Connecticut’s nonprofit community-based providers who serve some of the most vulnerable people in our state are bracing for what will be a tough 2013. Here in Connecticut, where our state budget forecast is once again grim, we have plenty of questions.

How will my job be impacted? How will healthcare reform be implemented and what will it mean for me? Will our safety net be strong enough to protect those who need help the most? While the majority of Connecticut residents feel this insecurity, the future is especially unclear if you, or a loved one, relies on human services programs in the state. We could be in for another “perfect storm,” this time an economic and humanitarian one as providers struggle to maintain services and survive.

Nonprofit community-based providers of safety net services find themselves teetering on the precipice of disaster. The fact is, as a result of over a decade of flat funding and increases in the cost of delivering these services, providers find themselves at a crucial juncture. (Either the state will help us improve the safety net infrastructure or that net will collapse. Because providers (we) receive most of our funding from the state, we’ve experienced the effect of budget cuts. Funding for our services has neither kept pace with inflation nor the true cost of providing service (the consumer price index has increased by 7.3 percent in recent years).

In that time, many of us have been forced to reduce employee benefits, keep positions vacant and delay hiring. Some of us have also reduced staff hours and cut staff positions. All the while – the health and safety of individuals served by these collective programs have remained the universal priority. Clearly, this is not the path toward security for the state, our employees or, most importantly, our consumers who face serious challenges to work and live in our communities every day.

Connecticut’s nonprofit community-based providers administer high quality human services to over 500,000 people statewide and do so in a cost-effective and thoughtful way. We provide (have) programs that help adults and children with significant challenges such as mental illness, substance use disorders, and physical and intellectual disabilities. We provide services to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, as well as to people living with HIV/AIDS. Our services also assist people who are reintegrating into our communities. These safety net programs help people live more meaningful, productive lives.

Without these services, many would be unable to attend school or go to work. Some could potentially) end up in the hospital, or in jail –an extremely costly and inappropriate alternative.

In addition to the over half a million people we serve, nonprofit community-based providers also employ thousands of people who impact the economic health of their communities. We are businesses, consumers and providers – all in one.

A badly strained safety net is a scary prospect. But as we add, under healthcare reform, well over 200,000 new users of health and human services who need healthcare alternatives to the emergency room, we could witness the creation of the perfect storm. We must be ready to serve additional clients who will have access to health care and community prevention services for the first time, but to do so we will need to increase our investments in our staff and facilities.

That’s why we’re asking for a 7 percent cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) over the next two year budget cycle – an amount which only brings us even to the rising cost of providing services over the past several years. Without increased funding that covers the real cost of services, nonprofit community-based providers will be unable to maintain services, let alone meet increased demand.

By investing in Connecticut’s nonprofit community-based providers we can prepare for healthcare implementation, save our safety net from collapse, help the states most vulnerable residents and create jobs. That’s the recipe for avoiding another perfect storm.

Gary Steck is chairman of the Board of Directors of Connecticut Community Providers Association and CEO of Wellmore Behavioral Health. Maureen Price-Boreland is president of the Board of Directors Connecticut Association of Nonprofits and executive director of Community Partners In Action.