Dining to Make a Difference

Sometimes, dining out can make a difference, and not just because a restaurant is offering to give a certain percentage of its profits to charity. Zest 280, a lunch-only, mission-based restaurant in West Hartford, has teamed up with Hartford-based Community Partners in Action on a Culinary Training Collaborative, which helps prepare former prisoners for careers in the culinary arts and hospitality fields. Not 5% or 10%, but 100% of Zest 280’s profits go back into the training program, and in June 26% of sales go the program.

Participants in the program spend ten paid weeks in structured, on-the-job culinary training while working at Zest 280. Trainees gain experience in both the back and front operations of the restaurant.

Besides having lunch at Zest 280, you can support the program by donating to the “Run Louis Run” fundraiser. Louis Lista, owner of Zest 280, is running his sixth marathon this fall to raise an additional $60,000 for the Culinary Training Program.

There is also a culinary pre-training program at Hartford’s Billings Forge Community Works, which is looking for volunteers for its farmers’ market, youth and community based programs, and fundraising events.

Religion and Environmental Stewardship

Green Houses of Worship is an environmental stewardship program sponsored by Connecticut’s Interreligious Eco-Justice Network (IREJN). It grants certificates of achievement for implementing eco-friendly measures in a congregation’s building and within the congregation. It’s a great way to raise the consciousness, and provide guidance, to a large number of people all at once and on an ongoing basis.

The program rewards three levels of achievement. Each congregation must take twelve of the steps in any level in order to be recognized. The steps include reducing hot water temperature to 120 degrees; developing a course of study based on the religion’s sacred texts, highlighting the importance of stewardship of the earth; adding “green” elements to youth group curriculums; running a weatherization campaign for individual homes through the Home Energy Solutions program at Energize CT; and showing environmental movies and inviting environmentally-oriented speakers. These steps are all in Level 1. IREJN can recommend financing for those steps that require financial expenditure, whether through its ally the Connecticut Green Bank or otherwise.

The program is young. Only five congregations have received certificates of acheivement:

Unitarian Universalist Manchester–Level 3
Unitarian Universalist Hartford–Level 2
St. John’s Episcopal Vernon–Level 2
United Church of Christ Goshen–Level 2
United Church of Christ Lebanon–Level 1

IREJN also has volunteer opportunities relating to its 5th Annual Climate and Creation Stewardship Summit on Saturday, October 28, 2017 from 9:30 am – 4:30 pm at Spring Glen Church in Hamden.The focus of this year’s Summit is on water.

IREJN is currently seeking members for the summit’s Steering Committee. The committee meets (usually via conference call) every other week for 90 minutes. In the fall, it meets every week. Right now, the Steering Committee is putting together the program and securing sponsorships. Steering Committee members also help with outreach and marketing, as well as volunteer the day of the event. You don’t have to be religious, but IREJN does ask that everyone show respect for the various faith traditions.

The United Church of Christ (UCC) in Connecticut has a nice page of recommendations for environmental action by individuals, clergy, and congregations. These range from an Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast and congregations divesting from fossil fuel stocks to reducing individuals’ carbon footprints and becoming a Green House of Worship.

The UCC’s Northeast Environmental Justice Center holds an annual Environmental Justice For All! Retreat, which takes place at the Silver Lake Conference Center in Sharon (this year’s was in May). After three years focused on youth from communities of color — because communities of color bear a disproportionate burden from industry and government decisions regarding policies that, intentionally or not, negatively impact access to clean air and water — the retreat is now open to all high-school youth. It provides the opportunity for youth to engage in and even lead conversation and expand their knowledge of issues affecting vulnerable communities locally and around the world, and to grow into leaders on environmental justice issues. Click here to read an article about last month’s summit.





March for Justice for the Formerly Incarcerated in Hartford Tomorrow

Tomorrow afternoon (that is, Wednesday, June 14), the CT State Conference of NAACP Branches is holding a March for Justice in Hartford. The march is in support of the formerly incarcerated for jobs, housing, pardons, youth at risk, foster care and a real 1st & 2nd chance.

