CT Mirror Series: For Connecticut’s Nonprofits, A Time of Reckoning

The Connecticut Mirror is running a multi-part series about Connecticut’s nonprofits and their struggles with state budget cuts. Scroll down to see all the articles in the series. This page will be updated as more articles are published.

Part 1: August 6, 2018

Change is Coming for Nonprofit Human Service Providers, But Will It Make or Break Them?

By Keith M. Phaneuf

It is a time of reckoning for Connecticut’s private, nonprofit social services.

After two decades of flat or reduced funding from its chief client — state government — community-based agencies are struggling to retain both their programs and the low-paid staff who deliver care for thousands of poor, disabled and mentally-ill adults and children.

Depending on the vantage point, Connecticut’s nonprofit social services sector is viewed as either the best means to preserve the state’s safety net or as the cheapest route to drive down government spending.

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‘It gets harder and harder to make choices’

By Paul Marks, Special to CTMirror.org

New Britain – Behind a rusting iron fence, inside an aging red-brick building leased from the 170-year-old St. Mary Roman Catholic Church next door, Farrell Treatment Center offers a way out for people gripped by drug and alcohol addiction.

Dennis Pupowski says the staff there caught him when he’d hit “rock bottom” in his descent into narcotic addiction, and gave him hope and strength. Today, after a 28-day residential “detox” program and continuing outpatient treatment, he is sober, working a steady job and getting outpatient therapy.

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Luckier Than Many, But an Uncertain Future

By Paul Marks, Special to CTMirror.org

Robert Embardo is a 29-year-old guy in a Red Sox cap who weighs upwards of 300 pounds. Approaching with a slightly unsteady gait, he greets visitors with a left-handed handshake and a nod. But he doesn’t say much, even to his mother. The word he uses – the only word – is “key.”

That’s because Robert, who has autism, knows that unlocking the closet where the household food is kept gets him what he wants when he arrives home from his daily visit to Resources for Human Development in Wallingford. When he tears into a loaf of Italian bread, it doesn’t last long.

“He’d eat it all if I didn’t stop him,” his mom, Peg Embardo, explains. She works a part-time job as a church secretary, but her life, the routine of every day, involves managing Robert’s needs. It’s something that was easier to do when her husband was alive, she said, but now it’s mother and son and a life that relies heavily on state-sponsored social services.

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Part 2: August 7, 2018

After Years of Cuts, Nonprofits Struggle to Survive.

By Tom Condon

The term “nonprofit organization” may well be misleading. Some might think nonprofits aren’t really businesses.

Ah, but they are; indeed, some are large, intricate and highly regulated businesses. Like for-profit businesses, they need revenue to execute their missions. When that revenue falls off, they must make creative and/or hard-nosed business decisions.

This is the leaky boat in which many of the state’s nonprofits, particularly those under contract to provide human services to the state, find themselves.

Their state funding has been flat or slowly reduced over the past dozen years — “a death by a thousand cuts” one advocate called it — particularly after the 2008 Great Recession and subsequent state budget crises.

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A 5 Percent Budget Cut Translates to Lost Hours, Lost Jobs

By Paul Marks, Special to CTMirror.org

Five years ago, Catholic Charities of Fairfield County decided to try a new model of outreach and treatment for clients in and around Danbury who struggle with depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. It renovated a storefront along West Street, a block away from City Hall, and opened the New Heights Recovery and Wellness Center.

The idea was to offer a gathering place where clients could get a healthy lunch, attend classes on nutrition, exercise, anger management, volunteering and other healthy behaviors. It made a nice complement to the agency’s Community Support program of traditional case management, which for more than 50 years has provided free counseling to low-income people lacking health insurance.

Most of all, the new center was a place to make friends, somewhere to be with others at times when being alone becomes unbearable.

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Budget Cuts, Programs Ended, and ‘We went off the cliff’

By Paul Marks, Special to CTMirror.org

Salem — Three years ago, Tom and Arlene Reith moved into a slate-gray, four-bedroom colonial on a quiet street in rural Salem with their 27-year-old daughter Sarah, who has Down Syndrome and autism. They’d come from Long Island, where he was an executive at an engineering firm and she had worked as credit manager for Barron’s Publishing.

