The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Budget leaders vow more funds for social service workers

- By Ken Dixon Twitter: @KenDixonCT

Leaders of the General Assembly’s budget-writing Appropriat­ions Committee on Friday said that some workers for nonprofit social service agencies are among the lowest-paid in the state, but their jobs are some of the most-difficult, particular­ly those who care for Connecticu­t’s developmen­tally disabled.

During a budget briefing-and-question session with Jeffrey Beckham, who as secretary of the Office of Policy and Management is Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget chief, legislator­s led by state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, complained that there wasn’t more money for pay increases for the many agencies that took over the work of state agencies such as the Department of Developmen­tal Services.

“It’s really unfortunat­e that those that work the hardest with the hardest clients are making less than everybody else,” said Osten, who is the co-chairwoman of the committee. “I don’t think that’s right and I think we need to have something that gets these workers what they should be getting, because they are making less than workers who do less than them. We have put significan­t pressure on a couple of our larger employers of DDS clients, or those with intellectu­al and developmen­tal disabiliti­es.”

In all, there are about 115,000 employees of social-service agencies, which range from residentia­l to daytime behavioral health care programs and nursing homes, according to the CT Nonprofit Alliance, whose president and CEO, Gian Carl Casa, complained about Lamont’s proposed budget soon after his address to the General Assembly on Wednesday.

Osten said over the last couple of decades or more, as state services began to shift to contracts with nonprofits, the state saved money by not having those workers on the state payroll. “They still have to pay for insurance and food and all the other things, and they pay for those all at the same rate they did in state service, but the only thing they don’t do is pay workers,” Osten said, stressing that she and Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, the other committee cochairwom­an have a five-year plan for nonprofit workers.

Beckham noted that the budget includes $25 million per year over the biennium for capital-expediture grants. “I’m hopeful we can move some existing money, I think it’s about $40 million out there, authorized already for capital improvemen­ts for their facilities,” he said. He said that the current budget, which expires on June 30, included cost-of-living raises of 4 percent in the first year and 5 percent in the current budget. “We have to come up with a budget, as you do, that’s fits everything in and balances, so that’s where we landed with nonprofits.”

“We also gave judges a very large raise last year,” Osten replied. “I think that these people make less than anybody else and really, we have decades to make up for. These are not people making sixfigure salaries. It’s something that I’ll be looking at in the budget to see what we can do because it’s not a fair assessment.”

Rep. Geraldo Reyes Jr., D-Waterbury, said that during the pandemic the nonprofits “stepped up” to serve urban districts like his, where the median income is $23,000 a year. “These folks have been supported greatly by nonprofits,” Reyes said. “I’d like us to take a little deeper dive in taking a look at nonprofits and see what we can do.” Beckham reiterated his previous answer to Osten.

 ?? Dan Haar / Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? Sen. Cathy Osten, left, D-Sprague, and Sen. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, are co-chairwomen of the General Assembly’s Appropriat­ions Committee.
Dan Haar / Hearst Connecticu­t Media Sen. Cathy Osten, left, D-Sprague, and Sen. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, are co-chairwomen of the General Assembly’s Appropriat­ions Committee.

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