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    Wednesday, December 06, 2023

    Gov. Malloy's executive order means some immediate local program cuts

    Human services agencies, municipal leaders and local branches of state government started their truncated holiday week poring through Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's 119-page outline of budget cuts that took effect Saturday.

    The cuts are part of the executive order Malloy signed Friday in the absence of an approved 2017-18 state budget.

    Officials on Monday were trying to determine whether the drastic cuts to everything from municipal aid to tourism and human services programs will have immediate effects on their programs. In some cases, including the Healthy Start program for pregnant women and summer youth employment programs, the answer is yes. Other agencies are operating week-to-week or month-to-month hoping for news of a final budget at the state Capitol.

    Youth programs, health clinics, hospitals and mental health and addiction service providers are seeing some of the earliest impacts of the state budget crisis.

    One of the first casualties was the Healthy Start Program, administered by United Community & Family Services in Norwich for low-income pregnant women throughout New London County. The program funds case managers to connect women with prenatal care, nutrition and other services to ensure their babies are born healthy.

    Cara Westcott, chief operations officer of UCFS, said state Office of Early Childhood funding for the program was eliminated in the latest version of the budget, so Healthy Start services were discontinued when the new fiscal year began on Saturday. It had been in existence for 20 years.

    UCFS received $212,684 in state funds for the program in fiscal 2016, when it served 650 women and children through partnerships with Generations Family Health Center in Norwich, Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London and Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam. In fiscal 2017, the program received $139,443 in state funds, and served 469 women in the first six months of the year.

    Now, women who need these services receive a written resources guide instead of one-on-one time with a case manager, Westcott said. The guide is available at offices of Planned Parenthood, the WIC program and obstetrics offices.

    “UCFS can still assist with getting health insurance, but other case management services are no longer available,” she said.

    In addition, UCFS has been notified by state agencies that provide about 22 percent of its $30 million budget that it will receive state funding on a “month-to-month” basis, Westcott said. Under normal budget conditions, the state funds are received quarterly.

    Malloy's executive order eliminated $5.2 million for the Summer Youth Employment Program in the state Department of Labor budget. The cut forced cancellation of the program in Norwich that was to start next week for 108 youths aged 14 to 21, said Angelo Callis, Norwich Youth and Family services coordinator.

    “If it takes them two or three weeks (to enact a budget),” Callis said. “It's too late for us.”

    Callis said the summer youth employment program is very important for dozens of youths in financially struggling families, some of them on the brink of criminal troubles or possibly dropping out of school. The jobs in local offices, at the Norwich Public Works Department and with partner local businesses would have paid minimum wage for 15 hours a week for five weeks, already a cut from last year's 20 hours a week, Callis said.

    He hopes to hear soon about a possible foundation grant for a smaller youth employment program for about 40 youths. Callis said before the state cut, Norwich had already annually turned away more than 100 applicants for lack of funding.

    Callis described how the program turned one Norwich boy's life around last summer. The boy, about to enter his senior year at Norwich Free Academy, had been arrested for narcotics possession. He entered the juvenile review program — an effort to divert youths from criminal court — participated in therapy and was selected in the highly competitive youth employment program. He worked at city parks for Norwich Public Works last summer.

    “We just heard from his mother that he just graduated high school with high honors,” Callis said.

    Groton Town Manger Mark Oefinger pointed to the cuts to the Youth Employment initiative as emblematic of the damaging budget impasse.

    "If you couldn't depend on those dollars two or three months ago, you probably haven't set up the program. ... Those are not programs you cannot turn on overnight," he said.

    "We have truly failed young folks by not figuring out a way to fund it," he added.

    Sound Community Services, which provides outpatient mental health care for about 1,359 people in New London County, has been told by the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to expect a cut in state funding for its Young Adult Access Center. The program provided outpatient services for about 250 youth at its New London offices over the last year, said Gino DeMaio, Sound Community Services’ chief executive officer.

    Sound Community Services depends on $9 million in DMHAS funding, DeMaio said. He said the current situation leaves his agency unable to plan its budget for the new fiscal year. The agency receives state funds to serve 800 clients, but actually serves 1,300, he said. Reimbursements from Medicaid partially make up the difference.

