Connecticut budget should protect the needs of the poor

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The state Capitol dome seen from the lobby of the Legislative Office Building.

Just two blocks from the Connecticut Capitol I lead prayer at the Muhammad Islamic Center of Greater Hartford.  In five minutes I can walk from my mosque to the chambers where our elected leaders debate the state budget, but the world looks very different from here.

The door of the mosque is usually open. Everyone is welcome and people from the neighborhood often come in.  They come after their appointments across the street at the Charter Oak Health Center, where more than 70 percent of the patients live below the federal poverty level and more than 10 percent of the patients are homeless.

They come from the Immaculate Conception homeless shelter right next door, a shelter of last resort. They come from the Frog Hollow neighborhood around us, where 53 percent of people, and a shocking 63 percent of children, live below the federal poverty level, where nearly a quarter of workers are unemployed, and where the mean household income is $32,512.

The budget passed by the Appropriations and Finance Committees means the difference between life or death in this neighborhood, primarily by asking a little more of the tiny percentage of Connecticut’s wealthiest residents and largest corporations whose incomes have been soaring.

The cuts initially proposed for the state budget would severely impact our neighborhood. The shelter will overflow, the clinic will lose more battles with what should be preventable illness, and more babies will not make it to their first birthday. (Already infant mortality here is more than double the state level.)

I welcome elected leaders to come down the street to see the impact of their decisions.

One of the five pillars of Islam is Zakat, a requirement that every Muslim share with the poor and needy in our community. Every Friday someone who has come to pray asks for help. Sometimes it is a hospital bill they can’t possibly pay.  Sometimes it is a foreclosure notice. Sometimes it is a fuel oil bill. We sometimes provide meals on Friday.  We ask for payment for the meals but we don’t refuse a meal to those who can’t pay.

We pool our resources at the mosque and, when possible, we respond to the requests for help. In this way we try to ensure that everyone survives.

I feel certain that Connecticut residents in the highest income brackets – who right now pay at a percentage so much lower in state and local taxes than working and middle class families do —  want to ensure that everyone survives. They want their taxes to support a safety net that helps folks in Frog Hollow hold on. And they want folks to do more than just hold on.

By getting Connecticut’s large employers to provide the sort of jobs that help families meet their basic needs without assistance from the state, we can transform places like Frog Hollow.

Those whose incomes continue to grow understand that when poor and working class people fall farther behind, it soon imposes much higher costs on the state, the costs of failed education, health care, and public safety.  We need the budget made at the Capitol to create opportunity for the people who live in its glorious shadow, and thereby improve the quality of life for everyone in Connecticut.

Imam Abdul-Karim sits on the steering committee of Better Choices for Connecticut, a statewide coalition working to help lawmakers make smarter decisions about the state’s imbalanced revenue system.

What do you think?

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