Nonprofits press CT to privatize more social services
Connecticut’s private, nonprofit social service agencies released an agenda Wednesday that includes further privatization of state-sponsored services.
Officials with the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance also urged legislators to resolve a growing disagreement over the municipal tax status of nonprofit agencies.
“Connecticut has a dual-system of care that presents significant costs and has not really allowed the (care) system to adapt,” said Barry Simon, president and CEO of Oak Hill in Hartford, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of care to persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The private, nonprofit sector, which delivers the majority of state-sponsored human services in Connecticut, increasingly has pressed in recent years for legislators to divert more of Connecticut’s scarce resources their way.
As state finances face increasing pressure from surging pension and other debt costs, nonprofit leaders say Connecticut must reduce the volume of human services delivered by state employees.
“The way we’re doing it now just doesn’t work any longer,” Simon said.
“This is a new opportunity to bring a fresh perspective on how human services are delivered in the state of Connecticut,” said Andrea Barton Reeves, president and CEO of HARC — a Hartford-based nonprofit serving the developmentally disabled.
State Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden, co-chairwoman of the Human Services Committee, said channeling more state dollars into the private, nonprofit sector could help many small agencies badly in need of a technology upgrade. This, in turn, could reduce costs and improve client care.
“We have an opportunity as a state to really push forward in this and become a hub for people who want to come into the human services field,” she said.
Nonprofit leaders said they aren’t trying to reduce the number of state employees, but rather to redeploy public-sector human service workers into other jobs.
But labor leaders often counter that human services is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor and that the state often must treat individuals with the most challenging conditions or problems — simply because no one else will.
Representatives of both the nonprofit industry and the state’s largest health care workers union participated earlier this winter in a human services research panel preparing recommendations for new Gov. Ned Lamont.
Deborah Schwartz, vice president and home care director for SEIU Healthcare 1199NE (known for many years as New England Healthcare Employees Union District 1199) said when the panel delivered its report on Dec. 17 that Connecticut needs to focus on greater investment in health care — across the board.
Schwartz noted that more than 2,000 developmentally disabled citizens are “mired” on controversial state waiting lists for residential placements. Most on that list are middle-aged patients cared for most of their lives by parents who now are elderly.
Nonprofit leaders also expressed concerns Wednesday about increased municipal taxation.
Though the industry asserts both its offices and the residential facilities it operates are tax-exempt under state law, an increasing number of municipalities are levying taxes on the buildings in which group homes are located.
“Nonprofits are the bedrock of the quality of life for our state. The state must protect our tax-exempt status to ensure our capacity to do so is not undermined,” said Peter DeBiasi, President and CEO of Access Community Action Agency. “Over the past several years, municipal tax assessors have issued more property tax bills than ever before to local nonprofits that have a history of exempt status and have not undergone a change of use.”
The alliance is asking lawmakers to enact legislation to clarify this issue.
Gian-Carl Casa, president and CEO of the nonprofit alliance, said this trend is forcing many nonprofits to choose between costly legal challenges to their tax assessments, or preserving funds to provide services.
“It’s expensive,” he said. ”Putting nonprofits in that position is putting them between a very big rock and a very difficult place.”