This image of a social services worker reading to a client is on the petition being submitted to the governor.
This image of a social services worker reading to a client is on the petition being  submitted to the governor.
This image of a social services worker reading to a client is on the petition being submitted to the governor.

Connecticut’s community service agencies are asking Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to reduce his proposed tax rebate and instead dedicate about one-third of that money to services for the most vulnerable.

The Connecticut Community Providers Association, which represents nearly 130 private, nonprofit providers, launched an online petition this week. The appeal, aimed at Malloy and the legislature, had gained 826 signatures as of noon Thursday.

The CCPA specifically asks officials to reassign $55 million of the $155 million Malloy is seeking for a rebate program that would give $55 to individuals and $110 to couples from low- and middle-income households.

Nonprofits say this 35 percent reduction would make little difference to taxpayers – theoretically costing individuals $19 and couples $38 – but a $55 million boost would be huge for needy children and adults.

“This is a great opportunity for the governor and the legislature to make an investment back in the community that will make a true impact on the quality of life,” said Gary M. Steck, chairman of the CCPA Board of Directors and CEO of Wellmore Behavioral Health of Waterbury.

State government, which hires the private sector to deliver the bulk of its social services, is dedicating $1.3 billion out of this fiscal year’s $18.6 billion total budget to fund a wide array of services including: behavioral counseling for children and families; therapy for the mentally ill; treatment and other support services for the developmentally disabled; drug addiction recovery programs; and various job training programs for the unemployed.

Leaders of the nonprofit sector have argued for more than a decade that state payments to these community-based agencies have not kept pace with inflation since the late 1980s. This has shrunk programs and created a host of other problems.

Many agencies struggle with worker turnover rates as high as 25 percent. This makes it hard to operate all programs at full strength, and interrupts relationships built between counselors, therapists and other social workers and the children and adults they serve.

“This is a critical time” for nonprofits and their clients, Steck said. “To them this is all about their day-to-day survival and about how they are going to get by.”

Steck added, “We think this (petition) is a critical opportunity for people to speak for themselves.”

One petition-signer endorsed the CCPA’s appeal, “Because $55 means nothing to me. And if can help someone else than let it happen!”

A second wrote, “Our most vulnerable citizens need our protection and deserve quality programs and services.”

“The governor has a tremendous amount of respect for the work our nonprofit community does every day,” Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba said Thursday.

The governor, who inherited an unprecedented 18 percent budget shortfall when he took office in January 2011, not only spared nonprofits from cuts while closing that gap, but he and legislators approved a modest, 1 percent rate hike for nonprofits starting in January 2012.

Malloy and lawmakers also launched a $20 million program with state bonding this year that funded 146 capital projects for nonprofit agencies. With that money, the agencies repaired buildings, upgraded energy systems and information technology upgrades, and replaced vehicles, among other things.

Terry Edelstein, former CCPA executive director and now Malloy’s liaison to the nonprofit community, noted that given the high demand for assistance through the capital program, the governor has proposed $50 million in bonding for that effort in the coming fiscal year.

The tax rebate program is aimed at working families and has the potential to give an additional boost to Connecticut’s growing economy, administration officials said.

One estimate from the University of Connecticut’s Center for Economic Analysis concluded a $155 million rebate program could generate enough economic activity to create more than 1,000 jobs.

“The governor is also mindful of the fact that the taxpayers should share in the recovery,” Doba said.

Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, co-chairwoman of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, said “I’ve definitely been hearing from the community and from legislators” to increase funding for nonprofits.

Bye said most appeals have centered on one of three areas: support services for the developmentally disabled; mental health programs for children and for adults; and home care for the elderly seeking to avoid living in a nursing home.

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Keith M. PhaneufState Budget Reporter

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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