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Human services groups see spending outline 'practical'

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published February 17. 2011 4:00AM   Updated February 17. 2011 4:57AM

Most human services advocates, after getting their first look at Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposed state budget, said it could have been a lot worse.

Terry Edelstein, head of the Connecticut Community Providers Association, which represents some 120 nonprofit agencies that help 500,000 residents per year, said it depends on "where you sit," with some agencies happy to be receiving flat funding and others worried that they might see big cuts.

"We do appreciate that the governor is being practical and thoughtful," Edelstein said. "He did not shred the safety net."

But Charles Seeman, executive director of United Community and Family Services, said health services to the state's poorest residents have been hit hard.

UCFS provides health care and behavioral health services to the greater Norwich area. Seeman said the state Department of Public Health grant that helps cover uninsured patients at community health centers would be cut in half. Adults on Medicaid would be limited to one preventive dental visit per year, and Medicaid patients would be required to pay $3 per visit for any outpatient service.

Seeman said the nonprofit agencies would not turn away patients who don't have the $3.

"I don't have a problem in sharing the pain, but we've had the pain for two years and cuts in services," Seeman said. "… I understand that we have to spread the pain, but it's time for someone else to step up and share the pain."

The Alliance for Living, based in New London, which lost an $86,000 federal housing assistance grant for people with HIV/AIDS funneled through the state Department of Social Services in January, had asked for an additional case manager. The position was approved, but it came at the cost of the same amount of funding in other areas.

"Malloy's budget may help us," said Executive Director Sandra Brindamour. "He has always said he would not devastate the safety net. He said that to me in a one-on-one conversation. I really feel he is trying to live up to that."

Deborah Monahan, executive director of the Thames Valley Council for Community Action, was relieved that the budget would have "only" a 10 percent cut in case management funding. TVCCA relies on case managers to assess everyone who approaches the agency. In a policy called "no wrong door," if someone comes in for fuel assistance, they are counseled on job training, food assistance and available health care services.

Federal and state money for case management totals about $750,000 per year for TVCCA, Monahan said.

David Burnett, executive director at Reliance House, a regional agency for people with mental illness, told his staff that "it looks like jobs are safe" at the agency for now. Reliance House receives about $12.5 million in state grants per year.

"I was encouraged and impressed that this guy is going to give us an honest budget," Burnett said. "This guy is going to be square with the citizens of the state with no gimmicks, no borrowing, no nonsense. I'm very much encouraged that he is setting the right tone."

c.bessette@theday.com

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