Setup begins at 3:00 p.m. The march begins at 5:00 p.m. (Rain or Shine)

The march starts at The Legislative Office Building, 300 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, CT
The march ends at Capitol Community College, 950 Main Street, Hartford, CT
The distance is about one mile.

Two buses are available: 1 p.m. from the Elks, 87 Webster St., New Haven, and 12:30 p.m. from Mount Aery Church, 73 Frank St., Bridgeport

For More Info, call 860.523.9962. The Facebook page for the march is here.

Racial Equity at the Municipal Level

There’s a new movement for fostering racial equity at the municipal level, including local governments, universities, and community institutions. The movement is being led by the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), a joint project of the Center for Social Inclusion in NYC and the Haas Institute for a Fair  & Inclusive Society at the University of California, Berkeley. Last month, GARE teamed up with the National League of Cities’ Race, Equity, And Leadership (REAL) initiative (REAL focuses on elected officials, while GARE focuses on appointed officials and government employees). This gives GARE more resources, more legitimacy, and more direct connections with local governments.

Municipalities, regional governments, and independent authorities can become members of GARE. They benefit from the resources produced by GARE, as well as from ongoing communications and conferences, the sharing of ideas and experiences.

So far, the only GARE members in New England are Boston and Brookline, MA. In a state with so many racial equity issues, the cities of CT would benefit from membership. Perhaps, even moreso, this work could be done at the level of the council of governments (COG), since inequities are greatest within urban-suburban areas.

One of the most important precedents for what GARE is doing is Seattle’s 2005 Race and Social Justice Initiative. Seattle appears to be the first city to employ a Racial Equity Toolkit like the one on GARE’s website. But this approach is also working in smaller cities, such as Bloomington, MN and Grand Rapids, MI.

The Five Connecticuts: A New Report

A new report from the CT Association for Human Services, entitled “Race Equity in the Five Connecticuts: A Kids Count Special Report,” by Emmanuel Adero and Sheryl Horowitz, shows the levels of inequality in the various types of CT municipality:  the wealthy, the rural, the suburban, the urban periphery, and the urban core.

Although CT continues to do well overall in the annual Annie E. Casey Foundation’s National Kids Count Data Book, and minorities here do better than those in most other states, this report shows the various kinds of inequality that persist, and how the level of inequality depends on the type of area in which children grow up.

May Day Events

New Haven – A coalition of groups are sponsoring a general strike, and a rally and march starting at the New Haven Green on May Day, Monday, May 1. The strike, including school and business as usual, is intended “to demonstrate the economic power of immigrants, women, Muslims, LGBTQ folks, Native Americans, the African American community, workers, and every other marginalized group that is currently under attack by the Trump administration.” The rally is from 12:00 – 5:00, followed by a march through New Haven at 5 pm. Individuals and businesses that want to participate may contact the coalition’s planning committee at maydaynewhaven2017@gmail.com. The coalition members are Immigrant Bail Fund, SURJ New Haven, CIRA, JUNTA for Progressive Action, Answer CT, MEChA de Yale, Unidad Latina en Acción, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, Middle East Crisis Committee (MECC), and the IWW.

Bridgeport – A coalition of groups are sponsoring a Sanctuary City March. Meeting at 4:00 pm at the McLevy Green, participants will march to City Hall (45 Lyon Terrace), where there will be a City Council meeting. The Council is expected to consider the Sanctuary City Resolution. If they do not, participants will be there to hold them accountable. The coalition members are CTCORE-Organize Now!, CT Students for a Dream, Make the Road CT, CT Working Families Party, Latino Advocacy Foundation of Fairfield County, Better Bridgeport, CIRA, and SEIU 32BJ.