The relocation was planned with Sarah’s needs in mind. Three of their sons and a daughter-in-law live nearby and work at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Arlene explained. The couple wanted to live closer in their retirement years for everyone’s sake.

“We felt that this is where Sarah would have a circle of support,” she said.

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Part 3: August 8, 2018

CT’s Two-Tiered Human Services System: ‘One Tier Too Many’

by Tom Condon

Oak Hill, Inc., the largest nonprofit provider of human services for the state, recently trained two group home workers, only to see them jump to the competition earlier this year.

The competition is the state. Connecticut has an unusual two-tiered system of residential programs for persons with developmental disabilities. The state runs some group homes and other residential facilities, and contracts with nonprofits such as Oak Hill to run others.

The work is the same; the compensation is not.

After years of flat or reduced budgets to nonprofits, the workers at nonprofit group homes have hovered just above minimum wage while their counterparts at state group homes are decently paid — they average nearly $30 an hour — with excellent benefits. Who could blame someone for going to the greener grass?

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‘When they’re good, we know they’re going to go’

By Paul Marks, Specialto CTMirror.org

Controlled chaos – something like a symphony orchestra tuning up – is the scene as the staff at the Arc Eatery in Meriden gets ready to crank out burgers, BLTs and chicken quesadillas for lunch. But instead of one conductor among the white-clad preparers and servers, there are a dozen or more.

The cafe and catering service, staffed by developmentally disabled clients of MidState ARC, requires very close supervision. After all, there are sharp knives and hot ovens involved, and safety is paramount. Questions and answers are called across the kitchen as trays of food get shuttled around. Cupboard doors open, then bang shut. Everyone works under the supervision of a trained chef.

The eatery is open to the public. Several of those trained in the program, which serves clients from 26 Connecticut towns, have gone on to work at restaurants in the community.

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Part 4: August 9, 2018

How to Stop Squeezing Nonprofits and their Clients

By Tom Condon

The task for caring for society’s most vulnerable citizens was first taken on by churches, then by towns, and now primarily by the state.

Folks like Patrick J. “Pat” Johnson Jr., former head of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Hartford and Oak Hill, Inc., believes that is as it should be.

It is the responsibility of a civil society to care for its most vulnerable citizens, says Johnson, but he is dismayed by cuts to the nonprofits that perform the lion’s share of the work, causing many of them to cut programs and jobs

“The state is backing away from its fundamental responsibility to care for the needy,” Johnson said.

As CT Mirror has reported, the state has cut or flatlined funding to nonprofits over the past dozen years, which Johnson characterized as balancing the budget on the backs of our neediest residents.

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He’s Among 1,800 on the Waiting List for a Place to Live

By Paul Marks, Special to CTMirror.org

Twenty-seven-year-old Dan Fiorentino grew up in West Hartford and graduated from Hall High School, just like both of his parents. He has a job, a supportive family and a passion for the Boston Red Sox. But because he has Down Syndrome, there’s no telling when he’ll be able to live on his own.

Whether he lands in a group home or his own supervised apartment depends on the waiting list of about 1,800 Connecticut families hoping to see a bed open in a state-supported group home or congregate living facility.

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As needs continue, prices rise, state contribution falls

By: Paul Marks, Special to CTMirror.org

Last year Ed Harrison had hip replacement surgery, and before long he was walking on his left leg again. Then all of a sudden he wasn’t. Harrison fell and broke his leg in two places and wound up back in the hospital, then in a Groton nursing home and rehab center for recovery.

When his treatment there ended, the 59-year-old U.S. Navy veteran, who served during the Desert Storm era of the 1990s, had no home to return to.

He took advantage of the “respite” care that the Homeless Hospitality Center in New London offers to those without a home who have left a medical facility and require continuing care that typically would be provided by a visiting nurse, spouse or other family member.

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