More than 800 people gathered at the state Capitol Wednesday morning to rally in support of protecting the state’s social safety net as the governor prepares to unveil his second biennium budget.

Chanting “SOS, save our safety net,” and wearing yellow T-shirts, nonprofit community providers, supporters, and people who receive services urged Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and lawmakers to shield the safety net from budget cuts. They also asked them restore funding that was reduced last year to close a budget deficit.

Malloy, who will release details of his budget proposal next Wednesday, spoke at the rally and announced his plan to establish a new state bond pool specifically designated for nonprofit community-based providers.

The $20 million pool is expected to enhance opportunities by allowing nonprofits to invest in capital projects that will lower administrative costs and improve the delivery of services.

In his remarks, the governor credited community providers with choosing their profession “not based on how much they’re paid, but on how much good they can actually do.” He said the new pool of bonding dollars will help providers spend less to run their operations.

“If you spend less money on heating a building because you have a new furnace, then you can spend more money on delivering services,” he told them.

Malloy’s announcement was well-received at the rally. Sheila Amdur, interim president of the Connecticut Community Providers Association, said she was grateful for the bonding initiative but said it didn’t go far enough to mend the state’s already frayed social safety net. 

“That’s the first downpayment. We may have needs to fix the roofs and get the generators and put in new furnaces. But we have a crumbling human service infrastructure,” she said.

In the last five years, providers have seen their cost-of-living allowances rise only one time, and by one percent. Malloy proposed that increase and the legislature approved it to go into effect on Jan. 1. But just last month the increase was in danger of being cut.

Deborah Ullman, CEO of the YWCA Hartford Region, said the state relies on the providers for services but does not pay them enough to cover costs or to compensate their employees.

“The state does not pay us enough to pay our employees what they deserve. Most of our employees are women, often heads of households with children. Many of our jobs require a bachelors or associates degree and they pay $16 an hour. It costs $24 an hour to afford the average two bedroom apartment in our state,” Ullman said. “That’s a big gap.”

Ullman said the cost of living in Connecticut has risen for nonprofit employees as their pay has remained stagnant.

Other advocates complained about recent cuts made to the executive agencies that fund some of the nonprofit providers. Joe Duffy, whose daughter has multiple developmental disabilities, said he hoped Malloy would rethink those spending reductions.

Duffy said the governor has shown “magnificent compassion” in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

“I hope that he shows us magnificent compassion. I vehemently oppose the governor’s cuts as they stand. I say that with all due respect. They will hurt real people,” he said.

Following the rally, social safety net advocates packed an unrelated press conference in the Legislative Office Building where Malloy spoke about a new mortgage assistance initiative. Asked whether funding to social service agencies would be restored in his budget proposal, he said the state is operating under a budget, which without cuts, would be in deficit.

“What we have said is if circumstances change, then circumstances will change. But there is a certain reality that we have a legal obligation to end the year in balance and we intend to honor that obligation. So it’s tough and I think everybody in the not-for-profit community provider arena gets it,” he said.

Malloy said Gross Domestic Product growth in the last quarter of the calendar year was “non-existent.” The governor said partisan gridlock in Washington over the fiscal cliff negotiations contributed to the lack of growth.

“I think the folks in Washington couldn’t have done more to suppress economic activity in the final six months of the year. So we have to dig ourselves out of this. The best way to not be in this position again is to see real growth in the economy. That’s what this budget will be about,” Malloy said.