Posted on January 5, 2023

Political Clashes Leave CT Baby Bonds Program in Limbo

Katy Golvala and Ginny Monk, Connecticut Mirror, January 1, 2023

In June 2021, state Treasurer Shawn Wooden made history in Connecticut with the passage of the CT Baby Bonds program, a first-of-its-kind statewide policy aimed at narrowing the racial wealth gap.

The concept, introduced by a pair of economists over a decade ago, is simple enough: Set aside and invest money on behalf of children born into poor families. When they turn 18, they can use the funds to pay for life-changing opportunities that people born into wealth access with comparative ease — a down payment on a home, tuition for school, seed capital to start or invest in a business.

Poor children of any race would qualify, but because Black, Latino, and Indigenous children experience poverty at disproportionate rates, they would stand to benefit the most from the program.

“I witnessed firsthand how generational poverty holds a community and individuals back,” said Wooden, a Black man who grew up in a poor neighborhood in Hartford, on the day he announced the proposal.

Supporters around the country celebrated Wooden and the passage of his legacy program, heralding Connecticut as a leader in addressing racial inequality. 

But, nearly a year and a half after CT Baby Bonds was signed into law, it has yet to become a reality — largely because of political interference from Gov. Ned Lamont’s office.

Documents obtained by the CT Mirror show how the governor’s office led a campaign of quiet but fierce opposition to the program from the time of its passage, weakening it at several points on its path to implementation — with a last-minute change to the program’s funding structure, then by stalling meetings between the treasurer’s office and agency partners and arranging for a two-year delay in launching the program.

The governor and his spokesperson did not say specifically why they supported the program’s delay, but administration officials told the CT Mirror that, along the way, they objected to how Wooden structured the program’s funding, which included an “automatic authorization” for its bonding that they claimed sidestepped the governor’s authority as chair of the State Bond Commission. The administration also said agency heads from the Department of Social Services and the Office of Policy and Management had concerns about the program’s implementation.

The opposition was stronger than the coalition that Wooden built to support it. People close to the situation say Wooden failed to create the momentum to ensure the program’s funding would pass, and his stunning April announcement that he wouldn’t seek another term further derailed the program’s support and left him with little political capital in Democratic circles.

Last year, the legislature voted to delay the program’s start date by two years, from July 2, 2021 to July 1, 2023, but the records obtained by the CT Mirror cast doubt on whether the baby bonds program will take effect this year, as planned — or ever.

Wooden laid the responsibility for the setback directly with Lamont.

“We’ve recently had to deal with the governor tapping the brakes and delaying implementation,” Wooden told an audience at a baby bonds event hosted by the New York Federal Reserve in September.


The story of CT Baby Bonds provides a glimpse into policymaking that those outside of it rarely see, including the critical role of politics and the behind-the-scenes levers the governor can use to all but destroy a program, even after the legislature passes it into law.


Last year, the legislature voted to push its start back by two years, to 2023. But for that to happen, the State Bond Commission must vote to allocate the bonding to pay for it.

When asked last month whether he supports funding the program this year, Lamont hedged.

“You have to make choices in life,” Lamont said. “I worked with the legislature on this. If they want to cut back on affordable housing or other legislative bonding priorities — but, you can’t do everything.”

The legislature already made its decision about baby bonds in 2021, when it voted to pass the program into law. With that vote, it “authorized” the program’s funding.

The next step in the bonding process is for the bond commission to “allocate” those funds. The governor holds tremendous power over this second stage. Besides setting the bond commission’s agenda, Lamont chairs the 10-member panel, and two of his top administrators hold seats.

“Is he not releasing the money this year?” asked a confused Sen. Marilyn Moore, D-Bridgeport, when told of Lamont’s response. Moore serves as co-chair of the bonding sub-committee and was an early champion of the program.

“It was my understanding he was going to delay it, but he was going to delay it to ’23,” she said, noting that people not just in Connecticut but all over the country are tracking the program’s implementation.

When the CT Mirror asked Lamont’s office to clarify his stance, his spokesperson Anthony Anthony responded:

“It’s premature for the governor to put baby bonds on the bond agenda until programmatic and budgetary concerns expressed by implementing agencies are addressed,” said Anthony.

Emails between members of the governor’s staff reveal that Lamont’s office has long been considering repealing the program entirely.

