Christine Cohen

State Senator

Christine Cohen

Deputy President Pro Tempore

Listening, Advocating & Getting Results

February 9, 2023


HARTFORD – State Senator Christine Cohen (D-Guilford) voted with her colleagues today to fund free student breakfasts and lunches through the end of the current school year for half a million Connecticut students, and to continue for another five years Connecticut’s tough budget safeguards that have allowed our state to build up its largest budget reserve ever while putting billions of dollars toward old, unfunded pension debt.

“I’m so happy that we’re able to keep funding free student meals for the remainder of the school year. This was a wildly popular program during the two years of the pandemic, and I think it also had the ancillary effect of reducing some of the embarrassment that some students may feel in getting a free or reduced-price meal,” Sen. Cohen said. “I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to afford to fund more programs like this in the coming budget, in part because of the fiscal restraint that we’ve exhibited over the past half-decade and which I’ve pledged to continue for at least the next half-decade. Connecticut is in a far, far different fiscal place today than we were just five years ago, and today we renewed our commitment to protecting taxpayer funds.”

Free Meals

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government extended its free and reduced-price meals policy to all 50 million public school students nationwide – including those in Connecticut. But, like many federal grants tied to the pandemic, that funding was for a limited time only. The federal funding for free school meals for everyone expired on September 30, 2022, although last spring Democrats set aside $30 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act and out it in the state budget to continue providing free school breakfast and lunch to Connecticut students through December 31, 2022.

Now, those funds have run dry. Today’s vote moves $60 million from the Invest CT program and into the Free Meals for Students program to provide free school meals through the end of the current school year, usually around mid-to-late June. Free meals will be provided to more than 500,000 students in all 169 towns.

Budget Safeguards

The senator also voted today to continue the Democrat-led financial restraints that were first put in place in 2017.

Today’s bill will:

  • Continue those 2017 fiscal constraints for at least another five years, until July 1, 2028, and potentially for another five years after that until July 1, 2033
  • Raise the maximum amount of Connecticut’s Budget Reserve Fund – also known as our “Rainy Day Fund” – from 15% of budgetary expenditures to 18% of expenditures – essentially raising Connecticut’s financial cushion from its current $3.3 billion to about $4 billion. Right now, when our budget reserve fund exceeds 15%, any excess state revenues are used to pay off old pension debt. Under the new plan, once the budget reserve fund exceeds 18%, all excess revenue above that will go toward paying off Connecticut’s 70 years of legacy pension debt
  • Provide additional funding to school-based health centers
  • Maintain Connecticut’s current “Revenue Cap” at spending just 98.75% of all funds, instead of continuing with a planned phase-out to 98%. That means that the legislature can only continue to spend 98.75% of all the projected revenue coming into state coffers
  • Change the Bond Allocation Cap base from $2.1 billion to $2.4 billion, meaning that the maximum amount of state bonding (long-term borrowing) that the State Bond Commission can potentially approve in any given calendar year will increase from the current $2.1 billion (adjusted for inflation) to $2.4 billion (adjusted for inflation in subsequent years). Due to Connecticut’s recent budgetary restraint, our state bond ratings increased in 2021 for the first time since 2001, saving taxpayers millions of dollars in annual higher interest costs
  • •Change the Bond Issuance Cap – the amount of state bonds that the state treasurer can sell in any given year – from $1.9 billion to $2.4 billion