Nonprofit community service providers that contract with the state to help some of the state’s most needy citizens stood with a bipartisan group of legislators to ask for more than the 1 percent cost-of-living increase included in the first year of Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s biennium budget.The organizations that run programs through the Department of Social Services, Department of Mental Retardation, Department of Children and Families, said they have not seen a budget increase from the state in the past 20 years. And at least one of the nonprofits recently made the decision to end a program that helped victims of brain injury maintain their independence.
A group of providers asked for a 7 percent increase in the first year and a 5 percent increase in the second year which would amount to a $180 million increase. But it was unclear where legislators would look to find that kind of money in a $35.9 billion budget that includes tax increases for education spending. Sen. David Cappiello, R-Danbury, said a budget is about setting priorities and we have to start looking at ways to control costs. He said the community provider network is a way for the state to control costs. He said state employees who provide similar services should not be replaced when a vacancy occurs and that money saved through attrition should go to community providers who “do a better job at serving more people for less money”. Bottomline, “If you utilize nonprofits you save more money,” he said. But the state employees unions would disagree.Belinda May, union president and DSS eligibility services supervisor, said in October that the Department of Social Services is woefully understaffed with many employees carrying up to 1,000 cases. She said clients who come to its offices for services are being turned away and told to come back the next day only to be turned away again. State Sen. Judith Freedman, R-Westport, said if this kind of flat funding remains it will put these nonprofits out of business. She said she would vote against a budget that does not include increases for these groups. Sen. Jonathan Harris, D-West Hartford, said “private providers are doing yeoman’s work in our communities.” He said the fact that the governor did recognize the importance of this work by increasing her investment in nonprofits is a good thing. “I feel optimistic about it. We will get this done,” he said. The question is what will give in the budget for the nonprofits to receive this increase. Rell’s spokesman Rich Harris said it’s a lean budget and if just current services were maintained the state would face a $800 million budget deficit in coming years.