Co-chairs of General Assembly Appropriations Committee propose multi-year, $461 million increase in aid for nonprofit social services

Eliza Fawcett, Hartford Courant
·4 min read

The co-chairs of the Connecticut General Assembly Appropriations Committee made the case Friday for a $461 million, multi-year increase in aid for the state’s nonprofit social service agencies, many of which have struggled with chronic underfunding and have seen a significant increase in demand for services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We can no longer turn our back to these organizations that make us strong and show who we are as a state,” State Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, one of the co-chairs, said in a video press conference. “It is important that these organizations get the support and funding that we need in order for them to continue to help every one of the families out in the community.”

The CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, a statewide association of community nonprofits, estimates that in the past 13 years, community nonprofits have lost at least $461 million in state funding, due to inflation coupled with increased demand for services.

“[State nonprofits] began 2020 with $461 million less than they needed, for employees, equipment, facilities, repairs, services that people depend on,” said Gian-Carl Casa, president and CEO of the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance. “Then they were hit with COVID and its attendant costs: hazardous duty pay for its essential workers, expensive and hard-to-find cleaning supplies, the creation of telehealth services, sometimes almost overnight.”

Casa called on the state to commit to a five-year plan to cover that $461 million shortfall and rebuild the state’s network of services. He argued that “not addressing chronic underfunding doesn’t make the problems go away” — and noted that Connecticut anticipates a budget surplus this year.

The legislators hope to incorporate the increased aid into the 2021-22 biennial state budget and continuing to expand funding in the coming years. They are hopeful that the proposal will find support from their colleagues in the General Assembly, as well as from Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration.

Lamont’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

“This is going to be one of our top issues that we’re going to be looking at in the budget this year,” said state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who also co-chairs the Appropriations Committee. “The executive branch will be receiving billions of dollars in federal resources and we’re saying that this is an important issue for us to address.”

A number of nonprofit service providers joined the press conference to discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in increased demand for services, as well as elevated costs.

“The pandemic has absolutely triggered a lot of mental health illness in our communities,” said Diana Giordano, a crisis response clinician for United Services, a mental health and social service provider in northeastern Connecticut. “There is trauma in losing our pre-pandemic way of life, not being able to access our natural support systems...people are depressed, they are anxious about their jobs, paying rent, bills, and health.”

Giordano said that between July and December 2020, the organization’s crisis response program—which provides rapid mobile responses for people experiencing behavioral crises—saw a 236% increase in services delivered, compared to the previous year.

Fernando Muñiz, CEO of Community Solutions, a nonprofit organization which provides criminal justice and child welfare services, said that during the pandemic, it has been difficult to maintain 24-hour staffing, due to staff and clients testing positive for COVID-19 or needing to quarantine. Muñiz noted that the organization is funded entirely by state contracts through the Department of Correction, though the $800,000 the organization has had to spend on hazard pay for its employees will not be reimbursed.

“Even before COVID, it’s important to note that these programs are chronically underfunded,” Muñiz said. “The current funding doesn’t cover the actual cost of running the programs and it doesn’t allow us to pay staff an appropriate wage for the work that we have asked them to do.”

Tag and Joy Griffin, of Norwich, receive services for their son Jonah, 28, from Horizons, a Windham-based program that works with people with developmental disabilities.

“Joy and I awake each morning worrying about how long Jonah will outlive us and who will care for him,” Tag Griffin said, adding that his son, who has autism, epilepsy, and diabetes, depends on the Horizons staff for care.

Eliza Fawcett can be reached at