I Love My Robot, But I Don’t Want it to Take My Job!

. August 27, 2014

Will robots and totally awesome computer apps lead to a new era of job creation and prosperity or will they steal jobs away from average humans leaving them addled, unemployable, and adding to our society’s income inequality?

The folks at the PewResearch Internet Project wanted to explore this question so they conducted a canvass of technology experts asking the following question (researchers called it a canvass because it was not a random survey):

Self-driving cars, intelligent digital agents that can act for you, and robots are advancing rapidly. Will networked, automated, artificial intelligence (AI) applications and robotic devices have replaced more jobs than they have created by 2025?

It turns out that even people who spend most of their time thinking about technology can’t agree on the answer. The PewResearch Internet Project published the canvass results and reports that 48% of the 1,896 respondents envision a future in which these technological advances have displaced significant numbers of employees, both blue- and white-collar, thus leading to masses of people who are essentially unemployable. But, the other half, 52% to be exact, think that technology will not displace more jobs than it creates. Although this group, the report notes:
“anticipates that many jobs that currently rely on humans to perform them will be largely taken over by robots or digital agents by 2025. But they have faith that human ingenuity will create new jobs, industries, and ways to make a living, just as it has been doing since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.”

TicketNetwork Settles Complaint

According to the New York Times, Connecticut-based TicketNetwork and two of its affiliates have agreed to pay $1.4 million to settle state and federal complaints. As part of the settlement, the company agreed to pay $750,000 to a Connecticut fund for consumer education and enforcement. 
The complaints stated TicketNetwork used deceptive marketing tactics when reselling entertainment tickets around the country.  The company used websites that resembled the official websites of major performance venues (e.g., Radio City Music Hall).

TicketNetwork is the third-largest ticket resaler, behind StubHub and Ticketmaster.

Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection has the state's complaint and consent order on their website.

Federal Judge Rules Against NCAA in Antitrust Case

. August 26, 2014

In a 99-page decision, a federal judge ruled that the NCAA violated federal antitrust law by unreasonably restricting certain college football and basketball players from being compensated for using their images and likenesses. The judge enjoined the NCAA from enforcing rules that prohibit Football Bowl Subdivision and Division I basketball players from receiving a limited share of the revenues generated from using these images and likenesses. However, the injunction allows the NCAA to cap the revenue an athlete can earn at $5,000 per year, to be placed in a trust until the athlete leaves school or exhausts playing eligibility.

The decision came after a three-week trial in federal district court in Oakland. The judge, after finding that markets existed for the athletes’ images and likenesses, rejected the NCAA’s arguments that the restraints were necessary to preserve amateurism, maintain competitive balance, promote the integration of academics and athletics, and increase its total output.

The NCAA announced that it will appeal the decision.

Hot Report: Ballot Question and Explanatory Text for Proposed Constitutional Amendment

OLR Report 2014-R-0221 explains how the law requires the Office of Legislative Research to prepare a concise explanatory text describing the content and purpose of a proposed constitutional amendment that will be voted on by electors at a general election. The text is subject to approval by the Government Administration and Elections (GAE) Committee—the joint standing committee of the General Assembly having cognizance over constitutional amendments. Once approved, the secretary of the state must print and send the explanatory text, together with the language of the proposed amendment, to town clerks and registrar of voters in each town in sufficient supply for public distribution. The secretary must also print the text on posters, of a size she determines, and mail each town enough so that registrars can display at least three in each polling place (CGS § 2-30a).

During the 2013 legislative session, the General Assembly passed HJ 36 (Resolution Approving an Amendment to the State Constitution to Grant Increased Authority to the General Assembly Regarding Election Administration), requiring it to be placed on the ballot for the November 4, 2014 general election.

For more information, including the text that will appear on the ballot, read the full report.

Increasing Attention On ALS

As has been widely reported in by both traditional and social media, the “Ice Bucket Challenge” launched this summer has raised a considerable amount of money for research on Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease). 

