christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Simone Singh and Katie Reaves of CHR, Jennifer Cretella of Clifford Beers, and Fred Hodges of Family ReEntry advocate for funding in the walkway between the Capitol and the Legislative Office Building (christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — In a way that seems more forceful than in past years the private, nonprofit community is asking the General Assembly for $461 million in funding over the next five years.

Since 2007, community nonprofits have missed out on at least $461 million in state funding. That’s if their funding had kept pace with inflation.  This year Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget proposes keeping funding for nonprofits flat.

“No cuts is not adequate,” Heather Gates, executive director of CHR, a behavioral health provider, told the Appropriations Committee last week.

Gates said her organization served more than 27,000 adults and children last year.

“That’s a 42% increase over a five year period. That’s at the same time funding from the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services has been cut 12%,” Gates said. She added that outpatient Medicaid rates also have not increased for over a decade.

This is at the same time as drug overdoses have increased.

After seeing a small downturn in 2018 in the number of accidental intoxication deaths, the number of Connecticut residents who died jumped 18% to hit a record high 1,200 in 2019, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

The 1,200 deaths marks the highest annual number recorded since the state started tracking such numbers.

“We’re being asked as a provider to tackle a public health crisis with no help from the state of Connecticut,” Gates said. “We need to help prevent more deaths.”

She said the legislature needs to help them by providing funding.

“Our financial margin is just not sustainable,” she added.

Connecticut spends about $1.4 billion annually contracting with hundreds of community nonprofits that provide social services to some of Connecticut’s neediest residents.

Anne Ruwet, CEO of CCARC Inc., told the Appropriations Committee that the “system is eroding.”

She said she’s tired after 25 years of fighting for funding, but she’s not going away.

She said the hospitals sued the state challenging its taxing scheme, “maybe it’s our turn to sue the state.”

Shanna York a residential program coordinator at Oak Hill said this legislature and every legislature has “miserably failed community nonprofits for the past 28 years,”

“We are chronically understaffed and community nonprofits simply cannot compete when it comes to wages,” York added. “Week after week the effects of short staffing wear on us.”

She said she’s sick and tired of getting praised for the work she does and “empty sentiments for agreement for our pleas.”

She said the time has come for lawmakers to “rectify the wrongs you have so willing perpetrated on community nonprofits for years.” 

“Do not tell us that the work that we do is noble. Do not tell us that you appreciate us for the work that we do,” York said. “Fund us.”

Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, told York that she hears her, but they also have a hard task to balance the state budget.

“You’re right maybe we do have resources that we need to reallocate,” Walker said.

The state has a Rainy Day Fund that’s expected to grow to $2.5 billion by the end of the fiscal year.

The Connecticut Nonprofit Alliance, the association that represents the community nonprofits,  said Connecticut’s budget outlook is the strongest it’s been in over a decade and now is time to increase funding in people who rely on community services.

The funding increase the nonprofits are requesting this year would be around $128 million, however, the state would only be responsible for about $67 million due to federal matching funds.