Timing is Right for the State to Increase Funding for Intellectual Disabilities and Mental Health
by Martin D. Schwartz, President & CEO of The Kennedy Center
The day of December 14, 2012 will forever go down in history in Connecticut, throughout the United States and the world as the day when time stood still and our lives were forever changed after the worst elementary school tragedy in American history.
Ironically enough, earlier that same morning, a crowd of over 100 supporters representing 17 area nonprofits supporting Connecticut citizens with disabilities had gathered in Fairfield for an 8 a.m. Legislative Breakfast to discuss the effects of Governor Malloy’s 3-5% funding rescission. Area CEOs, legislators, parents, consumers and other advocates fervently voiced their concerns about the major impact of funding shortfalls from the state to those organizations supporting individuals with Mental Health and Intellectual Disability diagnoses.
Although the media covered our event that day, our message was understandably overshadowed by the horrendous tragedy that unfolded at Sandy Hook just as our meeting concluded. Yet our message is underscored by that tragedy! With four years of level funding we are in dire need of an increase to maintain services and ensure that our citizens with disabilities receive needed services and supports.
One CEO after another decried the fact that no cost of living adjustments in five years will result in staff and program reductions. The Child Guidance Center, Abilis, Bridge House, Marrakech, STAR, Inc., ARI of Stamford, St. Vincent’s Special Needs Services and The Kennedy Center all spoke in one unified voice.
Connecticut needs to plan for its future and not for the moment. We applaud Governor Malloy for restoring the state’s mental health budget after the Newtown incident. But sadly, that barely begins to address the vital needs of those with a variety of disabilities who live in our state.
Certainly the State of Connecticut has serious budget issues which the Governor and legislators are working very hard to address. Unfortunately, during this very severe and prolonged recession, as well as every recession in the past, nonprofits tend to be last on the list and suffer the most. We need to ensure nonprofits receive annual, adequate increases indexed to the cost of living.
More than half of nonprofits are operating dangerously close to their margin as documented by the Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee in 2011. These agencies will likely not be able to maintain operations if they experience unforeseen increases in expenses or a financially detrimental incident.
Nonprofits in Connecticut serve over 500,000 individuals with disabilities and special needs and employ over 192,000 taxpaying and voting constituents. What happens when we are forced to close our doors? It also makes fiscal sense to restructure the state/private provider service delivery system and maximize cost effectiveness.
Governor Malloy partially recognizes our pleas for help and we are thankful he has given us additional funding for infrastructure improvements. But that is the first of many steps.
For five years area nonprofits have requested an increase for operating expenses. How long do we have to wait? The longer we wait the more services we will have to cut for those individuals with intellectual disabilities and mental health diagnoses.
The wait is over and it is time for our legislators to take immediate action for the most vulnerable sector of our population. The time is now to be proactive and not reactionary. Speak and vote in the best interests of your people. Tomorrow may be too late!