Budget solution: Change the way Connecticut provides services

By Gian-Carl Casa | Posted to CT Viewpoints July 05, 2017

As Connecticut residents enjoyed the Independence Day holiday and its barbecues, parades and vacations, thousands of people with mental health issues, substance abuse addictions, developmental disabilities, homelessness and those striving for a second chance post-incarceration were facing the loss of the help they need.

For them, the days past July 1 – when the state fiscal year began with no budget in place — are not a time to celebrate. However, much of their suffering can be avoided if elected officials build on areas of agreement and make human services their priority.

Let’s start with the harsh reality: beginning the new fiscal year without a state budget will result in human services agencies across Connecticut cutting services and closing doors.

Yet since January, leaders of community nonprofits have offered a way to save $300 million over the biennium while re-investing that savings to people in need, by shifting more services from more expensive state government agencies into the nonprofit sector.

The estimated savings are real. We calculated the difference in the per-person cost when services are delivered by the state rather than nonprofits.

Here are two examples: for group homes serving the developmentally disabled it’s $152,000 per person. If half of the 888 people still in state care that’s a difference of almost $100 million over the next two years. For Local Mental Health Authorities, the cost difference is $7,300 per person, for a total possible savings of $68 million over two years.

This change would not be new – more than 86 percent of people receiving state services for developmental disabilities are getting them through community-based nonprofits, and the majority of mental health and substance abuse services are also provided in the nonprofit sector.

By supporting the more expensive status quo over new ways to deliver services, the state chooses to deprive people of care they need. There are more than 2,000 people on the waiting list at the Department of Developmental Services and they may never receive services if we maintain the current inefficient and expensive service delivery system.

As legislators grapple with proposals for a new budget, they primarily wrestle between spending cuts and tax increases. Community nonprofits have offered a tangible and high-quality alternative to both routes, at least for provision of human services. To people who claim it is “too complicated,” nonprofits with experience say that is simply not the case. Nonprofits have shown time and again they can do a high-quality job, less expensively.

We understand the budget disagreements are difficult to reconcile and that leaders may need time to get to the kind of compromise that will put a two-year budget in place. We know there is a balance to be struck between revenues and spending cuts.

But all the budgets proposed to date, by people in both parties, have recognized to different degrees that the nonprofit alternative can work. If they can agree on that, and that the priority of the state should be caring for the most vulnerable among us, maybe while they work on a two-year budget they can enter into a “separate peace,” passing legislation that earmarks the savings to address the urgent needs of vulnerable children, families, seniors and individuals with complex needs – now.

People in need of help can’t wait until Labor Day. And if they are not the priority, who is?

Gian-Carl Casa is President & CEO, CT Community Nonprofit Alliance.

Read on CTViewpoints