More than a half-million people in every Connecticut city and town rely on community nonprofits for services critical to helping them achieve a quality and healthy life.
The Alliance is the statewide association, and the voice of community nonprofits, representing 117,000 Connecticut workers in this vital field.
Today, those workers are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, feeding the hungry and unemployed, supporting those with disabilities, helping the incarcerated successfully return to their communities and working to ensure continuity of mental health services, every day.
But as Connecticut begins to reopen, nonprofits dedicated to helping others are finding themselves still in crisis. The daily health risks and the financial pressures of doing business during a pandemic go on. Community nonprofits need help today to continue to help others tomorrow.
We appreciate the steps Governor Lamont has taken to confront the myriad complex issues that the pandemic has raised for all of the people of our state. In particular, we appreciate frontline nonprofit employees being given priority rapid testing for the virus.
However, improvements to the system of reducing risk and preventing illness must be made to be better prepared as Connecticut reopens, and especially to deal with the potential upswing in infection rates later in the year.
The state can help ensure community nonprofits can survive the pandemic, and stay in business into the future in eight important ways.
- Commit to keep nonprofits financially whole. If the Connecticut reopens at reduced capacity, it will reduce both the volume of services delivered and the payments nonprofits receive for those services. Nonprofit providers need a commitment to be kept financially whole for all their state revenue, including fee-for-service payments and Medicaid-funded services, to maintain a viable safety net.
- Reopening requires diligent infection control. Ensure all state contracted nonprofit providers have several months’ supply of PPE. Reopening programs and services that have face-to-face interactions will require much more PPE than most organizations have available. The current practice of providing supplies in two-week increments is not sufficient to protect the health of staff and the people they serve.
- Authorize continued use of telehealth services beyond the pandemic, with the same flexibility allowed during this emergency. Billing Medicaid for telemedicine has allowed patients to talk to caregivers without adding to crowds and risks in waiting rooms, eliminated transportation concerns for low-income and rural patients, and reduced staff exposure to the virus. Most providers did not have a telehealth infrastructure before the pandemic, and designed systems at enormous expense. Telehealth could produce long-term savings, while reaching more people after the pandemic ends.
- Provide nonprofits with the means to test anyone they are serving for COVID-19. Proper testing will allow providers to keep non-infected people safe, while providing appropriate services to those who have the coronavirus.
- Grant flexibility in funding and cost settlement for nonprofits by executive order. By allowing nonprofit providers to retain any unexpended state funds at the end of the fiscal year and allowing it to be spent as needed, the state would help nonprofits weather the current crisis and be prepared for a second wave of infection.
- Issue consistent reopening guidelines across all state departments and program/service types, ensuring uniformity in timelines and expectations and preventing confusion and a disjointed approach. The guidelines should reflect the need for multiple approaches for people and families who have grave concerns about in-person services.
- Establish clear guidelines for building capacity, something crucial to the reopening of all facilities. Providers, including and arts venues and educational facilities, worry about increased need as more people become unemployed and uninsured, need mental health services and support. Nonprofits may not have the physical space to serve people safely, and will need state guidance to make plans, and making the continuation of telehealth services mentioned above even more critical.
- Establish standard processes for isolation/quarantine for COVID-19 positive cases.
- Maintain support for arts and cultural organizations. COVID-19 is a major threat to Connecticut’s arts, music venues and cultural institutions such as museums, who rely on admission fees and donations for funding. With venues closed and donations lower amid record unemployment, nonprofits may not have funds to reopen in a limited capacity. Social distancing will cut attendance even after reopening and fearful patrons could stay away. These cultural gems could be ruined if there is a surge of new cases or they need to close again.
Reopening Connecticut is an enormous and sensitive undertaking that will affect every one of our residents in countless ways.
We urge state leaders to take these and other important steps to shore up nonprofit institutions that are so important to our quality-of-life, employ more than 100,000 people and serve so many more. Without community nonprofits, Connecticut wouldn’t be the great place to live and do business that it is with them.
Gian-Carl Casa is President and CEO of CT Community Nonprofit Alliance