Danbury – A coalition of groups are sponsoring a No Hate in the Hat City rally and march for immigrant rights and worker rights to close ‘A Day Without Immigrants in Solidarity with All Workers.’ Participants will gather at 4:00 pm at the Hispanic Center of Greater Danbury, 4 Harmony Street. The march will begin at 4:30, down West St, then down Main Street. The coalition members are CIRA, CT Students for a Dream, Women’s March CT-We March On, UAW Region 9A, Danbury Area Justice Network, The Hispanic Center of Greater Danbury, and AFT CT.

The State Budget

Progressives can make a real difference with respect to the Connecticut state budget, because everything is up for grabs right now, and no one is particularly happy with the budget put forth by Gov. Malloy. We can lobby our representatives and organize protests, petitions, resolutions by local party committees and other organization, and testimony on both sides of the budget, revenues and expenditures. It’s going to be a long fight, well into the summer, so now is the time to start understanding the issues, setting priorities, and organizing.

However, the issues are many and they are complicated. And sometimes it’s not clear where progressives should stand, especially in areas that affect government employee unions.

The best place to start is by insisting that an austerity budget (expenditure cuts) is neither good nor appropriate for Connecticut. Part of making this argument is criticizing and replacing the effective Republican narrative that Connecticut is an economic mess, that people and businesses are leaving (GE, the example most often given, didn’t leave; Boston paid it to build a new headquarters there) because taxes are too high (the top 5% of CT taxpayers pay a lower effective tax rate than the other 95%; see page 4 of CT Voices for Children’s Revenue Options brief; in addition, according to a Dec. 2016 report by Ernst & Young LLP, CT had America’s lowest total effective business tax rate (TEBTR), an absolute measure that captures business tax rates as a share of the overall economy).

Despite what the Republicans say, Connecticut’s economy is not in terrible shape (see an April 2017 report from three Central CT State Univ. professors, commissioned by the AFL-CIO, which tells a very different story about the state’s economy and taxes). What is terrible is the inequality of our educational and health systems, as well as our regressive taxes, including sales and property taxes and fees; even our progressive income tax isn’t progressive at the highest income levels.

A progressive narrative is that Connecticut has many advantages to offset its being expensive (that’s a Northeastern problem, not a specifically CT problem), and that we can afford to be fair, in both taxes and spending, rather than unnecessarily thrifty.

CT Voices for Children calls for a balanced budget approach (see its Revenue Options brief). On the revenue side, this means the following increases:  (1) modernizing the sales tax by applying it to services and more online transactions (by far the largest tax increase it recommends, it is less regressive than the sales tax on goods, because poor people don’t buy many services); (2) strengthening the corporate income tax, especially by getting rid of tax breaks; (3) reforming wealth and income taxes by increasing income tax for top earners (to make their effective tax rate closer to the average CT resident), increasing the tax rate on dividends and capital gains, and entering a joint regional compact to close the carried interest loophole, and (4) supporting a low-wage fee on employers and a tax on sweetened beverages (although this latter tax would be seriously regressive; it’s about personal health not economic health).

The Malloy budget proposal would put 40% of the burden of revenue increases on the poor and middle class. The largest burden on the middle class would be the elimination of the property tax credit on state income tax returns. The largest burden on the poor would be the reduction in the state Earned Income Tax Credit, an important credit for the working poor. An increase in the cigarette tax would affect both groups.

Gov. Malloy (but not the Democrats in the legislature) wants to make municipalities pay for 1/3 of the amount going into the teachers’ pension funds. An important argument for this is that school districts bargain for the salaries that pensions are based on, but don’t have to pay for the pensions. This situation creates an inappropriate incentive. On the other hand, municipalities are dependent on regressive property taxes and have trouble raising their mill rates. One solution is to let municipalities have a small add-on to sales tax, but this is also a regressive tax. Another alternative is CT Voices for Children’s proposed statewide property tax system to ensure a more fair and stable tax base for education.

With respect to expenditures, proposed cuts across agencies seems fair at first glance, but the burden once again falls more on the poor (and on state employees) than on others.

For some good maps and graphs concerning the CT budget, see this CT Voices page. For those who like to read in-depth analyses, check out the Office of Fiscal Analysis’ Feb. 2016 Tax Expenditure Report.