Lamont dances towards a new approach to governing

By Gian-Carl Casa, President & CEO, CT Community Nonprofit Alliance

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont dances at his inaugural ball Jan. 9, 2019.

On the night he was sworn into office this month, Connecticut’s 89th governor Ned Lamont danced happily — to the delight of attendees at his inaugural ball and everyone who’s seen the video since then.

The Governor’s enthusiastic embrace of his new role as Connecticut’s chief executive holds out the promise of new approaches for the Land of Steady Habits.

One of them should be delivering services to more people at lower cost. Many of Connecticut’s community nonprofits contract with the state to deliver human services. They have struggled for decades with underfunding and a dual system of providing services that the state has largely refused to change.

Connecticut has a dual system that continues to provide some human services through state-operated facilities at a significantly higher cost. The quality of services at the state level is no better or worse. It simply costs more. And because it is the way the state has always done business, it’s been difficult to change.

Community nonprofits improve our quality-of-life. They feed the hungry, house the homeless, support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, treat people with mental health and substance abuse needs, help former prisoners re-enter the community, ensure people can heat their homes, and provide arts and cultural programs. They also employ thousands of people in towns and cities across the state.

In recent years lean state budgets have meant that, even as demand has increased by double-digit percentages, the programs provided by nonprofits have been among the first to be reduced. That’s because funding for those programs are in the 47 percent of the state budget that is not “fixed” and thus is on the chopping block — and in competition with — things like education, municipal aid and hospitals. Last year legislators provided increases in the budget for employees of certain human services providers and while that is appreciated and welcomed there is a lot of catching up to do.

Let’s be clear: every dollar spent on delivering services more expensively than necessary is a decision to not provide the same services to someone else who is waiting for them. “Because we’ve always done it that way” isn’t a good reason to turn our backs on people who need help.

About five percent of the people with intellectual or developmental disabilities who are in residential programs are in homes run by the state — but that five percent gets 30 percent of the funding. Seven of the state’s 13 Local Mental Health Authorities (LMHAs) are already run by nonprofits, those that are state-run cost about $7,000 more per-person-helped.

We know that the nonprofits located in every one of the state’s 169 cities and towns make their communities better places to live. What better way to fulfill Governor Lamont’s pledge to make the state a vibrant place where our children want to live and raise their own families than to protect and fully fund those essential services?

Governor Lamont likes to say he has the wind at his back as his administration is launched. So now is the time now is the time to convert expensive state-run services to more efficient, high-quality services provided by community nonprofits, and re-invest savings into the system that could provide services to more people.

In Governor Lamont, Connecticut has a leader whose fresh approach holds the promise of changing the way we do things. Nonprofits can deliver services that people need and want — so state dollars can go further and help more people. It’s a good place for change to begin.