Nonprofits say they're 'in crisis,' but more funding unlikely

Nonprofits that perform critical services – like tackling Connecticut's fentanyl crisis and heating people's homes – warned state lawmakers that they might not survive on Wednesday.
But more funding is unlikely this year, Gov. Ned Lamont warned.
Fentanyl deaths are skyrocketing. Counseling those struggling with addiction is dangerous work, often left to workers barely making minimum wage.
"Our lowest-paid position is $17 an hour," said Kathleen Deschenes, CEO of Connecticut Renaissance in Shelton. "And for that, we're asking people to come into work every day, not knowing what they're going to meet on the other side of the door – whether someone is homicidal, suicidal."
Nonprofits told lawmakers that they're at a crisis point, during a forum at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport. Without more funding, they said everyday people will suffer.
"For you, it may be higher – definitely higher food costs," said Dr. Monette Ferguson, executive director of the Alliance for Community Empowerment. "You're cutting back on what you're buying. You may cut back on medication. You may cut back on – you may turn the heat down a little low."
The Alliance, which represents nonprofits across the state, is asking for a 5% increase this year – plus automatic hikes tied to inflation in the future.
But on Wednesday, Gov. Ned Lamont told reporters he will not propose any new spending in his budget address next week.
"Not over and above," he said. "We've given – not given, but allocated – more money for not-for-profits than ever before. Big increases over the last four years."
But leaders of nonprofits said the increases haven't kept up with inflation, especially since funding was flat over the previous decade.
"Imagine what that would be like for yourselves personally, to go 13 years without any kind of salary increase, while the expenses rise exponentially around us," Deschenes told the panel.
Some lawmakers want to move extra nonprofit spending off-budget, to avoid busting the state's strict spending caps. Lamont has called the move a "gimmick."
"I'm a strong supporter for the governor, but I'm also a strong supporter of gimmicks," said state Rep. Antonio Felipe (D-Bridgeport). "I think if something works, it works."
The "fiscal guardrails" were enacted in 2017, after years of steep budget deficits. Since then, Connecticut has enjoyed huge surpluses and the biggest income tax cut in state history.
But critics say the caps have also shortchanged nonprofits and higher education. Connecticut State Colleges and Universities recently raised tuition 5%, weeks after cutting staff and course offerings.
On Wednesday, Lamont's budget director warned about going back to the old days of deficits.
"If you are advocating going beyond the spending cap, you're literally advocating that we spend money faster than our taxpayers can make it," said Jeffrey Beckham, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management (OPM).
One area likely to get extra money is home heating assistance.
"It's going to be rough," said Ferguson. "And our clients typically struggle."
This year, OPM cut funding for the federally-funded Connecticut Energy Assistance Program by 31%, because Congress has not re-upped funding yet.
"If Congress can't get their act together – which I don't hold out much hope – if the Legislature has to step in and make sure people can keep lights on, keep the heat on, that's a really important thing," state House Speaker Matt Ritter (D-Hartford) said on Dec. 7. "Last year, if people recall, we put, sort of, money in 'escrow' that ended up not being utilized ultimately. That might be a good option to look at."
Lawmakers head back to Hartford next Wednesday, when Lamont will deliver his State of the State address. You can watch it live on our streaming platform, News 12 New York.