The state’s settlement providing $872 million to Connecticut’s hospitals over seven years negotiated by the governor and approved by the General Assembly last month at long last moves policymakers past a thorny fiscal issue that has taken up significant airspace in the state capitol for the last few years.
The agreement also points the way for the state to take on another challenge – remedying the dozen years of under-funding of the social services programs run for the state by community nonprofits.
Who are community nonprofits? They are organizations located in every city and town across the state that care for adults and children with mental health conditions, treat substance abuse, support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, feed the hungry, help ex-offenders move back into their communities, provide art therapy and so much more. These are essential services that make Connecticut a great place to live and do business.
Community nonprofits have not had their payment rates adjusted in more than a decade – as demand for services has gone up, they’ve found themselves further behind. In the hospital agreement, the state acknowledged the need for state payments to keep up with the cost of providing services and the need for funding commitments to meet needs over time. It is time to do the same for grants and Medicaid rates paid to community nonprofits.
The hospital agreement also recognizes that nonprofits provide services on behalf of state and local government and that the partial compensation for that is maintaining long-honored property tax exemptions. Community nonprofits are no different – they provide services so the state doesn’t have to, and at a lower cost to taxpayers.
While some may think that budget cuts have had no impact on community services, the many years of cuts and stagnant funding has indeed resulted in program closures and reductions. Fewer people are getting services and fewer people are working to provide those services.
Connecticut can address this: for the first time in a long time, the legislature has a significant surplus it can dedicate to community nonprofits to finally make up for decades of cuts. The state is currently estimated to have a budget surplus for this fiscal year of $318 million -– but it’s scheduled by statute to be added into the Rainy Day Fund (now at $2.6 billion, the largest it’s ever been).
In years of budget deficits, community nonprofits have made sacrifices and been forced to do more with less. If lawmakers will not help the people served by community nonprofits when state finances are in this kind of shape, when will they?
Like the state spending cap, legislation that ships the money out of the budget and into an already-large savings account grants lawmakers an ability to confront important challenges when they arise – the governor can declare an emergency or “extraordinary circumstances” or the General Assembly can redirect the extra revenue by a three-fifths vote.
The need is acute and growing, the money is there, legislation allows its use for important needs.
The state should enact a multi-year program to first restore and then grow funding necessary to meet the needs of the people of Connecticut.
Families of people on waiting lists for intellectual/developmental disability services, people who need substance abuse treatment, kids who need placement for foster care, men and women who need help getting their footing on their return home from prison all have one question for our state’s decision-makers: if not now, when?
Gian-Carl Casa is President & CEO of the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance.