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Osten, nonprofits push for full funding

Nonprofit providers and state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, spoke of a workforce crisis and urged the legislature and governor to better fund the state’s nonprofits, during a news conference Tuesday.

Osten, who is co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, as well as Gian-Carl Casa, president and CEO of CT Community Nonprofit Alliance; Diane Manning, president and CEO of United Services; Fernando Muniz, CEO of Community Solutions, and others made the case to double down on funding nonprofits.

They said the way the state funds nonprofits is broken “and we need to start addressing that issue.”

Osten said that last year’s budget generally was good for nonprofits, although it took too long to actually get the funding out where it needed to go. “In talking with my colleague Representative (Toni) Walker, we’re looking to make sure we codify a certain percentage increase over the next five years statutorily into the budget,” she said.

Nonprofit leaders acknowledged that pleas for funding are common. But, Casa said, the current situation is especially untenable.

“We’ve talked about the need for funding for years, but right now we’re talking about a crisis,” Casa said. “Our members are having trouble doing their jobs.”

According to a CT Community Nonprofit Alliance survey of member nonprofit organizations, 91% of respondents reported “it’s been difficult or extremely difficult to recruit employees over the past year,” Casa said. The survey also found that there is an 18% average job vacancy rate for member nonprofits.

According to the survey and multiple nonprofit leaders at Tuesday’s news conference, many nonprofits are paying about $15.50 an hour when people who fill these jobs should be making closer to $19 an hour. They said nonprofits are having trouble hiring in part because the organizations are competing with the service industry for employees.

“Our front-line staff, we just increased their salaries to $15.50 an hour," Muniz said. "We’re competing with McDonald’s and Home Depot for workers.”

Manning pointed out that these staffing and funding shortages have come at a time when nonprofits are overwhelmed with demand. “Crisis response services provided services to 122% more individuals than in the prior year,” she said. “Services increased 534%.”

She attributed this increase to people who had not been involved in the mental health system before but are now experiencing feelings of isolation and depression due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Osten and others said Connecticut is in good economic standing, flush from federal pandemic aid, increased revenue and a full rainy day fund.

“Like Mental Health CT and some of the other nonprofits we’re referencing this morning, at Community Solutions now 175 of our positions are vacant, and we’re struggling to hire and retain qualified staff at all levels of the organization,” Muniz said. “The rainy day fund is full, and if this is not the rainy day we’ve been waiting for, I don’t know what is.”

“We’re calling on the governor and the General Assembly to commit to increasing funding for community nonprofits next year and beyond," he added, "to get us back whole prior to inflation, since the last time rates were adjusted.”

s.spinella@theday.com

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