Community providers: don’t shred the safety net

When gubernatorial candidate Dannel P. Malloy spoke last year about not shredding the state’s safety net, Connecticut Community Providers Association President and CEO Terry Edelstein said it left her and her colleagues wondering.

“We used to wonder among ourselves, saying, ‘well, alright, what is the safety net?'” she said.

Now that he’s Gov. Malloy, Edelstein wants to make sure the administration recognizes that the organizations she represents provide the safety net. And she wants to ensure that Malloy’s policies keep the safety net intact, even as he grapples with a massive budget deficit.

The association, which represents organizations that serve more than 500,000 people with disabilities, mental illness, and substance abuse, on Wednesday called for a reliable funding system, changes to make data reporting and licensing more efficient, and a long-term strategy to address the challenges community providers face.

Providers spoke of the difficulty of getting by with flat state funding for the past three years and inadequate funding for two decades before that.

“We received inadequate funding during a period of time when the state had funding to give,” said Heather Gates, President and CEO of Community Health Resources. “So we are deeply concerned about what’s going to happen in the next several years.”

Edelstein said she does not think funding increases are realistic with the current budget. But she spoke of the need to keep human services funding from eroding. Funding for agencies to run programs that include transportation, she said, should take into account the rising cost of fuel. And human services funding should be shielded from recission plans that can wreak havoc on the ability of social service agencies to plan, she said.

“We do need funding that we can count on, that we know is built into the base of state agencies, that isn’t going to be at risk of the latest budget salvo,” Edelstein said.

The state could also help community providers by easing administrative burdens they face, which include having to report data to multiple state agencies and meeting varied licensure standards from different state departments, Edelstein said.