Op-Ed: Connecticut nonprofits are in an abusive relationship… with the state

For almost a quarter of a century the state has depended on private nonprofit organizations to provide services to people with disabilities in Connecticut. This includes services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental illness and addictions.

For over two decades, the average increase to the contracts with these providers has been less than one percent per year. We in the nonprofit community are profoundly disturbed to see that the chronic underfunding and additional reductions for essential human services continue with Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed budget.

Op-ed submit bugJust try to imagine what the state would look like had its annual revenue grown by less than one percent over the course of two decades. There is language in this latest state budget to cut “increases caused by inflation.”  The state seems to be in denial that inflation exists for us and the people we serve. Denying the reality of inflation is like saying gravity does not exist and the nonprofit agencies and the vulnerable people we serve should be able to just float above the problems that we confront.

I’ve been asked many times why nonprofit human service agencies are not going out of business if things are so bad, so I thought I would share the scary truth. We are in an abusive relationship with the state where 20 years ago we had three meals a day and now we are down to only one—grateful for the little we get with nowhere to go.

We persevere because we not only care for but we care passionately about the people we serve despite the fact that we have become fiscally starved organizations. We won’t abandon our missions no matter what. Instead, we balance our budgets on the backs of our staffs by reducing benefits, giving no wage increases for five to seven and now possibly nine years. Even Walmart just provided a wage increase.

Although few nonprofits have gone out of business, a large number are on the brink and many have and will further reduce the number of people they serve. Thus the abused are becoming abusers by joining the state in cutting services to the desperately poor, traumatized children, people with disabilities, families in crises, children and youth with mental illness, pre-adjudicated juveniles, and providing little hope for people on their waiting lists— unless their caretakers die.

With over $50 million cut from the Department of Developmental Services over the past five years and almost every line item in the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services budget cut, as well as vital cost saving services like teen pregnancy prevention, the fatherhood initiative, covenant to care, neighborhood centers and family support services, one is forced to ask—where is the safety net?

I see the impact of two decades of abuse and neglect on the state’s nonprofit partners and know that when tragedy strikes because of this neglect, the state will point the accusatory finger and blame us because our staff fell asleep while working two jobs to feed their own families.

For our governor and state legislature I have three messages: all people matter, inflation exists and the abuse and neglect of the nonprofit sector by the state must stop.

Patrick J. Johnson, Jr., is interim executive director of the CT Association of Nonprofits Inc.

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