Reprinted from Greenwich Time, Nov. 27, 2017

Facing an austere state budget, nonprofit social-service providers are tightening their belts and doing more with less.

They’re cutting programs, reducing staff and seeking more private donations. When the next session of the General Assembly meets in February, service providers will be asking state lawmakers to let them handle more programs, in exchange for more funding, because they are less-expensive than state-employee-run treatment centers, day programs and residences.

Gian-Carl Casa, president and chief executive officer of the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, said the current budget, which lawmakers crafted during a contentious year that finally eliminated a $5 billion deficit, culminates a decade of underfunding for the state’s private social-service providers, and sharp reductions in state aid in more recent years.

“It’s really a cumulative effect on a lot of places,” Casa said during a recent interview, adding that between July and October, when state services were sharply curtailed under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s executive order, years of stress were added on nonprofits.

“While some providers eventually received the state funding they had counted on, across the board, folks are having a hard time,” said Casa, whose umbrella group represents dozens of nonprofits that focus on developmental disabilities, arts, children, adult behavioral health and community justice.

Executive-order hardships

Robert Francis, executive director of the Bridgeport-based Regional Youth Adult Social Action Partnership, said the new two-year, $41 billion state budget restored money for the organization’s Street Safe, program, which offers alternatives for teens and young adults who are at risk of joining gangs or are already gang members.

“I think we’ll get about $233,000, which will enable us to run the program in full force,” said Francis, who had to lay off two employees when the new fiscal year began on July 1 without a budget and Malloy’s executive order sharply cut social-service funding. “It’ll enable us to run the program full-force and get everyone back who we let go.”

Still, Francis is worried about other funding he usually gets from the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. He said that state officials want to merge the 14 regional action councils such as RYASAP with regional mental health boards.

Overall, RYASAP provides direct services for about 2,000 people a year and trains as many as another 5,000 in its juvenile-justice initiatives, youth development, public service and parent education, Francis said.

Kelly Donnelly, Malloy’s communications director, said changes in nonprofit funding reflect hard economic reality.

“Nonprofit social-service providers are an integral part of the system,” Donnelly said. “Regrettably, they, like other important entities that receive state support, have been affected by our state’s present budget constraints. We continue to work with them to explore options to mitigate the impact of cuts in funding.”

Looking for outside support

Jeff Grant, CEO of Family ReEntry, which concentrates on helping inmates transition back into their communities, said that the contracts his nonprofit has with the state Judicial Branch have not been affected.

“Thus far, the only reduction that we have received is a 4.5 percent, across-the-board cut by the Department of Correction,” said Grant, a former white-collar offender. 

“After losing approximately $2 million in behavioral health contracts on July 1, 2016, we have grown and made back almost half of that.”

Family ReEntry serves about 3,500 individuals and families in eight cities.

“I think our biggest problem is that as of 18 months ago, the state dismantled nonresidential mental health programming. So there are no mandated services,” Grant said. “There are some very progressive programs going on inside the prisons.”

Grant said state officials believe that inmates leaving prison who need mental health services will find them through Medicaid and other programs.

“But since there is no enforcement, most are not going to go,” he said.

Grant said that with state agencies withdrawing support, the main strategy he and other private nonprofit providers are taking is outside support.

“We’re looking at more private funding, foundation funding, and to be considerably less (reliant) on the [government] to fund solutions to social problems,” Grant said. 

“We need to get a real private-public partnership that’s innovative and supportive. Unfortunately, it means we have to make do with less and find ways to seek and get support.”

kdixon@ctpost.com Twitter: @KenDixonCT