Gian-Carl Casa, executive director of the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, and Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden
Gian-Carl Casa, executive director of the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, and Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden, Jan. 23, 2019. Credit: Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie

HARTFORD, CT — Connecticut’s nonprofit community is optimistic about the relationship it will have with Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration.

But it’s unclear whether he will support their call to further privatize certain state services, their desire to clarify language around property tax exemptions, or continue the nonprofit grant program started by former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Maribel La Luz, Lamont’s communications director, said it’s too soon to say what may or may not be included in Lamont’s budget proposal, which isn’t due until Feb. 20.

Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden, said she can’t speak for the administration, but she believes it’s time for the state to have a conversation about how to “re-purpose” the money Connecticut does have.

“How do we use our dollars in a more efficient way?” Abercrombie said.

Often times the state saves money by contracting for services with nonprofit providers, but many times those savings aren’t reallocated to expand the programs that are offered by nonprofits. It’s typically used to balance the state budget.

Currently, nonprofit providers serve more than 95 percent of the intellectual and developmentally disabled population in residential programs through the Department of Developmental Services. There was a push by the Malloy administration two years ago to move more families out of state-run facilities and into the community where they are served by these nonprofits. However, the state still spends about one third of its funding for the same population on state-operated facilities like the Southbury Training School.

Abercrombie said she thinks they can get to a point where they close Southbury Training School and get more middle-aged parents waiting for their adult children to find a spot in a group home off the waiting list. However, she said a majority of the individuals at the Southbury Training School are over 70 years old and have been there for more than 50 years of their lives.

“We need to be respectful of that as we transition them into the community,” Abercrombie said.

She said they have a right to decide where they go.

“Yes, Southbury costs us a lot of money. A lot of money we could use in the community,” Abercrombie said. “But we also have to be respectful of the individuals that are there.”

Abercrombie said she hasn’t had a conversation with the Lamont administration yet, but she has some ideas for how to improve the situation.

The Alliance, a coalition of more than 300 nonprofits, said the industry employs almost 200,000 Connecticut residents who spend $29 billion in Connecticut’s economy. But the state has chronically underfunded their work, which in some instances has forced organizations like Oakhill, which serves the intellectual and developmentally disabled population, to close group homes and day programs.

“The Lamont administration can bring a fresh approach and draw on the creativity and expertise from outside of government,” Barry Simon, president and CEO of Oak Hill, said. “The way we’re doing business doesn’t work any longer. Connecticut operates a dual system of providing services, often with state workers and nonprofit workers doing the same jobs. Quality at the state level is no better or worse, it simply costs more. It’s time for change.”

Simon said the current state of Connecticut’s budget deficit dictates that the state reduce the volume of services provided by state employees.

Even with the 2018 legislation that increases the minimum wage for nonprofit workers serving persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities to $14.75 an hour, the system remains underfunded. The nonprofit providers had not received rate increases since 2007, which resulted in group home closures, consolidations, and disruptions for their clients.

“This is a new opportunity to bring a fresh perspective on how human services are delivered in the state of Connecticut,” Andrea Barton Reeves, president and CEO of HARC, said. “That, coupled with the need to find new cost savings, presents a new opportunity for nonprofits to present our own ideas and to partner with the new legislature and governor.”

Reeves was the co-chair of Lamont’s Human Services transition committee that put forward several recommendations.

As far as the tax issues are concerned, The Alliance wants the state to clarify the language regarding property tax exemptions.

Gian-Carl Casa, the Alliance’s executive director, said a survey his organization conducted last year found that about two-thirds of 35 nonprofits surveyed said their properties— which had a history of being tax exempt and had no changes of use — were suddenly being denied tax exemptions in 41 towns.

“The state must protect our tax-exempt status to ensure our capacity to deliver services is not undermined,” Peter DeBiasi, president and CEO of Access Community Action Agency, said. “Over the past several years, municipal tax assessors have issued more property tax bills than ever before to local nonprofits that have a history of exempt status and have not undergone a change of use.”

The Alliance would also like to see the Lamont administration continue the bond-funded grant program established in 2013.

Since 2013, the state has borrowed $105 million on behalf of the nonprofit community, which in turn has used the money on 568 projects.

It’s helped repair an emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence, it allowed HARC to purchase an electronic record keeping software program, and it helped install a Voice Over Internal Protocol telephone platform.