Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo
DOC Commissioner Rollin Cook (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT — The Department of Correction will close the current fiscal year with a $38 million shortfall, according to Correction Commissioner Rollin Cook.

The bulk of the deficiency comes from $20 million in unanticipated startup costs when the agency took over inmate health care from Correctional Managed Health Care, an organization within the UConn Health Center in July, he said.

CLICK TO VOTE ON HB 7147: An Act Making Deficiency Appropriations For The Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2019

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Cook and several other commissioners appeared before the Appropriations Committee April 26 to explain why their departments would need more money to close out the current fiscal year as part of HB 7147, a bill that would provide funding to close the gaps. 

In total, with nearly $60 million in adjudicated lawsuit claims against the state that had to be paid, the Office of Fiscal Analysis and Office of Policy and Management estimated that agencies spent $110 to $120 million more than budgeted in fiscal year 2019, which ends June 30.

Other agencies that are facing deficiencies included the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the Department of Administrative Services, and the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.

Part of the deficiency will be paid by shifting money from other agencies, which have excess funds over their budgetary needs as the fiscal year closes, OFA document said. The money for DOC will be transferred from Department of Social Services accounts that still have funds, according to a spokesman for DSS. No DSS programming will be affected, he said.

The money to pay the $60 million in claims, which were largely a result of the settlement in the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition’s lawsuit against former Gov. John Rowland, will be taken out of the General Fund. Each year claims against the state, which are administered by the state Comptroller, have no appropriation and are taken out of the General Fund due to their unpredictable nature, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Melissa McGraw explained to the committee.

The SEBAC vs. Rowland claims were part of the settlement of a federal class action involving more than 2,000 state employees who were laid off during the Rowland administration in the early 2000s.

At $38 million, Cook submitted the second highest deficiency of all the department heads that appeared before the Appropriations Committee.

Although Gov. Ned Lamont promised while campaigning that he’d pay for a property tax credit for the middle class with savings from the DOC, his biennial 2020-2021 budget proposal released in February included an extra $35 million for agency based on the cost of inmate health care and collective bargaining agreements.

Cook was appointed Commissioner of the DOC in January, mid-way through the agency’s first year of the inmate health care transition.

Calls for the transition came after the legislature heard reports — and the state faced lawsuits — from the families of inmates who claimed their loved ones received negligent care that led to deaths.

Cook told the committee pointedly that the reason costs for inmate health care have gone up, “is because the care had to go up.”

The agency budgeted $72 million for inmate health care in the 2019 fiscal year — about $8 million less than the prior year when UConn ran the inmate health system. Cook said the department needed another $20 million because of hiring delays, which drove up overtime, higher costs than anticipated for pharmaceuticals, laboratory services, medical supplies, and specialty services. The prison health care system is also dealing with aging inmates, he said. Nearly 45% of the inmate population is age 40 or older.

Cook admitted that the agency was having a hard time finding medical staff based on the nature of the work. “You have to have the right person who wants to do this,” Cook said before adding, “They have to have the heart for it.”

The agency is also facing an $11.3 million deficiency in the 2019 budget for personnel costs based in part on the transfer of 80 employees from DCF when the Connecticut Juvenile Training School closed. Committee members admitted they were astonished to find out that the employees were transferred but no funding from DCF was provided.

Cook also was seeing a $4.7 million deficiency in the account used to pay for utilities and maintenance for the agency’s 283 buildings. Electricity expenses increased with higher-than-average usage over the first three months of the fiscal year, and rates have gone up for natural gas, water, and sewer, he said.

The agency is seeking approval from the Finance Advisory Committee to move money from other accounts as the deficiencies “will shortly cause cash flow issues,” Cook said.

The bill was favorably voted out of committee April 30 and will be scheduled for a vote by the House and the Senate in the coming weeks.