By Gian-Carl Casa
Connecticut’s community nonprofits are important contributors to our quality of life and the state needs to support them with adequate funding.
Community nonprofits do many things for people who live and work in our state, things like providing substance-abuse treatment, caring for troubled kids, helping people with disabilities, heating homes and bringing arts and cultural programs to communities across the state.
Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposed budget largely recognizes the role played by community nonprofits in delivering vital services to the people of Connecticut. Despite a difficult budget year, the governor would maintain funding levels for most of the programs operated by nonprofits that serve our residents.
It’s a good starting point and we thank him for that. But there is more work to be done to make sure that payments to nonprofits cover the cost of the services they provide — because in many cases they simply don’t.
Years of tough budgets included many cuts to nonprofits even as demand increased. A 2015 study of rates for behavioral health services showed an annual loss for the top ten procedures (by volume) was more than $27 million for approximately 250,000 service hours. State grants for mental health and substance abuse have been reduced by 17 percent Before the legislature approved targeted wage increases last year, nonprofits that provide services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities hadn’t had a rate increase since 2007.
Compare that with the devastating increase in deaths from opioid abuse and the 2,000-person waiting list for services from the Department of Developmental Services.
It’s been said that for many years community nonprofits have been on the receiving end of cuts because they are run by dedicated people who will provide their services regardless. While it’s true that nonprofits do their best to raise funds from donations and diversify their offerings the days of “providing their services anyway” are ending. We hear frequently about programs that have been curtailed or closed – for example, the closing of group homes for people with intellectual/developmental disabilities or reduced hours for programs that help youth with trauma in their backgrounds. It is system approaching its breaking point.
The state should treat the essential services provided by community nonprofits as if they are fixed costs in the state budget – and off the table for further cuts.
One way to maximize limited state funding is by shifting more expensive state-operated programs into the community and re-investing the savings into the service delivery system. Community nonprofits can reduce state costs and meet the demand for services our residents need in a wide variety of areas.
Community nonprofits do the hard work so government doesn’t have to. The governor’s budget proposal is a good start and should be seen by legislators as the basis for making up some of the lost ground caused by a state funding system that hasn’t kept pace with the need.
The people of Connecticut who need or use services provided by nonprofits will thank them.
Gian-Carl Casa is President & CEO of the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance.