Three years of flat funding coupled with 20 years of underfunding and increased demand for their services make it almost impossible for the coalition of Connecticut’s community providers to serve its 500,000 clients.

But despite the fiscal challenges the Connecticut Community Providers Association remains optimistic with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy at the helm. Malloy has repeatedly said regardless of the state’s budget deficit he doesn’t want to shred the state’s safety net, and community providers are a large part of that safety net.

Barry Simon, executive director of Gilead Community Services, which provides housing and support services to individuals with mental illness, said private providers are ready, willing, and able given the appropriate resources to expand their services and in the process save the state money.

And there are ways they may be able to do that without substantially increasing the amount of money the state spends each year on its most vulnerable citizens.

For example, when the state puts services out to bid hoping to spend $600,000 and the lowest bid comes back at $700,000, the state shouldn’t automatically assume it has to do the work itself at a cost of $1.3 million, Simon said.

But that’s just one example of what has happened over the years.

“During these difficult economic times in order to get the best return on investment the state should be supporting the safety net of community-based human services and investing its scarce funds that can address the complex needs of the system,” said Simon.

Emily Arsoneault, a resident of the Gilead Women’s Program, said she was homeless and stuck in a hospital before finding Gilead.

“I became a respected individual at the women’s home,” Arsoneault said Wednesday. “I am glad to be alive and can’t wait for future opportunities.”

There seems to be widespread support for private community providers at the state Capitol amongst both Democrats and Republicans, but in years past when the state had money it failed to increase its investment in the private provider system.

“Our state funding has been reduced, private fundraising has gone down, community foundations are facing increased requests for funding so there’s less to distribute to private nonprofits,” said Heather Gates, CEO of Community Health Resources. “Connecticut’s budget problems do not lessen the demand on our services, but in fact increases them. We have preserve our current levels of service and maintain the safety net.“

This year the private community providers will have a partner on their side.

Deb Heinrich, the former lawmaker appointed to a new cabinet-level position within Malloy’s administration, has been tasked with advocating on their behalf.

“I want to take these concerns, and take their ideas and make sure they come to pass,” Heinrich said Wednesday as she listened to the group unveil their legislative agenda.

She said there are plenty of things the state and the community providers can do in order to make sure services are at the very least maintained without increased funding.

Streamlining the contracting process for community providers, who often contract with several state agencies, could help reduce the amount of administration. She said often times paperwork is repeated and keeping all the deadlines straight for various proposals takes time away from the clients.

Terry Edelstein, president and CEO of the Connecticut Community Providers Association, said the group is looking for some stability when it comes to funding its services.

“We do need funding that we can count on, that we know is built into the base of state agencies, that isn’t going to be at risk of the latest budget salvo,” said Edelstein.

But Edelstein is realistic about the state’s more than $3.67 billion budget deficit.

“I don’t think we’re going to get financial increases right now. I don’t think that’s realistic in this budget environment,” she said. “I do see that the administration has made a strong statement of support for nonprofit funding.”

The group’s legislative agenda includes reviewing the cost of delivering services on an annual basis, review of all services and programs for cost effectiveness, maximizing employment opportunities for people with disabilities by ensuring a strong and stable Preferred Purchasing Program and develop a long-term strategy to address the challenges in the community provider system, to name a few. To read their full legislative agenda click here.