Connecticut legislators will convene a special session on Wednesday to address an extension of Gov. Ned Lamont’s emergency powers. Connecticut and Rhode Island are the only states in the Northeast that have yet to lift emergency orders, while 27 states still have emergency declarations in place. Lamont has requested an extension of public health and civil preparedness emergencies until September 30.
Lamont first declared a state of emergency in respond to the pandemic on March 10, 2020. The order allows the governor sweeping powers to address COVID-19, and some of those orders — like relaxing rules for outdoor dining and reimbursing medical providers for telehealth visits — were codified by the legislature earlier this year.
In a letter to legislative leaders, Lamont highlighted how many of his executive orders have either been codified into law or are no longer necessary.
“Our success at reducing infections, increasing healthcare access, and providing both fiscal relief and operational flexibility have made it possible to reduce from a high of more than 300 active executive orders at the height of the pandemic to only about 11 that I propose to extend – a reduction of 96 percent,” Lamont wrote.
The remaining 11 include executive orders that allow the Departments of Education and Early Childhood Development the power to set COVID safety policies in schools and give tenants additional time to pay rent or access federal funding in the wake of the removal of Connecticut’s eviction moratorium last month.
State officials say the emergency declarations also allow Connecticut access to federal funding for housing and food assistance.
“Connecticut would lose approximately $33 million in SNAP extra/emergency benefits monthly going forward if the public health emergency expires on July 21,” explained David Dearborn, communications director for the Department of Social Services, in an email. “While this extra food aid goes directly to all SNAP-eligible households on their electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards for purchase of federally-approved food items, it’s also worth noting that this funding (like the regular SNAP benefits) also benefits Connecticut’s food economy—business and employment at supermarkets, groceries, neighborhood markets and farmers’ markets.”
To date, the state has received more than $7 million in aid from FEMA to cover the cost of housing the homeless in hotels. Connecticut families have also received an additional $340 million in supplementary SNAP benefits. Both of these funding sources are contingent on declared states of emergency, said Lamont.
On Monday, as hundreds of demonstrators gathered at the State Capitol, a number of speakers from the north steps questioned the extent to which Connecticut still faces a true emergency from the waning pandemic, with less than 40 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state and daily test positivity rates of less than one percent.
“The emergency is over,” said State Rep Mark Anderson, R-Granby, who said the pandemic had “been tamed.”
State Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, called the proposal unconstitutional and questioned why the General Assembly would cede power to the executive.
“The emergency that is being put forth is merely a fallacy,” Fishbein said. “It’s irresponsible for any legislature to vote for this extension.”
Carol Platt Liebau, president of the Yankee Institute, said that after more than a year of masks and lockdowns, Connecticut residents should no longer be beholden to emergency directives from the governor.
“When there was an emergency, we allowed the Governor to govern without the legislature. And the people of Connecticut locked down when we were told to do it,” Liebau said. “We lived up to our end of the deal, and it’s time for our politicians to live up to theirs.”