The federal pandemic-relief and infrastructure bills have sent billions of dollars to local and state governments, but those local governments need federal help to disperse that money effectively at the grassroots.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro received that message from Hamden’s economic development director Monday during a roundtable discussion she convened at the Hamden Public Library with two government, nonprofit, business, and higher education leaders. The point of the roundtable: to brainstorm on possible solutions to the cost-of-living squeeze families are feeling, a top national issue during this election year. DeLauro asked for ideas she could take back to Washington.
“We need talent at the local level,” the development director, Erik Johnson, told her. “If there is one thing I wish we could do on the federal level, is create some sort of program that places highly talented individuals on the local level, because the local level is actually where the money is distributed.”
Along with Johnson, State Sen. Jorge Cabrera spoke about how the pandemic has highlighted the importance of government.
“Somewhere in the ’80s or ’90s, a campaign was created throughout this nation to convince people that the government was a boogeyman,” said Cabrera. “That meant huge disinvestments in our governmental institutions and infrastructure, and we’re reaping the benefits of that today with hollowed-out institutions.”
DeLauro agreed with Johnson, pointing to nearly $24 billion in federal mental-health funding that she said has been underutilized. The reason, she said, is that the federal appropriation did not always translate to money on the ground due to a lack of knowledge around the funding existing.
Chris Cozzi, vice-president of Local 478 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, also stressed the importance of ensuring that the contracts awarded under President Biden’s infrastructure laws include project labor agreements (PLAs). PLAs ensure that the workers that are hired are from Connecticut and local neighborhoods, require apprenticeship programs, pay a living union-negotiated wage, and focus on hiring minorities and women.
DeLauro, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, committed to ensuring that federal budgets and appropriations going forward would include text on PLAs.
Attendees also told DeLauro about food insecurity and problems accessing housing, higher education, and child care.
Almost every attendee of the roundtable emphasized that limited child care in particular is limiting people’s ability to work.
Hamden Mayor Lauren Garrett and Qunnipiac University Dean of Business Holly J. Raide both pointed to the increasing costs of child care as well as a post-pandemic work landscape where more people are not working traditional 9 – 5 jobs.
United Way of Greater New Haven CEO Jennifer Heath also told DeLauro that child care currently costs $17,000 per child annually, which is unsustainable for many families making only $30,000 to $40,000 per year.
“My biggest ask on the federal level is affordable child care to cover the costs for families. It’s a broken system,” said Heath. “We also need to make sure that we are not paying child care providers poverty wages, because that is also contributing to child care shortages at the moment.”
Garrett and Heath both told DeLauro about people who have received rental housing vouchers but couldn’t find apartments because of a lack of supply.
Erik Johnson also told DeLauro that food insecurity is quickly becoming a problem for many families. He said some whose parents work full-time still come to food banks because of rising prices.
“Companies like Aldi, which is a good example of affordable good food, are no longer building in New Haven, but rather going to Branford, because their algorithm is telling them they can’t make a profit in New Haven,” Johnson said.