Christine Stuart photo
Heather Gates, CEO of Community Health Resources and Rep. Cathy Abercrombie and Sen. Marilyn Moore (Christine Stuart photo)

Nonprofit human service providers worry that budget cuts, like the $25 million one to mental health and substance abuse grants, will be carried forward in the 2016 budget.

“In these challenging times, we all know the budget is a huge issue for us in this state, but we can’t do it on the backs of the people who are less fortunate,” state Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Human Services committee, said Wednesday.

Abercrombie, a Democratic lawmaker from Meriden, said human services is always an easy target for budget cuts, “but I believe there are some things we can do to hold our providers harmless.”

Still, nonprofit human service providers who belong to the Connecticut Community Providers Association are worried. CCPA is a group of 130 agencies that provide mental health and substance abuse treatment and services to individuals with developmental disabilities.

Heather Gates, CEO of Community Health Resources and a member of the Connecticut Community Providers Association, said if the cuts to mental health and substance abuse were carried forward to the two-year budget Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will present on Feb. 18, they “would destabilize the system and close some programs for some of the most needy individuals in the state.”

Put another way, “it will gut the adult mental health and addiction treatment system in the state of Connecticut,” Gates said.

She explained that when that cut was made it was based on the assumption that uninsured individuals would be getting private insurance through the exchange. The majority of individuals have been enrolling in Medicaid, which doesn’t cover the full cost of treatment.

This means within her own organization she’s looking at a 65 percent reduction in her outpatient funding from the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. The organization serves about 8,000 clients in its outpatient clinics and a cut of that magnitude would mean it wouldn’t be able to serve about 5,000 adult clients on July 1 when the funding is no longer available.

“These are individuals with serious mental illness and serious addiction disorders,” Gates said.

She said she understands the economic situation, but the providers are asking the state to prioritize the services they offer to 500,000 individuals across the state.

“How does the state of Connecticut want to spend its money?” Gates said. “We know this is a tough economic climate, but it’s not as if there aren’t resources and the people we all serve are individuals without any other options.”

Pat Bourne, executive director of SARAH Inc., a provider who provides employment opportunities to children and adults of differing abilities in the New Haven region, said a majority of the recent rescissions to the 2015 budget have been targeted for employment opportunities and day services.

“The current cuts and the threat of more cuts are not insignificant,” Bourne said. “The cuts are not inconsequential. The cuts are not just the stroke of a pen or a swipe of an eraser. The cuts are real, the cuts are deep, and the cuts will hurt.”

It’s unknown exactly how many of these providers may have gone out of business due to the cuts, but Gates said she’s aware of many providers ending programs.

“These cuts are of a magnitude that they will require program closure,” Gates said.

Gian-Carl Casa, deputy undersecretary at the Office Policy and Management, said the service providers are jumping to conclusions.

“They’re making assumptions, as is natural for advocates to do when they prepare for release of a budget,” Casa said. “We won’t comment on any specifics until the governor releases his budget on the 18th.”

Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said that the “budget will include cuts to close the gap in the next biennium and address current-year deficiencies –  but we haven’t commented publicly on specific programs.”