2020 Candidate Questionnaire

Stephanie Thomas

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

#1) BACKGROUND: Community services for people in need are funded by state government through contracts, grants, and Medicaid. Over the years, community nonprofits have been cut in budget after budget, causing significant reductions in funding for community services and harm to the people of the state. When faced with cuts, community 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. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused unanticipated expenses for Personal Protective Equipment and more, revenue losses as people are avoiding in-person services, and constantly changing guidance on staffing ratios, etc.

QUESTION: If elected, would you stand-up in your caucus and tell your colleagues to support increases in funding for community nonprofits?
Please check one:
Yes: __x_
No: ___
Additional Comments: For three decades, I have worked to strengthen the nonprofit sector financially and strategically, helping organizations raise tens of millions of dollars to support and achieve their important missions. This experience uniquely positions me to effectively advocate for necessary increases in funding to community nonprofits across Connecticut.

It has long been my contention that most Americans do not fully understand how much of the social safety net is currently run by nonprofit agencies, and how much our quality of life is at risk if our sector fails. There is no other backstop for those being serviced by nonprofit agencies and with COVID-19, organizations are already operating at their maximum while the need shows no sign of slowing. Just as I advocate for small businesses, I will advocate as fiercely for nonprofits to ensure that federal and state funding flows to these vital agencies.

#2) BACKGROUND: Community nonprofits are exempt from paying taxes by state and federal law because they provide services that would otherwise need to be provided by government. 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 with municipalities assessing property taxes to property used for charitable purposes.

QUESTION: Would you support legislation to clarify that community nonprofits that provide essential services are not subject to property taxation?
Please check one:
Yes: _x__
No: ___
Additional Comments: I would support legislation to protect nonprofit exemptions. 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. While we know that Connecticut will face many fiscal challenges in the coming years because of the pandemic, we should not attempt to tax nonprofits to meet budget deficits. First, it is philosophically wrong: nonprofits are tax-exempt because of the important social contributions that nonprofits make for the good of our society. Connecticut residents benefit from having a strong and vibrant nonprofit community, and tax exemptions are crucial to maintaining fiscally sound nonprofits. Additionally, taxing nonprofits is not an effective strategy for the government or the nonprofit. In the short term, this strategy is ineffective: the tax collected will be mere percentages of a percent of the deficit. In the long term, we will harm the nonprofits that create the social safety net that so many residents rely upon by increasing their expenses during a time where nonprofits themselves are struggling with budget cuts. Ultimately, it could also drive nonprofits to incorporate, or even operate, in other states. Instead, we must look at other revenue sources, such as budget reductions of existing government agencies or increased taxation on those who can most afford to help our state.

#3) BACKGROUND: Even though community nonprofits deliver more than 90% of residential services to people with Intellectual/Development 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, (and substantiated quality of care) but nonprofits do so at half of the cost (i.e., nonprofits negotiate medical and dental insurance every year, while the State is locked into a contract; nonprofits don’t have long term debt obligations associated with healthcare and retirement plans, nonprofits can more easily manage overtime, etc). Given the reality that thousands of state employees are expected to retire by 2022, the State could use this upcoming biennial budget to redesign the service system to be more modern, efficient, sustainable, and simply help more people.

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?
Please check one:
Yes: __Leaning yes__
No: ____
Additional Comments:I do support this effort, but I would caution that we look at each of the sectors to determine what makes sense. Some of the issues I would review include:

  • 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.

Generally, nonprofits have the expertise and experience to understand which interventions work best; are closest to the communities that they serve; and are more nimble and able to be responsive and creative to problems communities face. Given the upcoming retirement projections, this would be an opportune time to consider how to move those duties, and the funding, to nonprofits to provide more effective, efficient, and inexpensive quality care to Connecticut residents.

#4) 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. Yet all this economic activity is at risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many arts and cultural organizations that offer live performances have suspended all events, as some venues cannot be inexpensively reconfigured to social distance seating and/or improve ventilation. Further, major fund-raisers, another important source of revenue, have been postponed until further notice while general donations are also down as more people are unemployed.

QUESTION: Would you support state funding to keep art and cultural institutions in business until they can get back on their feet after the pandemic?
Yes: _x__
No: ___
Additional Comments: Much like with small businesses, we need to advocate for federal measures and ask the state to step in where they fall short. A temporary lifeline in the form of access to no or low interest loans will help these vital institutions that enrich, educate, and entertain us. The arts also serve as an important driver for our economy in job creation and revenue generation. And I appreciate how many organizations have pivoted to provide remote programming during the pandemic. I know from my decades of experience in working with nonprofits that they are suffering in multiple ways. It would be shortsighted to allow them to close when we know they can play a role in our collective recovery.

#5) BACKGROUND: Community nonprofits across Connecticut serve over 500,000 people, employ 117,000 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: Inspired by my belief in social change, I have devoted my entire professional life to the nonprofit organizations that work to improve the quality of life for us all. Before I even knew what the nonprofit sector was, I knew that giving back was important. In high school, I worked as a volunteer for our community hospital, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the Special Olympics.

My first job upon graduation was as a Prospect Researcher for the United Negro College Fund’s $250 million capital campaign. That position set me upon the path of embracing the nonprofit sector as my career home. In 2013 I started my own company, Stetwin Consulting, to provide fundraising expertise to nonprofits. Before that, I served as President of Susan Ulin Associates, an events management firm for nonprofits, after joining it in 1995 as an intern. Previously, I served as a Coordinator of Institutional Giving at the American Red Cross. I received my master’s in nonprofit management from New School University, and my BA from NYU.

For nearly three decades, I have enjoyed helping hundreds of nonprofits raise tens of millions and have found it so fulfilling to be part of this sector and this community.