Gov. Ned Lamont joined the Children’s League of Connecticut (CLOC) during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic at a 2020 event to discuss the challenges CLOC members and other nonprofit social service providers were facing as we worked tirelessly to meet the needs of children and young people dealing with other challenging situations.
“I just wanted to be here today to remind you of the incredible work being done by your league,” Governor Lamont said in the event at Klingberg Family Centers in New Britain. “We need you more than ever, and we need the support more than ever. … We’ve got to make sure that on the backside of this COVID, these kids know that we love them, we’re standing with them, and there’s going to be a better day, and that’s what each and every one of you do.”
Governor Lamont was a true inspiration that October day. His words and support strengthened our resolve to innovate and engage with heightened passion despite formidable challenges. The governor gave us hope that when times got better, the social safety net we provide — so often unsung and behind the scenes — would be affirmed and our state government would increase funding levels.
We are on the backside of that pandemic now, and with Connecticut coffers more robust than ever, it’s time for the General Assembly to step up and provide a level of funding to Connecticut’s social service nonprofits that helps overcome decades of underfunding.
Imagine working with the most vulnerable population, amid the challenges and stresses of coming out of a pandemic, getting paid $18 per hour with inflation running wild, and being promised a 1% increase. That is the harsh reality nonprofit human services organizations and their talented, dedicated staff have heard thus far in the ongoing state budget process.
The rewards of changing lives for the better are often very gratifying … but they are not currency accepted at the local supermarket. Many of our employees have reevaluated their lives post-pandemic and asked themselves, “Is giving back something I want to do? Is it something I can afford to continue doing?”
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These questions that could challenge the stability of staffing levels at our social service nonprofits come at a time when the need for our services is only increasing. One-in-five people are dealing with mental health issues, for example, 1:36 have Autism, and hospital emergency departments are jammed with kids who need services.
Blessed with a budget surplus, our Connecticut leaders will hopefully be inspired by neighboring states to boost cost of living (COLA) increases for our nonprofits so that people in need — our neighbors — will continue to get the help they need.
In Rhode Island, nonprofits saw at 10% increase in FY22 and a 14% increase in FY23, and Massachusetts has increased the budget for those in the most need by 14%.
These states seem to understand that their budgets are not simply a source of operating revenues that must be apportioned at sustaining levels, but they are also policy statements that underscore what is important. Connecticut has a deep history of supporting people in need, and that priority must be honored and affirmed by our elected officials as they fine-tune and approve a new biennial budget!
To Governor Lamont and the state legislators who control Connecticut’s purse strings, we vow that we are here to tackle the challenges of our clients and constituencies, to improve lives, to nourish hope, and to encourage miracles — no matter what it takes.
But just like the children served by CLOC members and other Connecticut nonprofits that the governor showed such deep compassion for on that Autumn day in 2020, our social service nonprofits need to know the state is standing by us and committed to providing an increased level of funding that will give our “heroes of the pandemic” a reasonable living wage.
Lynn Bishop is President the Children’s League of Connecticut (CLOC) and Executive Director of NAFI Connecticut, Inc.