Nonprofit workers and clients take concerns to local legislators
Norwich — One day before the start of the 2018 legislative session, more than 70 nonprofit workers, advocates and service recipients gathered at the Otis Library for a discussion on the state of nonprofits in the Norwich region.
They laughed when Reliance Health CEO David Burnett guaranteed that one of his employees is not doing her work for the money. They laughed when Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, asked if it was safe to say that nonprofit wages have not kept up with the wages of other private-sector jobs. They laughed when Rep. Kevin Skulczyck, R-Griswold, said he didn't "want to beat up on my friends in Greenwich" and Osten replied, "I do."
It was dark laughter that came with the recognition of an unfunny truth: Many nonprofits saw a 5 percent cut in the current state budget and, amid a desire to maintain services, employee wages are suffering.
The CT Community Nonprofit Alliance hosted the event on Tuesday morning. Listening at the front of the room were Osten; Skulczyck; Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford; Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, and Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville.
Alliance President and CEO Gian-Carl Casa cited four challenges for nonprofits: Demand is up, nonprofits are not part of fixed costs in the state budget, federal tax reform could make it more difficult for nonprofits to get donations and some people believe the government should be taxing nonprofits.
Speaking to the value of nonprofit services were several Reliance Health members.
One woman said that if not for Reliance Health, she probably still would be on the streets, in and out of jail and on drugs.
One member said the community needs to figure out a way to recognize members as being human, not different from anybody else. Another questioned why it's so difficult for people with disabilities to get jobs.
Ryan later responded, "We want you to get jobs so you can pay taxes and we can spend more money on services."
Osten urged nonprofit leaders to stop saying they are "doing more with less" when workers are hurting.
"All of the clients here have expressed the fact that they get great services from those workers, and I want those workers to stay here," she said.
Many local nonprofit workers are making less than $15 an hour. Many are uninsured. Many qualify for HUSKY Health.
Linda Iovanna, CEO of MARC Community Resources, commented, "Our staff have not had an increase in wages in over nine years, and I have an awful hard time recruiting and retaining qualified staff."
Similarly, Child & Family Agency CEO Rick Calvert said it is reaching a tipping point where his qualified staff are starting to look at other opportunities.
"If we scatter those resources to the wind, we will not get them back within their lifetime," he said, "and I am not being dramatic in saying that."
Cheeseman said the state is "paying the price for decades of deferred decisions" and encouraged nonprofits to find areas where they can collaborate.
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