The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Nonprofit day care providers rally at Capitol
HARTFORD — During the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofit social service providers were called heroes and received small cost-of-living increases in the state budget.
But during a morning rally Wednesday outside the State Capitol that spilled over into a daylong, high-profile lobbying effort — with just two weeks in the legislative session — residential and daycare providers for the elderly and developmentally disabled residents from throughout the state warned that the current budget proposals would not let their operations keep up with inflation.
The result, they said, is an inability to offer enough money to even compete with big box stores for workers. Resulting staffing shortages mean longer client waiting lists and vacant facilities while some of Connecticut’s mostfragile residents are kept in bureaucratic limbo.
In the morning, more than 1,000 green-shirted social service providers, including dozens of developmentally disabled clients, took over the south lawn of the Capitol, pushing their agenda for 7 percent increases or more in each of the two years of the biennium that starts July 1.
But Speaker of the House Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, told reporters that in the budget outline that is just a few days from a handshake deal, nonprofits would get more than 2.5 percent increases in each year, spread out in education funding, direct nonprofit aid and additional support for developmentally disabled group homes.
“We think we get somewhere above 3 (percent) in year one, mindful that we were at 1 (percent) in the original budget,” Ritter told reporters before the House convened. “I know it’s not 7 percent, which is the ask, but we feel like we’ve listened to them, so to the folks that are protesting, our message is we’ve heard you.”
But for administrators such as Gian Carl Casa, president of the Connecticut Alliance, the late-stage budget negotiations is anxiety-inducing. “So far publicly, the highest numbers we’ve heard is what a couple of the caucuses have put out, which is 2½ percent, and that is clearly not sufficient to do the job,” Casa said in an interview as the crowd of workers, administrators and clients gathered on the Capitol lawn. “It’s not sufficient to solve the strike that’s going on right now, and it’s not sufficient to provide services by other kinds of nonprofits. Inflation has eaten into what nonprofits can afford and the need has gone up and up.”
Barry Simon, president and CEO at Oak Hill, where SEIU 1199 went on strike on Wednesday morning, said that about 700 workers are on picket lines, so he has looked for temporary workers to fill in and provide services for nursing home residents. He said that raising wages from the current $17.25 to $25 would require hundreds of millions of dollars in additional Medicaid funding.
“That’s why we’re asking for 9 percent and 7 percent,” said Simon, who was wearing a “Fund Nonprofits!” T-shirts under his sport coat. “It’s to get people to wages where they can deal with inflation, deal with the rising costs or everything, and want to come to work in a field that’s just so challenging every day.”
He said the strike is hard for clients and the dedicated staff on the picket lines.
“As the CEO, it’s painful to balance wanting to support the efforts that our staff have, which is really out of frustration, and making sure that our clients and students are safe,” he said. “So we have temp workers in. We have our professional staff and all of our programs, but it’s not the same as having their staff there on a daily basis that they have relationships with. During COVID, they said we were heroes. Here we are, a couple of years later and budgets are being proposed with zero and zero-percent increases, and one and zero-percent increases. That doesn’t show a whole lot of value.”
Roberta Cook, president and CEO of BH Care, which has domestic violence, mental health and addiction facilities in areas including Branford and Ansonia, said there are about 420 employees, but prospective workers can make tens of thousands of dollars elsewhere. “It’s extremely challenging right now because we cannot meet the salary requirements that people are suggesting,” she said, stressing the current need for licensed children’s behavioral health technicians. “They’re leaving to go to work in a school system or work for the state, making a lot more money than we’re able to pay them at this point. The children’s needs are very challenging at this moment.”
House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, RNorth Branford, reminded reporters that his caucus’s budget proposal would give nonprofits 2.5 percent raises. “We know they were requesting more, close to $400 million. They are important programs that we should be paying attention to.”
Adam Joseph, communications director for Gov. Ned Lamont, said Wednesday morning that the budget is still under negotiations.
“The governor has been pretty clear that he is interested in working with the leaders to provide an increase in funding for the nonprofit service providers.” Joseph said.