So what is ALS?  It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease affecting the motor neurons involved in voluntary muscle movement.  Early symptoms may include muscle weakness or difficulty performing routine physical activities. As the disease progresses, these difficulties increase, eventually leading to paralysis.  People with ALS also develop difficulties with speech and breathing; this often leads to losing the ability to speak or breath on their own. 

ALS is almost always fatal. According to the ALS Association, the average life expectancy for ALS patients is about two to five years from diagnosis; five percent of patients will survive for 20 years after diagnosis. The association notes that there is no cure or treatment to reverse the disease’s progression; one FDA-approved drug may “modestly” slow its progression. 

A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are approximately 3.9 cases of ALS per 100,000 people in the U.S. general population.  Among other things, the CDC report found that prevalence is (1) higher among males than females and (2) highest among older white males.

For more information about the disease and current research efforts, see the ALS Association’s website and the CDC's website.

Federal Study to Identify Marijuana-Impaired Drivers

. August 25, 2014

A three-year long experiment designed and administered by the federal government to identify the level of marijuana that impairs drivers, concluded this past spring.  According to a USA Today article, scientists are now studying the 250 variables checked by the experiment. This federal research is expected to lead to specific guidelines on impaired driving based on marijuana levels.

Per the article, the test involved having 19 volunteers consume specific combinations of marijuana and alcohol, or a placebo before “driving” for approximately 40 minutes in a driving simulator. According to the article, the simulator “can mimic the look and feel of everything from urban parking lots to darkened gravel roads. Deer jump out unexpectedly. Passing cars swerve.”
The article specifies that the study is similar to those conducted to develop the blood alcohol levels for drunken driving.

The initial data from the experiment is expected to be available by October of this year and should help regulators determine legally acceptable limits.  In the meantime, the article indicates that states like Colorado, which has legalized recreational and medical marijuana, and their neighbor, Wyoming, are taking measures such as increasing the number of street police officers who are experts in drug recognition.

Solar Panels That Let the Light In

Researchers at Michigan State University are developing a new type of solar panel – one that is transparent so it lets light shine through, according to Science Daily.  The “transparent luminescent solar concentrator module” can be placed on a building over a window or on any device with a flat, clear surface, like a cell phone or e-reader. Until now, luminescent solar materials were colored. The research team is instead using small organic modules to absorb nonvisible sunlight wavelengths that create an infrared light that is converted to electricity by photovoltaic solar cells. The new technology is at its early stages of development, but has the potential for commercial use at an affordable price. The researchers’ goal is to make “solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”

photo: Sciencedaily.com, “Solar Energy that Doesn’t Block the View

More States Strengthen Oversight of Charter Schools

. August 22, 2014

A new report from the Education Commission of the States (ECS) finds a growing number of states have enacted laws addressing the oversight and performance of charter schools.

While 42 states and the District of Columbia have charter school laws, recently more states are concentrating specifically on the bodies that authorize new charter schools and the role they play, according to the report. For example, 15 states and the District of Columbia have established standards for authorizers, and 11 states and D.C. have set explicit performance thresholds that determine if a particular school’s doors remain open. In Connecticut, where the law allows local and state charters, both must receive State Board of Education approval (CGS § 10-66bb).

The report reviews laws in all 50 states and an accompanying database outlines findings in policy areas including accountability, autonomy, teachers, and finance.

Income Inequality Stunts the Economy’s Growth…

…claim Standard and Poor’s economists (How Increasing Income Inequality is Dampening U.S. Economic Growth, and Possible Ways to Change the Tide). That may not be news to many academic economists who pour over income and demographic figures looking for patterns and trends on how income is distributed throughout society and what it means for the economy.

