As threat of group home strike looms, nonprofits shut down

Arielle Levin Becker :: File photo from CTMirror.org

Gian-Carl Casa, President and CEO of the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance

Community-based nonprofits that care for people with disabilities in Connecticut find themselves in a delicate position as they face an Oct. 5 strike deadline from union caregivers of staff.

Governor Ned Lamont and the legislature set aside $ 184 million in June to reward group home workers who risked their lives caring for people with disabilities during the coronavirus pandemic.

But, entering this week, the state still had not defined exactly how much of that $ 184 million each nonprofit will receive and when they will receive it. Contractually guaranteeing workers more – without knowing whether there is enough funds to cover the bill – is a risky proposition at best, according to industry executives.

Meanwhile, the state’s largest healthcare workers union, whose members of two group home chains have been working on contracts that expired since March, says the work has waited long enough. Earlier this week, New England District 1199 SEIU leadership set an Oct. 5 strike deadline involving staff at group homes and day programs run by Whole Life Inc. of New London and Network. Inc. of Andover. And they warned the work stoppage could expand to include more nonprofits serving people with developmental disabilities later this fall.

“Nonprofits care about their people, and they always have,” said Gian-Carl Casa, President and CEO of the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, the largest coalition of agencies in state non-profit. But salaries and benefits are “far from the only cost that nonprofits have,” Casa said, adding that – at least so far in the fiscal year that began on the 1st. July – “they don’t have the information they need to [guarantee] benefits for their employees.

Here’s what nonprofits know.

In June, Le Lamont and the legislature committed $ 280 million in total increases in funding – to be spread over this fiscal year and the next – for the private community agencies that the state uses to provide the bulk of its social services. .

Of this amount, $ 184 million has been allocated for salary and benefit increases for those working for people with developmental disabilities. But the nonprofit sector also provides services to patients with mental health and substance abuse disorders, abused children, adolescents in crisis and inmates returning to society.

As of Wednesday, Casa said, specific agencies still aren’t sure exactly how the $ 280 million is being allocated. More importantly, nonprofits serving people with developmental disabilities don’t know how much of the $ 184 million they will each receive.

This is not a big deal when it comes to salary negotiations. Lamont and lawmakers have called on all nonprofits to increase caregiver hourly wages to at least $ 16.50 for this fiscal year and to $ 17.25 by 2022-23.

But when it comes to improvements in health care and pension benefits, state officials have set no specific benchmarks.

District 1199 officials said Monday that shouldn’t be a problem.

In a similar situation, nursing home owners, state officials, and the union avoided a potential strike in mid-May, and some new contracts were made before the single-family homes had all the necessary. details of their specific allowances, union officials said.

Rob Baril, president of District 1199, added at a press conference on Monday that after decades of low wages and a pandemic that has cost many workers their health – and some their lives – the union has ended. wait.

Although union leaders did not disclose all of their demands from the negotiations, Baril said: “These are really, frankly, the minimum standards people need to live,” he said. “These are just the things people need to be able to feed their children.”

But Casa said nonprofits have been doing their best for years to put patients and staff first when faced time and time again with disappointing state aid.

For many organizations, this has meant postponing building maintenance, vehicle and equipment purchases, and information technology upgrades. It is also getting into debt.

“We support our hard-working employees and we want to provide a living wage with good benefits,” said Susan Pearson, Executive Director of Network Inc.

A director of Whole Life Inc. could not be reached for comment.

Lamont’s budget manager Melissa McCaw wrote in a statement this week that state officials “continue to expect both sides to work in good faith to implement parts of the deal. that can be immediately implemented, such as the salary envelope, and continue the process on the benefit improvement pool. The state gave both sides a process, timeline, tools and resources to successfully negotiate a deal. Now, it’s time for both parties to complete the process and ensure a swift implementation for the benefit of the employees and the people they serve.

But the budget office did not say whether it had provided all nonprofits with full details of their respective public funding available.

Senator Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, co-chair of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, said McCaw confirmed this with her in a conversation on Friday.

But this dynamic is also complicated, this time by the pandemic.

Lamont and lawmakers concocted resources from nonprofit organizations from three sources: the state budget surplus from the previous year, the General Fund for the new state budget over two years, and massive, multipurpose grants sent by Congress to Connecticut via the US bailout. Act.

And these ARPA dollars are not managed exclusively by the Lamont administration. The governor and the legislature continue to distribute these dollars jointly.

Osten said on Wednesday that while she believes the Lamont administration should have already informed nonprofits of their specific funding for all sources, the credits committee is working with McCaw’s office this week to try to resolve any. outstanding issues.

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