Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie
Barry Simon, president of Oakhill (Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie)

Instead of coming to the state with their hats in their hands, a group of nonprofit community providers are asking the state to change the way it serves those with disabilities and mental health or substance abuse disorders.

The CT Community Nonprofit Alliance estimated that the state could save $1.3 billion over the next five years if they turned state-run services over to the private sector. The Alliance represents more than 500 community-based organizations that provide these services to individuals.

At a Legislative Office Building press conference Wednesday, the Alliance said the alternative to these changes will be massive budget cuts to the vulnerable populations they serve.

Barry Simon, president of Oakhill, said nonprofits provide “high-quality care to half a million people in Connecticut.”

The state through its public employee unions serve the rest of the individuals who qualify for state assistance, which pits the private non-profit sector against public employee unions.

“This should not be made into a union issue,” Simon said.

The Connecticut State Employees Association, SEIU Local 2001 and New England Health Care Employees Union District 1199, who represent workers at the Department of Developmental Services, filed a lawsuit against the state last October claiming it failed to negotiate with the unions before shuttering some group homes and laying off their members.

The lawsuit is still pending in Hartford Superior Court and the next hearing isn’t scheduled until February 23.

Simon said his 1,000 employees are employed by one of the same unions that filed the lawsuit.

However, they are paid much less to do the same job. A state worker is paid around $25 an hour and workers for nonprofits are paid between $11 an hour and $13 an hour.

“The governor and the legislature can avoid devastating cuts to vital human services by moving state operated programs into the community and into the nonprofit sector,” Simon said.

Gian-Carl Casa, president and CEO of the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, said they feel like they’re getting encouragement from both sides of the aisle.

The state is running a $1.469 billion deficit, so the choice, according to Casa, is taking care of as many vulnerable individuals as possible or maintaining the status quo. He said a majority of residents who receive state assistance are being cared for in the nonprofit system.

In Connecticut 94 percent of the 16,742 individuals with intellectual disabilities that DDS supports receive services from community providers, with fewer than 1,000 individuals receiving care in state-run homes and 15,000 receiving care in nonprofit homes.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration has transitioned 10 facilities to private nonprofit providers and 30 more have been put out for bid, but none have been award since the union filed its lawsuit in October.

“As the governor has said on several occasions, all reasonable ideas should be brought to the table as state leaders work on the budget for next year,” Chris Collibee, a spokesman for Malloy, said. “We appreciate the efforts of The Alliance to help to find rational solutions to the state’s budget difficulties. The governor and his team are currently finalizing this year’s budget proposal and will present it next month to the General Assembly.”

At least one of the unions representing these workers was not pleased with the proposal.

“These private agencies provide only private services and would fully benefit from a complete privatization of state services,” SEIU 1199 spokeswoman Jennifer Schneider, said. “However, the state and clients need a private and public partnership the way the majority of states in this country have.”

SEIU 1199 represents workers in both the private and public sector.

“We know firsthand the struggles workers in the private sector have trying to make ends meet and the high staff turnover rate that causes disruption in clients’ lives,” Schneider said. “Saving money by shifting a middle class workforce into workers earning $12/an hour will only further hurt our state’s economy.”

She suggested lawmakers look at some of the $3 billion in revenue proposals made Tuesday by Connecticut Voices for Children.

“Increasing revenue is the only way that both private and public services will be properly funded to provide the highest level of care to Connecticut residents with disabilities,” Schneider said.