photo: http://www.dealermarketing.net/files/
economic-recession-or-recovery.jpg
But business economists, like S&P’s, are a different matter. As the New York Times’ Neil Irwin put it:
…the new S&P report is a sign of how worries that income inequality is a factor behind subpar economic growth over the last five years (and really the last 15 years) is going from an idiosyncratic argument made mainly by left-of-center economists to something that even the tribe of business forecasters needs to wrestle with.
After all, business forecasters are paid to advise business officials about what’s around the next bend, including potential changes in people’s spending habits (which also affect tax revenue flows). Those habits figure into S&P’s take on why the economy isn’t kicking into high gear. In summing up S&P’s findings, Irwin wrote:

Because the affluent tend to save more of what they earn rather than spend it, as more and more of the nation’s income goes to people at the top income brackets, there isn’t enough demand for goods and services to maintain strong growth, and attempts to bridge the gap with debt feed a boom-bust cycle of crisis….
photo: Time
Marriner Eccles, a tycoon and former Federal Reserve governor, made a similar case in 1950 when he looked back over his days making money in the 1920s and regulating the nation’s money supply in the 1930s and 1940s. Eccles “understood the economy from the ground up,” wrote Berkeley public policy professor and former Clinton administration labor secretary Robert B. Reich, in Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future (2010). “He saw how average people responded to economic downturns, and how his customers reacted to the deep crisis at hand. He merely connected the dots.” During the Great Depression, Eccles didn’t see how lower prices and interest rates would spur new investment if people didn’t have the money to buy things. According to Reich, Eccles wrote that “[s]uch investments take place in a climate of high prosperity, when the purchasing power of the masses increases their demands more than their bare wants.”

Spotlight on Medicaid Exclusions

. August 21, 2014

With more than half of states expanding their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid is growing in many ways. In contrast, recent articles highlight two places where Medicaid can’t reach: (1) juvenile justice residential facilities and (2) residential addiction treatment in community-based facilities with more than 16 beds.

An issue brief from the Kaiser Family Foundation explains that federal law prohibits the use of federal Medicaid funds to provide services to inmates in public institutions, with certain exceptions, a provision known as the inmate exclusion. The law allows youth already enrolled in Medicaid and entering juvenile justice residential facilities to remain enrolled, but Medicaid generally will not cover the cost of their care while they reside in the facility. The inmate exclusion also applies to adults in correctional facilities.

Federal law also generally prohibits Medicaid from covering care in adult residential mental health treatment facilities with more than 16 beds. This provision is known as the institutions for mental disease exclusion. According to this New York Times article, the law “was intended to prevent Medicaid funds from covering treatment in state psychiatric hospitals, which were far more common when it was written in 1965.” Today, as Medicaid expands to cover more people, this exclusion affects patient intake at larger facilities.

Hot Report: DCF Therapeutic Group Home Clousures

OLR Report 2014-R-0215 answers the question:

On what factors did the Department of Children and Families (DCF) base its decision to close five therapeutic group homes? How many children will be affected? How were the families of those children notified? Where will the children go when the homes close?

In keeping with the department’s goal of reducing reliance on congregate care placement, DCF is in the process of closing five therapeutic group homes and one short term assessment and respite (STAR) home. The department based its decision to close the group homes on several criteria, including geographic need and occupancy rate (see below). The homes have a total licensed bed capacity of 33, but as of August 4, 2014, only 19 of the beds were filled. The homes may remain open until August 31, 2014. The affected children’s families were notified of the closures by the children’s DCF case workers. 

According to DCF, “individual transition plans have been developed by the DCF workers responsible for the 19 children that were placed in these homes. Some of the youth will move to other group homes, some may transition to adult services in [the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services] or [the Department of Developmental Services] and others may return home with community services.”

According to DCF, the (1) closures will save $4.6 million next fiscal year and $5.5 million the year after that and (2) reductions are part of the budget adjustments enacted by the General Assembly during the 2014 session. DCF also notes that the programs are grant funded, which means that they receive funding regardless of census.
For more information, read the full report.