On April 20, after Wooden announced that he wouldn’t seek reelection but before the program’s delay went into effect, Dan DeSimone, a senior adviser to Lamont, sent an email to deputy chief of staff Jonathan Dach, asking about the status of baby bonds’ funding.

“With the Treasurer’s retirement, we’re hoping to defund it,” Dach said. DeSimone then asked whether the program was currently funded.

“It’s not. We may undo the bond authorization,” Dach responded.

An email exchange between then-policy director Jonathan Dach and senior advisor Dan DeSimone.

Days later, Lamont’s chief of staff, Paul Mounds Jr., texted Comptroller Natalie Braswell, writing, “Yesterday I told legislators that the governor wants to repeal baby bonds for good.”

When asked in an interview whether the governor had expressed a desire to repeal the program “for good,” Mounds said his statement to legislators was a negotiation tactic.

Dach will soon replace Mounds as chief of staff. January will bring several other shifts in the Lamont administration.

Publicly, the administration has expressed a willingness to work towards the program’s implementation with incoming State Treasurer Erick Russell, who confirmed to CT Mirror reporters that he supports baby bonds.


But additional text messages between Mounds and Braswell suggest that, if Russell chooses to push for the program’s passage, he may face an uphill battle.


As these delays were playing out, DSS and OPM officials expressed concerns about the baby bonds program.

DSS put together a presentation documenting the agency’s outstanding questions about how the program would run. These included: How would the program obtain parental consent to enroll children? How would it identify eligible babies? Who would conduct outreach and maintain enrollee contact information? Who would administer the program’s required financial literacy tests?

The agency’s No. 1 recommendation — which it labeled “essential” — was to “push back start date to address critical start-up issues related to consent, enrollment, and administrative structure,” noting “all other recommendations also benefit from more time.”

OPM was mainly concerned with the idea of funding the program through bonding.

“This would limit our current and future ability to pay for critically needed services and capital investments that can help those most in need right now — including assistance for day care, building new schools, and community investments,” OPM spokesperson Chris Collibee said.

The treasurer’s office insisted that it had made progress on programmatic issues raised by the agencies.

“We took significant steps to stand up the program and get everything in order for a July 1, 2022, funding authorization,” including the establishment of the trust for beneficiaries, an investment plan for the trust’s assets, and a mechanism to identify eligible babies, stated a spokesperson. “Unfortunately, the delay came in the midst of this progress.”


A program can overcome strong opposition from a governor, as long as its champion builds an even stronger coalition to support it. Here, according to legislators, Wooden fell short.

Both Reyes and Moore said that while Wooden worked to pass the program into law in 2021, he could have done more to push for its funding authorization in 2022.

“I don’t know, beyond Shawn, where was his base to champion it — to make sure that once it got passed, that it got the attention that it needed,” said Moore, who toured with Wooden to promote the program’s passage in late 2021 but said he did not reach out to her for help building support for its implementation the following year.

Wooden’s office rejects this criticism, saying that the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus considered baby bonds a top legislative priority and that the bill “had support from legislators in every region of the state.”

“The claim that the Treasurer did very little to drum up support is simply not accurate,” said a spokesperson from Wooden’s office.

Reyes, co-chair of the BPRC, confirmed that the program is a priority for the caucus but conceded that Wooden’s effort could have been more “focused.”

“I don’t know that I would say he didn’t do enough. I would say maybe he wasn’t as proactive as he could have been. We kind of went into a lull, if you will, in the middle.” said Reyes. “And then, at the end, I think, when Treasurer Wooden found that he was going to be leaving, I think he realized that he needed to move a little quicker on this.”

Reyes’ comments point to another issue that thwarted Wooden’s ability to effectively lead the program to success: his announcement, just a month before baby bonds failed to secure its funding, that he would not seek reelection. Baby bonds would lose its biggest advocate before it even started.

Moore said she’s concerned about the program’s prospects following Wooden’s departure.

“I don’t know who’s going to pick up the mantle,” she said.

And there’s still a lot of work left to do for the program to have a chance at success, according to state agencies. Most notably, according to a DSS spokesperson, the program would require the establishment of a new database to track eligible participants over time.

With Lamont’s opposition to the program showing no signs of waning and Wooden’s departure leaving baby bonds without a champion, it’s unclear whether this historic program will ever become a reality for Connecticut’s children.