Joined by the chairs of Senate Education and Children committee, PPT Looney and Majority Leader Duff unveil plans to improve youth access to mental and physical health services as well as plans to create universal Pre-K in the long term.
Courtesy of Senator Martin Looney’s office
The first two proposed bills of the 2022 state legislative session will tackle health in schools, diversity in the classroom and the feasibility of universal Pre-K.
A report recently published by the Connecticut Department of Public Health identified 157 Connecticut schools that need help dealing with mental health crises in their schools as well as a 43 percent increase in visits to state-funded clinics during the 2020-21 school year. In response, Senate Democrats unveiled SB 1, “An Act Concerning Childhood Mental and Physical Health Services in Schools,” and SB 2, “An Act Expanding Preschool and Mental and Behavioral Services for Children.” SB 1 focuses on improving mental health resource access for students, while SB 2 focuses on filling in gaps in Connecticut’s child care system.
“We’re here today with the members of our Senate Democratic Caucus to begin to lay out our policy agenda for the 2022 session,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Looney (D-New Haven). “Our priorities will support youth mental health, increase health services in schools and expand preschool operations and opportunities as well. We owe it to the next generation of Connecticut to make sure that we respond to that by providing essential services for mental health and especially for young people and ensure that sufficient resources are available in schools as well.”
According to Senator Doug McCrory, chair of the Education Committee, one of the most important elements of SB 1 is that it rolls back certain regulations and standards within the state that make it difficult for social workers to work in schools. Currently, to work in schools, social workers need to fill out additional forms and get extra certifications, which can prove cumbersome for individuals who wish to work in the education system.
Looney added that currently, mental health services like therapy are inaccessible to many people in the state, because mental health service providers have stopped accepting health insurance including Medicaid since reimbursement rates for services are a fraction of the actual cost.
“It is becoming an issue of economic class, because there are affluent people who can afford to pay $250 or $350 every single week for therapy,” Looney said. “Most people cannot, so many people are going without care just because they cannot afford care and they can’t find in many cases a therapist who takes insurance and even if they do find one, they may be paying a lot in terms of copays, because the insurance is so inadequate to what the going rate of care is.”
Through these bills, Senate Democrats hope to alleviate these issues and craft future plans to lower the prices of mental health care.
SB 1 will also work to increase access to Narcan — a treatment for opioid use — in schools across the state in order to ensure they have the resources to combat drug abuse. Democrats are planning to include scholarships in the bill to incentivize more people to become teachers. According to McCrory, less than one percent of all teachers of the state are men of color. The Democrats want to increase the number of minority teachers in the state. Moreover, Democrats are calling for an increase in funding for special education programs across the state. According to Looney, many districts in Connecticut have been unable to provide an adequate education to students with special needs because the district doesn’t have the money.
McCrory told the News that school districts often pay four times the amount per pupil to support students who require special education compared to students who do not. SB 1 aims to help districts alleviate these costs through increased reimbursement from the state.
SB 2 to focus on childcare funding, worker shortage and the future of Universal Pre-K
“SB 2 is going to be so critical at this time,” said Senator Saud Anwar, chair of the Senate Children’s Committee. “One of the building blocks of our society and the economy of our society is an appropriate level of childcare, and literally our children across the state who need early childcare are in a very difficult situation.”
According to Anwar, one of the major issues that the state’s childcare system is facing right now is a staffing shortage. One of the main reasons behind this is that many childcare workers do not receive healthcare coverage in their jobs.
SB 2 hopes to solve this issue through exploring avenues to provide healthcare to childcare providers while also creating tax breaks for workers on a municipal level.
According to McCrory, Universal Pre-K is a long term goal for Connecticut and SB 2 is laying the foundation to achieve it. SB 2 includes money for research and studies to fully understand the infrastructure and funding mechanisms necessary to implement Universal Pre-K in the state.
Another issue addressed in SB 2 is juvenile justice and dealing with youth crime across the state.
“There’s going to be a lot of conversation about juvenile justice, but the reality is that diversion programs work,” said Anwar. “Some of the troubled youth can actually get opportunities and are 45 percent less likely [to commit] another wrong activity by a child if they go to a diversion program … They also need therapists, teletherapy and vocational training opportunities.”
Anwar noted that community health workers have picked up a lot of the slack in communities where there is a lack of mental and behavioral health services. Part of the solution, according to Anwar, is to “help the community health workers [so that they] can expand into [the] behavioral health arena by training and expanding the community health programs and the number of community health workers.”
While both bills focus on improving accessibility in schools, Anwar added that he believed the bills were also an important vehicle for improving funding and access to mobile crisis centers that deal with mental and physical health problems in communities.
According to Duff, these bills are top priorities for the Senate and have thus accordingly been named the first and second bills of the 2022 legislative session.
The initiative was announced on the South steps of the State Capitol, 210 Capitol Ave, Hartford, CT.