (R-111) voted in favor of language that clarified the portion of the recently adopted state budget addressing the Renters’ Rebate program.  The changes ensure that the program will be implemented the same way in the same way it was prior to the passage of the budget and qualified renters will continue to receive their rebate checks.

The Renters’ Rebate program is a state law that provides a reimbursement for Connecticut renters who are elderly or totally disabled, and whose incomes do not exceed certain limits. In the law, persons renting an apartment or room, or living in cooperative housing or a mobile home may be eligible for this program. Renters’ rebates can be up to $900 for married couples and $700 for single persons.

Prior to the revisions, the state appropriation for the Renters’ Rebate program was reduced by approximately half, with towns expected to cover the rest of the cost. With the changes, the state will fully fund this program as before and reduce towns’ municipal aid amounts by half of the amount of rebate checks in each town.

Rep. Frey said that 69 Ridgefield residents participate in the Renters’ Rebate program.

“Several renters in Ridgefield and people who care for them expressed their concerns about this portion of the budget to me over the last month, and understandably so because of the importance of these rebate checks in their lives and the cost it would impose on municipalities,” said Rep. Frey.  “The good news for municipalities is that, ultimately, this leaves them in a better position than when the budget passed, because the original version of the budget would have required towns to cover the entire cost of the Renters’ Rebate program.  With these municipal aid reductions, they are essentially only paying for less than half of the program.”

The House and Senate each called Sino die, which officially ends all special sessions for the year.

“It was encouraging to see this oversight taken care of as we finally gaveled out of session for the year, so that we can start to turn the page to next year, when we will have a lot of work to do if we want to keep making progress on resolving our crippling fiscal crisis,” added Rep. Frey.

Rep. Frey Votes for Compromise Budget that Restores Education Funding

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HARTFORD State Representatives John Frey (R-111) voted to approve a bipartisan budget on Thursday as it passed the House of Representatives with a 126-23 veto-proof margin. Following the Senate’s passage of the budget bill, it now heads to the desk of Governor Dan Malloy for signing or potential veto.

The legislature’s budget was a compromise between House and Senate leadership from both parties in the midst of the governor’s executive order, which included sharp funding reduction for town aid, education, and core social services – facts that had local leaders and residents worried about teacher layoffs and supplemental tax bills.

“When you consider where budget talks started at the beginning of the year and then look at where we ended up, the compromise budget represents the best possible deal for Ridgefield because it restores most of its state funding and protects property taxpayers here from the governor’s proposal to bill towns for a third of the cost of teacher pensions,” said Rep. Frey. “Voting for this budget was a difficult choice because it contained certain elements that I wasn’t comfortable with and really doesn’t address Connecticut’s unfunded pension liabilities, but the Town of Ridgefield should be able to make it through the 2017-2018 biennium in good shape as a result. There is still substantial work to fix our state’s finances and that will be my starting point when session begins next year but, for now, we can claim a small victory over the governor.”

When the General Assembly approved the governor’s SEBAC union contract in July, it limited the ability of the state to close its $5 billion budget deficit by trimming its bureaucracy and controlling pension costs. However, the legislators pointed to several structural reforms within the compromise budget that were retained from a Republican budget bill that passed last month. These include a bonding cap, a spending cap, a mandatory vote on all union contracts, and certain municipal mandate relief reforms. It also rejects several tax increases proposed by majority Democrats and the governor in previous budget proposals.

“Unfortunately, the SEBAC union contract that the legislature approved back in July locked in a sizeable portion of the spending side of the budget, so we were not able to achieve the savings in state government that really need to be made,” said Rep. Frey.  “For most of the year, it looked like another budget that increases taxes was inevitable – we had to resist proposals for electronic tolling, sales tax hikes, cell phones taxes, taxes on seasonal homes, and supplemental property tax bills.  Governor Malloy was insisting that municipalities contribute towards teacher pension liabilities – this would have cost Ridgefield $4 million.  The fact that all of this was stopped is an achievement. In addition, over $500,000 in ECS was restored.    I am also optimistic about the new structural reforms in the budget bill.  I have fought for implementing the constitutional spending cap, a bonding cap, and mandatory votes on union contracts for decades.”

Rep. Frey concluded by calling the passage of the compromise budget “the best option we had,” saying, “Majority Democrats put us in an unfortunate fiscal bind by passing the SEBAC union agreement. As Ridgefield legislators, however, we have a responsibility to get to work and be a part of the solution rather than stand back and watch the state fall apart. We still have a lot of work to do but the state will truly be in better shape when this budget becomes law.”

The governor will make his decision on whether to veto the budget bill or not in the coming weeks, although there is optimism that a veto could be overridden in both chambers.