    His agency and other nonprofits that depend on DMHAS funding received a letter from the agency sent Friday, notifying them that it is “in the process of making changes to the payment schedule,” and delays are expected. Some payments can be expected by July 15, while others won’t be released until the end of July, the letter said.

    “I am aware that this is a particularly difficult time for community providers,” wrote Stephen DiPietro, chief financial officer of DMHAS. “Be assured that the department is doing all it can to minimize any negative fiscal impact.”

    At the Southeastern Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence, or SCADD, executive director Jack Malone said the inpatient and outpatient services are “limping along” but have not yet been forced to cut services or staff.

    “We’re trying to make payroll,” which totals $98,000 to $103,000 per week, he said. SCADD employs 143 full- and part-time staff for residential programs for 181 people and outpatient programs for an additional 400 people at its offices in New London and Norwich.

    With no new state funds coming in from DMHAS, Malone said, SCADD is getting by with existing grant funds from other sources for the present.

    “We’re living week-to-week,” he said. “That’s no way to run an operation.”

    Serve Here, CT, a southeastern Connecticut program that aims to retain millennials in the state by funding fellowships with nonprofits and paying down student loans, did not accept new applications this year because of the state legislature's budget impasse.

    The program received more than $100,000 through the state Connecticorps budget, which the governor eliminated in the executive order.

    Barret Katuna, Learning Module Facilitator at Serve Here CT, said conversations with the organization's leadership about its future are ongoing. It's considering other ways to help millenials in the state and has released a book about the program's curriculum, but it can't do anything without a budget.

    "The program did have an impact in the lives of the fellows ... it showed how great the state really is and I think the fellows had an opportunity to see that themselves and a chance to expand their horizons," Katuna said.

    The Connecticut Hospital Association, which represents the state’s 29 nonprofit hospitals, said it is anticipating cuts that will result in reduced services. The association released a statement Monday on behalf of its members, including Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London and The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich.

    “The Governor’s Executive Order Resource Allocation Plan eliminates hospital supplemental payments in 2018, including the small hospital pool,” said Jennifer Jackson, chief executive officer of the hospital association. “This means hospitals will experience more cuts to funds needed to care for the poor and sick. It will result in less access to care for patients, job loss and it will raise the cost of care. Additional impacts are also possible. We are waiting to confirm the full impact of the executive order.”

    In his executive order, Malloy called this a “period of fiscal emergency” and the governor said the cuts were unavoidable since the legislature failed to pass a full two-year budget or Malloy's proposed “mini-budget” to fund the government for three months in the interim.

    “This is a regrettable path, and one that I worked very hard to avoid,” Malloy said in Friday's statement. “The executive order offers me less ability to avoid very deep cuts that will have a very real impact on our state and its citizens.”

    The outlined budget cuts would slash municipal aid, eliminating the Mohegan-Pequot fund payments to cities and towns, eliminating payments in lieu of taxes for state property and private non-taxable property and cutting education aid. It also would eliminate $291,140 for the Amistad vessel, $476,719 for Mystic Aquarium and $31,931 for the eastern regional tourism office.

    But local officials don't yet know how to respond to the cuts, hoping the legislature will enact a full two-year state budget this summer.

    Waterford First Selectman Daniel Steward said his town doesn't rely as heavily as other local cities and towns on state aid, but Waterford has another state budget concern not tied directly to Malloy's Friday announcement. Waterford is still waiting to hear whether it will receive state funding for local capital improvement projects to help pay for long-needed renovations to its municipal complex.

    The state Office of Policy and Management announced in December that the state had reached its bonding limit for disbursing Local Capital Improvement Program (LoCIP) funds, and no new applications will be accepted this fiscal year. Waterford has accrued more than $900,000 in promised LoCIP funding over about eight years, Steward said, and he doesn't know if the town will be allowed to apply to withdraw its money held in Hartford. The municipal building project is on hold, he said.

    “It’s wait-and-see,” Steward said.


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