Nonprofits who serve people with behavioral health and developmental disabilities are pleading with state government to release increases in funding. They say the delay is now impacting their ability to adequately serve their clients.
Some of these providers, part of the CT Nonprofit Alliance, voiced their concerns at a virtual press conference Thursday. They said the staffing shortages are resulting in overworking those who remain, which in turn impacts their ability to bring those services to their clients.
“While they have gotten their basic funding, nonprofits have not received the increases appropriated for them that are necessary to retain and attract employees and that are needed to ensure the services are uninterrupted for people who depend on them,” CT Nonprofit Alliance President and CEO Gian-Carl Casa said.
The state’s Office of Policy and Management and the governor’s office sent Casa a letter Thursday providing a progress update on the distribution of those funds and a timeline for informing private providers of their rate increases and payment schedules. The letter also provided information on COVID-19 testing supports available to nonprofits and other employers.
In June, Gov. Ned Lamont signed a two-year budget, which his office said at the time supports nonprofit health and human service providers through $50 million in surplus funds along with another $30 million in fiscal year 2022 and 2023 that will be matched with $30 million in federal funds.
Casa said the organization’s members were thrilled when they learned that the state legislature approved a budget that addresses more than a decade of underfunding.
Casa said some of the state funding that still needs to be released is $62 million for state Department of Developmental Services providers – money to go toward employee salaries, pensions and other benefits as part of the state’s settlement with the 1199 union – as well as $23 million for private providers. Not all DDS and private providers are members of the Alliance, but Casa said there are 180 providers that are.
State officials say the legislature allocated $38.15 million for private provider cost-of-living-adjustments. Each state agency has to analyze their accounts as the legislation did not set a specific COLA percentage increase. State officials also had to be careful to review funding allocations based on requirements from the federal government – due to funding under the American Rescue Plan – and changes to Medicaid.
Once all the reviews are complete, OPM will apply an approximate 4 percent COLA to eligible agencies and providers. Private providers who serve state programs will hear about how much they will receive by mid-October, the letter says.
“We appreciate the ongoing dedication of our nonprofit community throughout the pandemic and the critical services they provide to so many vulnerable residents across Connecticut. The Administration remains committed to equitably and expeditiously implementing numerous policy changes and social service investments enacted during the legislative session, including the cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) intended to strengthen and stabilize the nonprofit workforce,” the letter states.
Tracey Walker, CEO of Journey Found, Inc. in Manchester, said her agency serves people with intellectual disabilities. She said she can’t come to an agreement with that organization’s union as she doesn’t have the final figures for retirement and healthcare to include in the union package.
“My people deserve that money,” Walker said. “They’ve earned that money.”
Sen. Catherine Osten, who co-chairs the legislature’s Appropriations Committee, said Thursday that she has been in contact with both Casa and officials from OPM, adding she understands that the benefit component is complicated. However, she added, it is time to get the money to the workers.
“I just think we need to get the dollars out there because the whole goal all along has been to make sure we are providing the resources for this group of people who had long been cash starved and in many cases, the workers were on food stamps, or getting HUSKY for healthcare,” Osten said. “It’s almost October so we really need to get this moving.”
Heather Gates, President & CEO, Community Health Resources – which serves 26,000 children, families every year throughout the state – said the organization has 120 full and part time vacancies for a staff of more than 900. Managers are covering third shifts in residential programs, she said.
There are 44 clinician vacancies, which means clinicians carry a caseload of 80-100 people, she said. Managers are covering third shifts in residential programs, she said.
“That’s 3,520 children, families and adults who in the last three months have not been able to gain access to needed and life saving behavioral healthcare in some instances. We desperately need the funding that has been appropriated,” Gates said.
But the delay in getting the funding means salary increases aren’t getting to employees, but nonprofits also have to worry about funding for other expenses including rent, equipment and insurance, Casa said.
Kristie Scott, CEO of Perception Programs Inc. in Willimantic, said employees have been working multiple shifts, wearing masks and risking exposure to COVID-19.
“They continue to come to work, time and time again,” Scott said.
She said one employee left Perception Programs to a better-paying job as a supervisor at McDonald’s.
“They didn’t want to but that was a choice they had to make as again we continue not to be able to give COLAs,” Scott said.
She added she also has 45 open positions out of a total staff of 363. “That’s 13 percent of my workforce.”
Walker said Journey Found serves clients who need consistency and contact with people they know, but the job market is making achieving that difficult.
“It’s not a situation that we like but that’s where we are,” Walker said.
Walker said she has concerns that unionized workers could strike, but Gates said regardless of the union issue, the funding should be released.
“It is really important that every provider out there under contract with the state of Connecticut needs this money right now,” Gates said.
Casa said the state has probably not released the money because they want to be careful with their calculations to make sure there are not mistakes, but that the budget situation has left nonprofit staff feeling frustrated.
“I would say that this is a crisis right now for nonprofits or at least a near crisis and it should be treated as such,” Casa said.