Number of Uninsured in Connecticut Drops

The national Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index shows Connecticut is among the 10 states with the largest reductions in the uninsured rate among adult residents since the federal Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) requirement to have health insurance took effect. The 10 states with the largest reduction in the percentage of uninsured are Arkansas, Kentucky, Delaware, Washington, Colorado, West Virginia, Oregon, California, New Mexico, and Connecticut. According to the Gallup findings, Connecticut’s rate of uninsured residents has dropped by 4.9% from 2013 to midyear 2014. Gallup reports that each of the 10 states both expanded Medicaid and established either a state-based marketplace or state-federal partnership marketplace under the ACA.

Access Health CT, Connecticut’s state health insurance marketplace, similarly announced a significant drop in the number of uninsured residents since the roll out of the ACA, according to the CT Mirror. Kevin Counihan, CEO of Access Health CT, said the state marketplace has enrolled 256,666 residents, of which 138,834 (54%) were previously uninsured.

Regulating Digital Currency

. August 20, 2014

Digital currency, also known as virtual currency, allows people to make purchases and other transfers over the Internet.  Bitcoins are the most widely used form of digital currency.  No state or federal laws specifically govern digital currencies and they are not considered legal tender in any country. A recent article from the Pew Charitable Trusts discusses state and federal attempts to regulate digital currencies.

Following is a list of some of the actions that the article highlights:

  1. New York has proposed regulation for digital currencies that would (a) require compliance with anti-money laundering laws and (b) establish licensure and bonding requirements.
  2. California recently passed legislation allowing the use of alternative currencies, including digital currencies.
  3. The Texas and Kansas banking departments have recently announced that they do not consider digital currencies to be money.
  4. The federal Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has stated that digital currencies are subject to money laundering rules and exchanges must register with FinCEN.
  5. The federal Internal Revenue Service announced that, for tax purposes, bitcoins are property not currency.
  6. The federal Government Accountability Office recommended that the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau participate in inter-agency working groups on virtual currencies.

Applying The "Demand-Based" Pricing Model To Campus Parking

Inside Higher Ed traces campus parking angst back to the 1980s, when UCLA surveyed its students and found that most of them worried more about finding parking than about their academic skills or course workloads.  Colleges and universities are still wrestling with how to quell that anguish.  Since it costs about $18,000 to build a space in the average concrete parking garage, schools are experimenting with more affordable options.

Typically, common campus parking permits are sold for a flat fee.  Permit holders may use them to find open spots located throughout campus.  Several schools are now considering switching to a “demand-based” pricing model, increasing permit prices for high-demand lots and decreasing them for low-demand ones.  

The University of Pennsylvania has adopted this pricing model.  Beginning in 2012, it increased the price of permits by 5% for “prime” garages and by 1 to 3% for distant lots.   As a result, one garage’s wait list disappeared and the other two decreased.  Some people decided that keeping their distant spot and longer walks was worth it compared to a bigger parking bill.

Oregon State University plans to implement demand-based parking prices this fall, and Stanford University will soon attempt the change as well.

Source: publicsafety.tufts.edu

Report: Children with Mental Health Needs Spending More Time in Hospital Emergency Departments

. August 19, 2014

Children with mental health problems are spending more and more time in emergency departments at both the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center (CCMC) and Yale-New Haven Hospital, according to a Connecticut Health Investigative Team (C-HIT) article.

A CCMC report obtained by C-HIT found that over 250 children spent multiple nights in CCMC’s emergency department between January and July of this year, and expects that number to reach 500 by year’s end. If this trend continues,  the report projects that children will spend 3,085 nights in that hospital’s emergency department this year, more than three times the amount of time spent by children in 2010. Yale-New Haven Hospital said it has seen a 10% to 15% increase in such emergency department visits this year, the article stated.

Hospital administrators attributed the increase to a shortage of placements for children who need intensive residential care, as the Department of Children and Families (DCF) emphasizes keeping children with their families, according to the article. Children often end up in the hospital when their parents are unable to cope, hospital administrators said.

