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More partnerships sought to help meet southeastern Connecticut community needs

Norwich - Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman delivered a message Thursday that praised the region's collaboration in addressing human services needs but also warned about the upcoming state budget.

She called for the state, local communities and nonprofits to work together.

"We all know that the human service supports are the safety net of our community," she said. "Working in partnership, we need to address the diverse and complex needs of the residents of the state."

Wyman addressed about 40 local officials, state legislators and human services providers at a meeting held at the Holiday Inn by the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments'Regional Human Services Coordinating Council.

Four years ago, the COG was the first agency in the state to form a regional human services coordinating council to build relationships between nonprofits and cities and towns, said Chuck Seeman, the council's co-chairman and United Community and Family Services president and chief executive officer.

Later, that concept became a model for a state law that mandated planning regions statewide to create similar councils on or after Jan. 1, 2015, he said.

Recently, the region's human services council hasdeveloped a directory of human services organizations in the region and participated in a meeting in which human services providers gave feedback about Southeast Area Transit District's bus services. The council's membership now includes representatives from local communities and nonprofits, as well as state agencies.

At Thursday's meeting at the Holiday Inn, Wyman spoke about the state's social services initiatives, including housing investments, rental rebates for seniors, increases in the minimum wage, an "anti-stigma campaign" about mental health issues and a recent initiative to end chronic homelessness and homelessness among veterans.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will continue to work on transportation improvements - including highways, buses and trains - to help grow the state's economy, she added.

Wyman said the budget is tight, but the state would work hard to balance it and not "place the burden on the cities and towns."

Several human services providers shared concerns facing the region's nonprofits.

Kathleen Stauffer, chief executive officer of The Arc of New London County, told Wyman about a yearlong study - which Wyman then said she would read. The "Nonprofit Economic Impact Study" by economist Stanley McMillen shows nonprofit health and human services providers in Southeastern Connecticut "have been hit particularly hard" with higher caseloads, lower reimbursements and transportation issues for residents, Stauffer said.

David Burnett, chief executive officer of Reliance House, a Groton nonprofit, spoke about challenges facing nonprofits, explaining that his organization has had to cut employees' salaries to compensate for a lack of adequate funding in the face of inflation.

"We have lost ground to inflation in 20 out of the last 24 years," he said.

Wyman said she couldn't make any funding guarantees as the state faces a tough budget, but she encouraged the nonprofits to reach out to her office.

"We're going to work as hard as we can with your delegation to make sure we will not forget Southeastern Connecticut," Wyman said.

Deborah Monahan, the human services council's co-chairwoman and executive director of the Thames Valley Council for Community Action, said the human services council has facilitated an "open, honest dialogue" regarding how communities and human services providers can collaborate.

"This is an opportunity for the municipalities to turn to their nonprofits and say let's do this together," Monahan said.

k.drelich@theday.com

Twitter: @KimberlyDrelich

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