Stephanie Thomas

2018 Candidate Questionnaire

Stephanie Thomas

Democrat – 143rd House District (Redding, Ridgefield, Bethel, New Canaan, Norwalk, Weston and Wilton)
 

BACKGROUND: The Alliance represents community nonprofits across Connecticut that serve over 500,000 people, employ 198,000 and spend $29 billion annually in Connecticut’s economy. Nonprofits contribute to our state’s communities, economy and quality of life; they support the developmentally disabled, feed the hungry, provide behavioral health and substance abuse treatment, and help prisoners re-enter their communities. Nonprofits also enrich the state through art and culture — providing visual arts and performances and preserving our state’s historical landmarks.

QUESTION: What has been your experience with nonprofits in your community?

ANSWER:

Before I knew what the sector was, I knew that giving back to others was important. In high school, I worked as a volunteer for our community hospital and other charities such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Special Olympics, and American Field Service.

Upon receipt of my undergraduate degree, I discovered that nonprofits were a huge sector quite distinct from business or government and I decided that it was the right place for me. I have enjoyed working as a fundraising and strategy consultant to nonprofits for over twenty years and have worked in the nonprofit sector for over twenty-seven years. In 2013 I started my own company, Stetwin Consuting, to provide fundraising and events expertise to the nonprofit community. Prior to launching Stetwin, I served as President of Susan Ulin Associates Ltd., a 28-year old consulting firm that specialized in event management for nonprofit organizations, after joining the firm in 1995 as an intern. Prior to joining Susan Ullin, I served as the Coordinator, Institutional Giving for the American Red Cross in Greater New York and as Prospect Researcher for the United Negro College Fund’s Campaign 2000, a $250 million capital campaign.

I received my master’s degree in nonprofit management from New School University, a bachelor’s degree from New York University and am a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE).

Over the years, I have made a strong commitment to volunteer to give back to the nonprofit community. I currently serve on the board of the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York (NPCC). I am a past president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, New York City board and have served the local chapter and the international association on a variety of committees including strategic planning and nominations. I have served on NPCC’s Selection Committee for the Nonprofit Excellence Awards and am currently serving as Chair of the group. I have sat on other boards on the program side and am currently service as a volunteer locally for the Carver Center in Norwalk, the Norwalk Housing Authority Scholarship Fund, and the Fund for Women & Girls. I am also a regular speaker at workshops throughout New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Through my work I have worked with 100’s of nonprofit organizations in the tri-state region and feel that I have a strong understanding of the issues facing nonprofits today.

BACKGROUND: Community services for people in need are funded by state government through contracts, grants, and the Medicaid. At least half of the state budget comprises “fixed costs” that the state must pay – for example, post-employment obligations and bonded indebtedness. The “fixed” portion of the budget increases each year. Cuts in the portion of the budget that remains have caused significant reductions in funding for nonprofits and harm to the people they serve. When faced with cuts, nonprofits cannot raise taxes or prices, forcing them to cut services, lay-off employees or close programs. This is a model that cannot sustain itself – and it puts Connecticut’s quality of life at risk. The Alliance has argued that nonprofit services should be treated as if they are “fixed costs.”

QUESTION: If elected, how will you prioritize providing services to Connecticut’s most vulnerable residents? In the face of budget constraints, what changes will you fight for to ensure adequate funding for these services?

ANSWER:

My eyes have been opened by the many types of people I’ve served through my nearly thirty years of nonprofit work. I have seen families torn apart by gun violence when common sense gun laws are not passed. I have seen bright kids who have no access to good schools and affordable college. I have seen a young girl about to lose her father, the only wage earner in the family, due to ineffective immigration policies. I have seen the elderly struggle because they cannot afford their homes. My years in the nonprofit sector have shown me first hand what happens when a society neglects to strengthen all its members. And Connecticut is leaving too many behind with growing income inequality and costly disparities in other areas, from education to access to health care. The reason I am running is to ensure that while budget adjustments are made, we are not being penny-wise and pound foolish and cutting the very things that will help our state grow in the long run.

In my work I am often tasked with coming up with creative solutions when other plans have failed. Armed with nothing but the flawed hand I’m dealt, little control over the key stakeholders, and no budget, I have to create a workable plan. When elected I will fight for the most vulnerable residents. Growing up in a family that faced financial challenges, I know that the keys to lifting people up to stand on their own and be successful are access to good, high quality education at all levels – in early childhood, in our public K-12 school and creating a pathway to college. In addition to education, I strongly believe that fighting for fair wages for all and access to health care are ways we can protect our most challenged neighbors.