A DCF spokeswoman said the sharp rise in emergency department stays is unrelated to the closing of group homes or a shortage of treatment programs, but “mirrors a national trend driven by myriad factors,” including “a national move away from institutional care to family settings.” DCF is looking into the recent increase and considering how children can receive proper services, she stated.

Hot Report: Article V Conventions

OLR Report 2014-R-0192 answers the questions: By what methods do states (including Connecticut) call for an Article V convention? Are there any issues for which an Article V convention is close to being triggered?

Article V of the U.S. Constitution establishes two amendment procedures. The first is for both houses of Congress to pass a proposed amendment by a two-thirds vote. The second is for Congress to call a constitutional convention (i.e., an Article V convention) upon the application of legislatures in two-thirds of the states (a total of 34), during which amendments may be proposed and approved. In both cases, an approved amendment must subsequently be ratified by three-quarters of the states (a total of 38). State ratification is by either the legislature or a state convention; Congress determines the ratification method.

States typically call for an Article V convention through a joint or concurrent resolution passed by both chambers. In Connecticut, the legislature’s joint rules do not specifically address Article V conventions, but the state’s previous Article V applications were by joint resolutions.

With the exception of a federal balanced budget requirement, it appears that there are not any current issues that are close to triggering an Article V convention. Advocates for holding such a convention argue that the balanced budget requirement has met the threshold for triggering a convention, but to date, Congress has not taken any steps toward convening one. During the 20th Century, other issues that came close to triggering an Article V convention included (1) direct election of U.S. senators and (2) state legislative apportionment.

Several questions exist about how an Article V convention would be triggered and operate, partly because (1) the U.S. has never held an Article V convention and (2) the Constitution does not specify a process for holding one. These questions include whether (1) state applications for an Article V convention are valid indefinitely or only for a specified period, (2) a state can rescind its application, (3) the call of the convention would cover the entire Constitution or be limited to a specific issue, and (4) a convention called for a limited purpose could consider issues outside its mandate (i.e., become a “runaway” convention).
For more information, read the full report.

Connecticut Third Best State for Working Women

According to a study reported in the latest issue of The Connecticut Economy, Connecticut is the third best state for working women, behind only Vermont and New York.  The study compared the states based on several variables, including gender pay gap, maternity leave provisions, childcare costs, percentage of women with at least a bachelor’s degree, sexual assault rate, teen birth rate, and proportion of state legislative seats held by women.   Connecticut received particularly high scores for its maternity leave provisions, low teen birth rate, and education levels.  It scored relatively lower when it came to affordable childcare (due to the state’s high cost of living) and legislative representation (Connecticut had a “surprisingly middling” number of female state legislators).

According to the study, the worst three states for working women are Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

Price to Emit a Ton of Carbon Peaks at $5.02

. August 18, 2014

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s (RGGI) most recent quarterly carbon allowance auction set a record high price at $5.02 per allowance, up from $4.00 per allowance in the last auction, according to a New Hampshire Public Radio article.

RGGI is an interstate “cap and trade” program that regulates and reduces CO2 emissions from electric power generators. The nine participating northeast states, which include Connecticut, impose a regional cap on CO2 emissions and then sell emission allowances, each equal to one ton of CO2 emissions, to regulated power plants at RGGI auctions. Plants purchase allowances to demonstrate compliance with each state’s CO2 budget trading program.

According to the article, the price increase may be due to speculation that other states will join RGGI in the wake of proposed new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules that would regulate greenhouse gas emissions from future and existing power plants. States may see participation in a cap and trade program like RGGI as a way to comply with those rules. The National Conference of State Legislatures has more on the rules.

The next RGGI auction is September 3, 2014. For more information on Connecticut’s participation in RGGI, see OLR Report 2013-R-0307 on climate change issues and OLR Report 2013-R-0346 on proposed amendments to RGGI regulations.

“One Stop Shop” for Recall Notices

The federal government maintains an interagency website to inform consumers about product recalls, provide safety information, and enable the public to report dangerous products.

