HARTFORD, CT — The consequences of not having a state budget have begun to take their toll on providers of mental health and substance abuse treatment, and organizations that service individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
Starting Tuesday, nonprofit mental health providers who get their money from the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services faced a 2.5 percent reduction in funding.
Heather Gates, president and CEO of Community Health Resources, said if they get to 5 percent they’re talking about “whole program closures,” and not just reductions from freezing positions and scaling back programs.
Those decisions are currently being made and will impact the programs regardless of whether a budget deal is imminent.
“We can’t carry the state’s decision-making by running programs we don’t have funding for,” Gates said Tuesday at a Legislative Office Building press conference.
Those who deliver services to the developmentally and intellectually disabled population have already had to take one furlough day. The next mandated furlough day will be Aug. 23.
There was a push last year to turn over around 40 group homes currently run by the Department of Developmental Services to private nonprofit providers, but a lawsuit filed by the Connecticut State Employees Association, SEIU Local 2001 and New England Health Care Employees Union District 1199, forced the state to hit the pause button.
However, now that the unions have reached a deal that was ratified Monday by the legislature, it’s likely that lawsuit will be withdrawn because the accusation the state is privatizing services without a contract in place is moot.
The state can now go ahead with privatizing some of those services. It can’t lay off the employees in the agency, but there are an estimated 947 vacancies in the department currently, so it could move toward giving some of its responsibilities to nonprofit providers. The caveat remains that there would have to be funding for those nonprofit providers.
That would require the legislature to leave the money in the DDS budget.
Asked if the money will remain for that population, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said “I don’t know.”
He said there’s been a push in the past to privatize state services and that will be evaluated as part of the budget negotiations.
Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden, said the reason they don’t have a budget agreement is because they “are holding firm on some of the programs that are really important for us.”
She said at the end of the day providers and families impacted by the budget impasse want a budget that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is going to sign.
“There’s 187 people who look at this budget from different lenses,” Abercrombie said.
She said there are some lawmakers who think human services is an easy target for spending cuts. However, she maintained they will have a hard time cutting those services if families continue to tell their stories.
“We’re trying to do the right thing and the right thing is not going after the human services field,” she added.
Abercrombie said the reason Connecticut is faced with this situation is because it didn’t fund its pension obligations, “and now we’re paying the price.”
Meanwhile, at the state Capitol, Aresimowicz and Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, were working with their staff on resolving what has been described as the last $100 million to $400 million.
Aresimowicz said the budget is going to end up being a compromise. He said it’s “70/30.”
Lawmakers will like about 70 percent of it and will hate about 30 percent of it, he explained.
He said they’re struggling over whether to cut more in municipal services or more in state services.
“That’s a pretty divisive issue,” he added.
In addition to the municipal and state funding issues, Aresimowicz said they’re also juggling with how much to raise revenue and cut spending.
“It’s trying to find what that balancing is,” he said.
Leadership in the House and the Senate were at the Capitol all day Tuesday trying to finalize a budget agreement.
Republican legislative leaders have been critical of the Democratic Party for failing to put forward a budget proposal. But Democratic lawmakers in the House have been unapologetic about the process of “inclusion” that they’re using to get their members to support an budget deal.
Democrats hold a 79 to 72 majority over Republicans in the House. That means they need at least 76 of their members to vote in favor of a budget deal that’s not going to be popular with any special interest group or taxpayer.