I do not have all the answers as a current outsider looking in, but I do have questions: Is there more we can do to consolidate school districts, expand college options that tie tuition aide to post-graduation residency, expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, and so on.

BACKGROUND: Nonprofits are exempt from paying taxes by state and federal law. Nonprofits do not pay federal and state corporate income taxes for their charitable activities, donations to nonprofits are tax deductible, and nonprofits are exempt from Connecticut’s sales tax and local property taxes. Recently, there have been efforts at all levels of government to weaken the tax-exempt status of nonprofits, most notably at the local level.

QUESTION: Do you support nonprofit tax exemptions? Why or why not? Would you support legislation to protect or clarify tax exemptions for nonprofits? Why or why not?

ANSWER:

I wholeheartedly support nonprofit tax exemptions. It is my long-time contention that most Americans do not fully understand how much of the social safety net is currently run by non-profit agencies. If they did, the question would not come up and the last federal tax bill would never have been passed. Nonprofits save taxpayers billions of dollars every year with their ability to deliver high quality services for the least amount of money for the most intractable problems. Nothing can be spent unwisely or taken for granted – just like tax dollars. Nonprofits raised over $400 billion for the first time in history last year – money that taxpayers would otherwise have needed to pay. I would support legislation to protect nonprofit exemptions. I would also consider supporting legislation to clarify tax exemptions in special cases.

BACKGROUND: Even though community nonprofits deliver more than 90% of residential services to people with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) and 60% of clients served by Local Mental Health Authorities in Connecticut, the State continues to operate some of these services itself, with state-operated facilities staffed by state employees. The State and nonprofits provide the same services, but nonprofits do so at half of the cost. For example, the average annual cost to serve an individual with I/DD living in a state-operated group home is $265,000. The cost for a community nonprofit to provide the same service is just $113,000. This means that government funding can serve more people if those services are provided by nonprofits.

QUESTION: If elected, would you support converting more state-operated services to the nonprofit sector? If not, how would you ensure that state funding is able to help more people?

ANSWER:

I do support this effort, but would caution that we look at each of the sectors to determine what makes sense. Some of the issues I would review

  • Is the solution comprehensive vs. a patchwork of solutions which become onerous for the user (e.g. a client having to visit multiple places instead of one facility or having information lost because data across several nonprofits use different platforms);
  • Are workers receiving fair wages for the services provided? Nonprofit workers often earn lower salaries than the job mandates or work many unpaid overtime hours.
  • Given the movement in tax laws by the federal and many state and municipal governments that have been seeking to weaken nonprofits (e.g. changes in charitable deduction, UBIT tax on commuter benefits, etc.), before a shift occurs, I would want to be sure protection is built in if private funding shifts to ensure that so-called “real costs” are covered. Many services that are outsourced currently are floundering to raise diversified private income to make up for the difference in government reimbursement.
  • BACKGROUND: The nonprofit arts and culture community enhances Connecticut’s quality of life. The arts make our communities better places to live and work – they create jobs, generate revenue, and are key considerations when families and businesses are thinking of locating in our state. A recent study found that Connecticut’s nonprofit arts and culture sector generates $797 million in annual economic activity for the state, supporting over 23,000 jobs and generating $72 million in local and state tax revenue.

    QUESTION: How do your plans to grow Connecticut’s economy include our arts and cultural offerings?
    ANSWER:

    Arts provide inspiration, joy and help to make our community a stimulating and exciting place to live and work. Even with the state’s limitation of available funds, I would still advocate and ensure funding for the arts. Research shows that the arts are generators for the economy. Recent studies have shown that here in Connecticut, the arts have generated hundreds of millions in economic activity and many thousands of jobs.

     

    The Connecticut Community Nonprofit Alliance (The Alliance) is Connecticut’s statewide association of community nonprofits. Our members deliver essential services to more than half a million people each year and employ almost 14% of Connecticut’s workforce. To inform nonprofit professionals, staff, clients and volunteers, The Alliance is asking candidates to complete this short five-question document. Completed will be published on our website, sent to our network of thousands of CT voters, and included at our Annual Conference.