It specifically allows consumers to search for recall information from the following agencies with “vastly different jurisdictions:” Consumer Product Safety Commission, Food and Drug Administration, Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

The website also allows consumers to sign up for e-mail alerts from most of these agencies notifying them directly about new recalls and safety information.

The State of Connecticut and the Pequot Tribe Execute Police Memorandum of Agreement (MOA)

. August 15, 2014

The Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP), the Chief State’s Attorney, and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe have executed a MOA under PA 13-170 authorizing tribal police to exercise police powers, including enforcing Connecticut and federal laws within its boundaries.

In announcing the MOA, DESPP Commissioner Schriror state that, it, “combined with the agreement with the Mohegan Tribal Nation, will enhance safety and security on both reservations and in eastern Connecticut. The addition of POST-certified tribal police officers in the region contributes to the complement of state and local police forces in eastern Connecticut, increasing the presence of sworn personnel in the area, at the ready to respond to any emergency, as needed.”

Hot Report: Gift Tax

OLR Report 2014-R-0211 answers the following questions about the gift tax:

  1. For calendar years 2008-2012, (a) how much revenue did the gift tax generate and (b) how many gift tax returns were filed?
  2. Is Connecticut the only state that imposes a gift tax?
  3. Have any states recently repealed their gift taxes? 
As Table 1 shows, taxpayers filed over 1,900 gift tax returns in calendar years 2008-2012, generating over $354 million.

Table 1: Connecticut Gift Tax, Calendar Years 2008-2012

Calendar Year
Revenue Generated
($-millions)
Number of Returns Filed
2012
$218.4
1,400
2011
65.3
407
2010
24.1
22
2009
24.6
46
2008
21.8
46
Total
354.2
1,921


For more information, including the reason for the significant jumps in 2011 and 2012, along with answers to the other questions, read the full report.

State Laws Address Unauthorized Immigration

A recent article in the Pew Charitable Trust’s Stateline magazine highlights some of the measures state lawmakers have taken to address unauthorized immigration. The measures include allowing unauthorized immigrants to:
  1. pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities,
  2. get driver’s licenses, and
  3. receive welfare or Medicaid benefits.
Citing National Conference of State Legislatures research, the article stated that (1) 16 states now offer in-state tuition rates to unauthorized immigrants and (2) 11 states allow them to get driver’s licenses. Five years ago, only three states allowed these immigrants to get driver’s licenses, the article stated.

The article also highlights recent executive branch actions and court decisions regarding illegal immigrants in California, Florida, New York, and Nevada. Although these actions and decisions are based on state law, they invariably test the jurisdictional boundaries between local, state, and federal governments.

Hartford Reopens Economic Development Contest for Four Days

. August 14, 2014

The “Strong Cities, Strong Communities” (SC2) challenge in Hartford is accepting new teams into the contest from August 14 - August 18. The SC2 challenge is part of a federal initiative launched to “enhance the capacity of local governments to develop and execute their economic vision and strategies.” Currently, in addition to Hartford, two other cities are participating in the initiative: Greensboro, NC and Las Vegas, NV.  Each participating city has launched a competition with a cash prize for the best economic development plan.

The SC2 challenge in Hartford is looking for detailed, feasible, and sustainable economic development plans that will attract, assist, and retain (1) the most likely to succeed first-time and serial entrepreneurs and (2) established companies with significant growth potential.

The competition will take place in two stages. In Phase I, registered teams will create proposals, due September 22, 2014, and a panel of community leaders will review the proposals. In phase II, the finalists will further develop their proposals into actionable plans. Hartford initially opened the contest in March. Cash prizes total $900,000.

Trend Toward Criminalizing Homelessness

A recent report  from an organization advocating for homeless people, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, notes that municipal codes are increasingly criminalizing activities that homeless individuals engage in out of necessity.  The center’s survey of almost 200 cities revealed that:

  • 43% prohibit sleeping in vehicles,
  • 35% impose city-wide bans on camping in public,
  • 33% impose city-wide bans on loitering in public,
  • 24% impose city-wide bans on begging in public,
  • 18% impose city-wide bans on sleeping in public, and
  • 9% prohibit individuals and organizations from sharing food with homeless individuals.
The chart below shows how these numbers have changed in the last few years. 



