Study: Nonprofits in New London County take funding hit compared to rest of state

New London — A study released today indicates that nonprofit health and human service organizations in New London County are significantly underfunded when compared with similar agencies in the rest of the state.

The Nonprofit Economic Impact Study, conducted by economist Stanley McMillen and funded by the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut and the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut, noted that “local human service agencies are falling behind their peers in other regions of the state at an alarming rate.”

While contributions and gifts from donors were up significantly statewide between 2006 and 2011, New London County has seen a decrease of 22 percent in such critical funding, the report said. And while local agencies nevertheless have been able to increase their expenditures by 2.3 percent during this same period, their efforts pale in comparison to the 19.3 percent increase for the state as a whole.

“I don’t think we were expecting to see how far we have fallen behind other parts of the state,” said Kathleen Stauffer, chief executive officer of The Arc New London County, in an interview at The Day.

She added that lower donations were only part of the story. With the Norwich-New London area being one of the hardest-hit regions in the country in terms of jobs regained after the Great Recession ended, demand for services here has at the same time shot up exponentially, she said.

The report shows that food stamp recipients in the region increased between 2009 and 2011 — the latest years that data were available — by 66 percent. Statewide, the rise was large as well, but fell well below New London County’s level.

Students eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches in the region also placed the county well above the state average — with numbers rising nearly 40 percent over a recent three-year period, compared with a 24 percent increase for all of Connecticut, the report said. Perhaps even more disturbing, officials said, was a nearly 7 percent rise in domestic-violence calls locally compared with a 2 percent decrease statewide.

“We are still very much under stress, especially compared to the state average,” said Lynn Fairfield-Sonn, director of development at the Child & Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut.

“These numbers reflect the way in which nonprofits have borne the cost of providing these services in southeast Connecticut without increased funding from state government,” Tony Sheridan, president of the local chamber, said in a statement.

Stauffer, of The Arc, also noted that local nonprofits are dealing with a third dilemma in addition to shrinking funding and higher demand: the fact that it is more expensive to deliver services in New London County than in areas of Connecticut with a higher population density and better transportation infrastructure.

“We’re talking double-triple whammies here,” she said.

The report, which excluded educational institutions and charitable groups tied to sports and recreation, cited 150 good-sized nonprofits in the region that account for nearly 7,000 direct jobs and another 4,500 positions based on indirect economic activity. The total economic impact of health and human services activities in the area — weighted heavily on jobs at Lawrence + Memorial and William W. Backus hospitals — was more than $752 million, according to the study, or nearly 7 percent of the county’s overall economy.

Officials said they are hoping to use the study to make state officials more aware that New London County human services funding has fallen significantly behind Connecticut’s overall response to difficult economic times. They have begun to talk to local legislators to support efforts to pry more funding out of Hartford, officials said.

“When the area needed it, there was no state response,” Stauffer said. “Distressed nonprofits are not the response to rebuilding a community.”

“We want to make sure New London County doesn’t get cut anymore,” Fairfield-Sonn added during a presentation at The Day.

McMillen, a University of Connecticut professor, said in the same session that the state’s spending cap may be impeding its ability to tap into federal dollars to help pay for needed services.

“We’re leaving significant dollars on the table in Washington — tens of millions of dollars,” McMillen said.

l.howard@theday.com

Twitter: @KingstonLeeHow

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