GREENWICH — With budget cuts to social services programs throughout the state a reality in the new state budget, how is government able to address human needs?
That was the central question put before the town’s top elected official and its legislative delegation to Hartford at the Greenwich United Way’s legislative breakfast on Tuesday morning.
First Selectman Peter Tesei joined state Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-36th, and state Reps. Livvy Floren, R-149th, Michael Bocchino, R-150th, and Fred Camillo, R-151st, for the hour-long program, which focused on high-priority human services needs identified in the United Way’s most recent needs assessment for the town.
Many issues were discussed, particularly concerning seniors and children and the continued problem of opioid abuse in the state. The representatives said the state needs to regain economic stability so funding for human services can be addressed in the coming months.
“Our budget was not a great budget,” Bocchino said. “It was the best budget we could put together under the economic struggles we’re seeing in the state of Connecticut.”
Reductions had to be made in some places in order to fund other needs, he said.
”Areas like the Earned Income Tax credit were one of those reductions but we did preserve other essential programs and put more money in for Care for Kids and Meals on Wheels and preserved funding for the developmentally disabled and people with mental illness,” he said.
Floren stressed the need for childhood services, including universal pre-school, which she said works well in Stamford, and for programs like Care for Kids, Birth to Three and Cradle to Career.
“Unfortunately the state and federal programs have had their funding reduced and we are looking to non-profit, private providers to take up the slack,” Floren said. “However I do not think government should abdicate its core mission, which is public education. I’m going to do everything in my power, and I know I speak for the delegation, to maintain adequate state funding for early childhood education.”
Greenwich United Way CEO David Rabin said there were projected to be 1,000 overdose deaths in the state during the year, a 20 percent increase from the previous year.
Floren discussed the importance of having a stage registry to keep people from “doctor shopping” to get more pills and how the Greenwich Police Department is able to safely dispose of opioids so they do not remain in medicine cabinets.
Frantz added that parents had to tell their kids and all young people: “Do not get anywhere near these opioids. It is the equivalent of taking a grenade and taking the pin out and releasing it. It will kill you. Don’t do it.”
Attendees at the event included representatives from many human service agencies in Greenwich including Family Centers, Abilis, YWCA Greenwich, the Greenwich YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich and the town’s Commission on Aging and more. Additionally, Selectman John Toner, town Commissioner of Human Services Alan Barry and representatives from the Board of Education and Board of Estimate and Taxation were there.
Camillo was asked whether Connecticut should have a law, like some other states, that would allow for police to determine during a domestic violence call who the principal aggressor is and make an arrest based on that determination. Camillo said he supported the idea and wanted to work with law enforcement on it.
“If somebody is assaulted and there isn’t a clear confession or clear evidence most likely both people are going to get arrested,” he said. “Some people are afraid after they’ve been assaulted at home that if they call the police, they’ll be arrested too. That can keep people from making that call and it can keep it underreported.”
Questions to the panelist were put together by the United Way’s Community Planning Council with contributions from members of the audience. Many of the topics kept coming back to funding.
Frantz expressed the ongoing concern among the delegation that structural expenses for state government, including debt service, contractual payments and pensions, would crowd out spending for human services.
Frantz also discussed the possibility of outsourcing some state functions to contractors.
“Outsourcing I think is one of the most important things the state can do to save money to free up these resources for social programs,” Frantz said. “We (as a Republican caucus) are targeting savings of about $25 million this fiscal year and next fiscal year to put into some of the different social services programs but that’s about the most we can do before we run into a ceiling there.”
Tesei was asked about the development of the town budget and what it might do to fund human services given state cuts. He praised the work of Barry in leading the Department of Human Services in partnering with local agencies to address basic human needs like housing, food, clothing, personal safety and health care. He said the department is in the process of completing a results-based assessment of how the department is doing in reaching goals and how funding is allocated.
While the 2018-19 budget is still being put together, and is set to be unveiled in late January, Tesei did express his ongoing commitment to helping to fund programs like the Transportation Association of Greenwich and YWCA Greenwich’s Domestic Abuse Services division’s outreach into the public schools.
“Education is the key to all of our society’s ills and we believe that getting in early and meeting with these young people to help them understand what’s right and what’s not right is critically important and in many cases they have been at the forefront of bringing to light serious domestic abuse issues,” Tesei said.