Source: No Safe Place
The report discusses the implications of these statistics and suggests policy alternatives.

An article on National Public Radio discusses the issue and the report.

Voting Equipment Nears End of Useful Life

In the wake of the 2000 election, Congress enacted the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) which, among other things, set new standards for voting equipment. As part of the act, the federal government provided more than $3 billion in funding for local jurisdictions to upgrade their voting equipment.

But according to a recent article in Governing, much of that equipment is nearing the end of its useful life and purchasing new equipment, which the article states could cost some jurisdictions millions of dollars, will be a significant challenge. The article also states that there is currently a shortage in available replacement equipment, noting that voting technology standards have not been updated since 2005, which makes vendors hesitant to introduce new products.

Mosquito Tests Positive for West Nile Virus

. August 13, 2014

On July 22, 2014, the Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station and the Department of Public Health (DPH) confirmed that a mosquito tested positive for West Nile virus in Connecticut, according to the Hartford Courant.  This is the first detection of West Nile in the state this year, out of 144,000 mosquitoes caught and tested so far.   DPH issued a reminder to residents that they can reduce their risk of mosquito bites by:

  • minimizing time outdoors between dusk and dawn;
  • making sure door and window screens are tight fitting and in good repair;
  • wearing shoes, socks, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts when outdoors for long periods or when mosquitoes are most active; and
  • using mosquito repellent when outdoors.
 

Hot Report: Housing Units Supported by the Department of Housing

OLR Report 2014-R-0194 answers the following questions: How many programs does the Department of Housing (DOH) fund or administer that provide, rehabilitate, or create short- or long-term emergency, supportive, or affordable housing?  How many beds or units do these programs support?  Where are they located? 

Other OLR Reports list residential housing programs operated by or under contract with other state agencies: 
  1. 2014-R-0078 (departments of Developmental Services, Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS), and Children and Families (DCF) operated or funded group homes).
  2. 2014-R-0195 (Nursing homes receiving funds from the Department of Social Services (DSS)).
  3. 2014-R-0197 (Department of Corrections and Judicial Branch residential programs).
DOH funds or administers numerous programs providing, rehabilitating, or creating short- or long-term emergency, supportive, or affordable housing.  DOH provided our office with information on 12 of these programs.  They are the:
  1. Assisted Living Demonstration Program (363 units);
  2. Congregate Housing Program (985);
  3. Elderly Rental Assistance Program (1,376 units);
  4. Emergency Shelter Program (1,720 beds);
  5. Housing Opportunities for Persons with HIV/AIDS Program (298 dormitory-style beds and 215 units, including 3 houses);
  6. Moderate Rental Payment In Lieu Of Taxes Program (3,590 units);
  7. Privately Owned Rental Housing Tax Abatement Program (6,268 units);
  8. Rental Assistance Program (houses 4,032 individuals);
  9. Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program (houses 7,451 individuals);
  10. Section 8 New Construction/Substantial Rehabilitation Program (798 units);
  11. State-Assisted Supportive Housing Program (1,178 units); and
  12. Transitional Living Program (517 beds and 6 units).
In many cases, DOH is just one of many funding sources for these programs.  For example, (1) the Supportive Housing Program is supported by DOH, DCF, DMHAS, DSS, and the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, among other entities and (2) DOH gives grants under the Housing Opportunities for Persons with HIV/AIDS Program using both federal and state money.
 
DOH also provided information on housing construction and rehabilitation projects receiving funding under various DOH programs that were contracted for on or after January 1, 2011.  Since January 1, 2011, at least 1,175 new housing units have been built with such funding and at least 7,419 additional units either are under construction or received funding commitments.
For more information, read the full report.

