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Regional social justice coalition launches in Greater Hartford with education, housing campaigns

By Rebecca Lurye

Hartford Courant |

Oct 29, 2019 | 6:00 AM

A coalition of community organizers and faith leaders launched a series of social justice campaigns Monday, asking elected officials from across the Greater Hartford region to help them dismantle racism in schools, end a state practice of treating welfare benefits like lifelong loans, and bring a charitable pharmacy to the capital city.

The newly founded Greater Hartford Interfaith Action Alliance is the culmination of three years’ of organizing by 35 religious congregations and the Center for Leadership and Justice, a Hartford-based nonprofit formerly called the Christian Activities Council. Area churches, synagogues and mosques held more than 85 listening sessions with more than 1,000 people to understand their members’ hardships and concerns, then worked with staff to distill those issues into four campaigns.

The alliance announced the projects Monday evening at an assembly at Central Connecticut State University, attended by several area mayors, state General Assembly members, and school superintendents.

In the area of education, the alliance is asking school districts in the region to start requiring anti-racism training for all adults who come into contact with students. The alliance wants districts to commit to creating implementation plans by August 2020. “I think it will take money and I think it will take time, but I think committing to dismantling racism in our school systems is absolutely worth investing time

and money,” said Rev. Kari Nicewander, senior minister at Immanuel Congregational Church in Hartford, and co-chair of the alliance’s education committee. “If we really want to create a community and country where all people have access to resources, the first step has to be dismantling racism.”

In the area of housing, the alliance is asking lawmakers to repeal a state law that allows the Department of Social Services to seek repayment of most forms of state welfare, including cash assistance for working parents and some HUSKY Health benefits.

Per state law, DSS may label welfare benefits as debt and try to collect by placing a lien on someone’s home or estate or suing them for the proceeds of a lawsuit settlement. Connecticut collects more than $30 million a year in welfare liens, according to Mackey, who said the alliance is still trying to determine how much the state spends going after those recoveries.

“The question is, is that money worth keeping people from ever climbing the economic ladder,” she said Monday. This little-known practice has been ended in every state but Connecticut and New York.

The alliance also plans to push for the passage of “clean slate” legislation, which would automatically expunge a person’s criminal record three to five years after they complete their sentence. Several state lawmakers proposed bills in the last General Session, but they never made it to a vote.

In the area of healthcare, the alliance is working to draft a law that would allow reclaimed medications to be distributed to patients in need.

Most U.S. states already allow some unused medications, like those collected from nursing homes, to be turned over to charity pharmacies and dispensed to uninsured or under-insured patients.

The alliance is looking for Hartford-area entities interested in operating a charity pharmacy. The facility could open under current state laws by using an existing pharmacy service in Georgia that provides unclaimed medications for the cost of shipping.

Rev. Tracy Johnson Russell, rector at St. Monica’s Episcopal Church in Hartford, said members of her aging congregation have talked of going without food in order to pay for expensive prescriptions.

“I would say at least of my congregation would benefit from this particular initiative,” she said.

Rebecca Lurye can be reached at rlurye@courant.com. Click HERE for the actual article on Hartford Courant’s site.

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