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    Monday, June 24, 2024

    A demand for help for our hard-hit region

    In a remarkable show of bipartisan unity, the state lawmakers representing southeastern Connecticut sent an urgent and necessary plea to Gov. Ned Lamont that his administration give the same attention to the economic damage being inflicted on our region as he did the health threat that hit harder elsewhere.

    The May 13 letter to the governor signed by 13 local lawmakers cries out that “southeastern Connecticut needs your immediate attention, particularly as it relates to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun and the entertainment and tourism that support our regional economy.”

    To emphasize just how bad this region is suffering, accompanying the letter was a map, based on state Department of Labor statistics, showing new unemployment claims — since the COVID-19 shutdown began March 8 — as a percentage of town labor forces. What it reveals is a swath of communities, clustered in our region, suddenly and dramatically hit with extraordinarily high unemployment.

    Included in the cluster of towns that have seen new unemployment representing between 17.7% and 36.1% of their workforces are New London, Norwich, Groton, Waterford, East Lyme, Ledyard, Montville, Salem, Preston, Lisbon, Griswold, Sprague and Voluntown. No other region in the state has seen such a broad spike in unemployment.

    And little wonder. As the letter notes, the economic output of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun is critical to the region and those enormous enterprises have been closed for two months. In addition to the casino workers unemployed by the closing, workers at the hundreds of vendors that are part of the supply chain for the casino giants have found themselves without jobs.

    This region is also home to tourism attractions and shops and villages dependent on visitors and recreational dollars, all shuttered in the attempt — largely successful in this region — to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

    These are not the kinds of jobs that can continue from a home base. They are service jobs, lost when a business must close.

    Ironically, extreme southwestern Connecticut, hardest hit by the pandemic in terms of hospitalizations and lives lost, has seen some of the lowest job losses, with their financial and technical sectors able to continue functioning even when brick-and-mortar offices closed.

    This region did its part. Citizens in large measure complied with stay-at-home orders. We, collectively, flattened the curve. The tribal casinos did not invoke claims of sovereignty, instead cooperating by closing to deter the viral spread.

    “Now we ask for your help, governor, in restarting the two economic powerhouses of our region,” states the delegation’s letter.

    Among the signatories are some of the most liberal members of the General Assembly, such as state Reps. Christine Conley of the 40th District and Emmett Riley of the 46th, and one its most conservative stalwarts, Rep. Mike France, R-42nd District.

    All four local state senators signed, Democrats Cathy Osten of the 19th District and Norm Needleman of the 33rd District, and Republicans Heather Somers of the 18th District and Paul Formica of the 20th District.

    Also signing were Democratic Reps. Anthony Nolan, 39th District; Joe De La Cruz, 41st; Kate Rotella, 43rd; Brian Smith, 48th, and Kevin Ryan of the 139th, and Republican Rep. Holly Cheeseman, 37th District.

    In an age of heightened political polarization the collaboration is a credit to the region’s delegation and an indication of the seriousness of the situation.

    We join them in calling on Lamont to engage with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to explore how the state can best support laid-off workers and plan for the reopening of the casinos as soon as safely possible. We are cognizant of the challenge a casino reopening presents, and aware that even when open it will be a long time before crowds return. But the discussion needs to earnestly begin.

    We also endorse the delegations request that the state fast track helping those who lost health insurance along with their jobs to access Medicaid or enroll through Access Health CT, the state health insurance exchange.

    We do not join in their call for the governor, with a swipe of his executive order pen, to allow the tribes to operate internet gaming and sports betting. These initiatives should happen, in fact they should have happened a couple of years back. But it is a policy decision properly left to the legislature. It should convene, using technology to do so remotely if necessary, and approve online gaming and sports betting.

    The Day editorial board meets with political, business and community leaders to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larraneta, Owen Poole, copy editor, and Lisa McGinley, retired deputy managing editor. The board operates independently from The Day newsroom.

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.