VA Program Aims to Help Veteran ID Theft Victims

A new U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) program called More Than a Number aims to help veterans who are identity theft victims.  The program’s website includes pages on how to tell if you have been victimized and what to do after your identity has been stolen.

The program also offers suggestions to prevent identity theft.  “Small changes can have big consequences,” Steph Warren, VA’s chief information officer said in a press release about the program. “Little things like shredding banking statements before throwing them away or using strong and unique passwords for all of your accounts can make a significant difference in protecting your identity from thieves who may try to use your personal information.”

The program also has a toll-free hotline — 1-855-578-5492 — that veterans can call with questions and concerns about identity theft Monday through Friday, 8 am to 8 pm Eastern.

A New Study on Why Students Leave High School: Don’t Call Them Dropouts

. August 12, 2014

A new study shines light on what students say causes them to drop out of high school and indicates the primary reasons are significant problems the students face, often outside of school. The study, Don’t Call Them Dropouts: Understanding the Experiences of Young People Who Leave High School Before Graduation, asserts that it is a mistake to assume young people leave school because they are lazy and unmotivated.

America’s Promise Alliance and the Center for Promise at Tufts University issued the report in June. Center researchers conducted in-depth group interviews in 30 cities with 200 young people ages 18-25 and surveyed several thousand more for the study.

The problems students cite are often a cluster of issues taking place at the same time that may include family health crises, dangerous neighborhoods, unstable home lives, homelessness, and abuse. These factors can be aggravated by the students’ yearning to belong somewhere.  If school is not supportive or inviting, some students view other options, like joining a gang or having a child at a young age, as more attractive.

“Young people who don’t finish high school have few avenues for sharing their stories with adults, school professionals, community leaders, and policy makers,” the report’s authors write. “The goal of this report is to change that – to raise up the voices of young people who have not graduated from high school so that we all gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and choices they face.”
 
Roughly 20% of the nation’s high school students drop out of school, according to the report. That represents about 800,000 students a year.
 
The report’s survey shows that of those who leave school:
  • 53.1% lost someone close to them,
  • 42.6% were a regular caregiver to a family member,
  • 36.9% used drugs,
  • 30% were emotionally or physically abused,
  • 21.9% experienced homelessness,
  • 18% were incarcerated in a juvenile detention facility, and
  • 11% were in a gang.
These responses were all well above the levels of those who continuously attended school, according to the survey. For example, 39.8% of the dropouts said they had moved four or more times, compared to 19.7% of the graduates.
 
The report also includes recommendations to address this problem, including making greater efforts to identify students who need extra support and then providing those supports.

A Few Days Left to Apply for Department of Housing’s RAP and Section 8 Waiting Lists

The Department of Housing (DOH) recently announced that on August 4, 2014 it would open the waiting lists for its Rental Assistance Program (RAP) and the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program.  The lists had been closed since 2007, making their opening significant. According to the announcement, DOH is accepting applications from August 4 through the 18 and will choose, by lottery, 3,000 applications for the RAP waiting list and 5,000 applications for the Section 8 HCV Program waiting list.

RAP and the Section 8 HCV Program are Connecticut’s two main rent subsidy programs that help low-income families rent privately-owned housing. RAP is state funded and HCV is federally funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

To Some Insurance Companies, Scooters are Just Like Cars

. August 11, 2014

A case in Michigan may affect thousands of people who use personal motorized scooters. A man using a personal motorized scooter was hit in a crosswalk by an automobile driver, but the driver’s insurance company is refusing to pay, according to a story in Bloomberg Businessweek. The insurance company contends the man on the scooter was required to have no-fault auto insurance and because he didn’t, the insurance company doesn’t have to pay damages.

According to an article in the Macomb Daily, the insurance company claimed the “[p]laintiff’s mobility scooter was a motor vehicle because it was operated on a public highway by a power other than muscular and it has four wheels.”

However, according to attorneys interviewed for the Bloomberg article, it appears that insurance companies in Michigan and other states do not offer auto insurance for personal motorized scooters.