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March 20, 2024 29 mins
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Welcome to Pulse of the Region,brought to you by the Metro Hertford Alliance.
The Metro Hertford Alliance collaborates with investorsand partners to elevate the Hertford region
through economic development work, convening thecommunity and providing chamber support for the City
of Hartford. Learn more about theirmission and how to get involved at Metrohartford
dot com. Pulse of the Regionis produced in partnership with oak Hill.

Oak Hill was originally founded as aschool for the blind in eighteen ninety three.
Oak Hill has provided holistic, personcentered services for individuals with disabilities for
over one hundred and thirty years.With empowerment and independence as its guiding principles.
Oakhill works in partnership with the individualsit serves to provide residential education and

enrichment opportunities. Learn more at oakhillctdot org. Now here's your host for
Pulse of the Region. Kate Bauman. Hello, Hello, and welcome to
Pulse of the Region, the showwhere we highlight all of the incredible things
happening here throughout our Greater Hertford region. I'm your host, Kate Bauman.
Here today in the Candy Cane Buildinghere in downtown Hertford at iHeartMedia Studios.

I'm surrounded by three guests who I'msuper excited to have on the show today.
A big topic to discuss today,as I guess all of them are
so, but no, certainly veryimportant topic here today, as today we
are getting the pulse about how thisyear's legislative session is impacting our community nonprofit
organizations. Additionally, we're going tohighlight the work our community nonprofits are doing

here throughout our local communities. Andwe have quite the guests, the lineup
of guests here today which is veryexciting. So first, to my right,
you are very familiar if you've listenedto this show before, and even
just our resident here within the greaterHartford community and within Connecticut is you're familiar
with the organization OKEL. And we'rethrilled to have Barry Simon, who's a

huge supporter and helps us produce thispodcast every single week in partnership together.
So he's the president and CEO.So Barry, welcome back to Kay,
Thank you, happy to be here, looking forward to it. Fantastic,
fantastic, And next but not least, is he's actually a repeat guest as
well, so I think this isgood. We didn't scare you off the
first time. But he's with theConnecticut Community of the nonprofit Alliance also known

as the Alliance, so we won'tconfuse the alliances today or try our best
not to. He is the presidentand CEO, so it's Jan Carl Kasa.
So Jan Carl, welcome back.Thank you for having me again,
of course, of course, Anda new person coming to the show who
is We're very excited to have you. She is a parent and also an
oak Kill board member, so wewelcome Karen neg So, Karen, welcome

to the show. Thank you forhaving me. Kate perfect and I say
your last name rightly, Nag,that's her. Once I said it,
I saw the look on your faceand I go, I definitely butchered that
one, So I apologize for that. So, Karen Niag, we welcome
you to the show. Fantastic.Well, first things first, Barry,
I think again many listeners familiar withOKILL, but I think it's so important

to kind of a quick re introductionand really talk about just what your footprint
here is in Connecticut, because Ithink it's continually growing every time we have
you on the show too. Yeah, it feels that way sometimes, so
thank you. So we are astatewide organization and OKILL and our affiliates Guilty
Community Services and Easter Seales voll Kill. We provide a continuum of care and

education for people throughout Connecticut. Weserve thousands of people and you know,
over one hundred and fifty programs throughoutthe state. We have special ad we
have group homes, we have mentalhealth, substance abuse. All of this
is because people need services to beindependent in the community. And so between
all of the people we serve andyou know over fifteen hundred employees that we

would have if we were fully staffed, Yeah, exactly. You know,
it's amazing what we do and howwe do it. It truly is.
And I say this every single timeyou come on the show, but every
single time you come on, Ilearned something new about what you're doing,
which is just I think speaks volumesto the amount of great work you're doing

here and the amount of people you'resupporting. Yes, you know, it's
exciting. New projects happening all thetime. Our latest project that we're working
on is an clinic that's going toprovide dual diagnosis services to people who have
intellectual developmental disabilities and mental health issues. Wow, so it's it'll be the
first one in Connecticut. I wasjust going to specialize it and probably I'm

guessing one of the first ones.Yeah. So yeah, So you know,
anytime I'm down in DC, oneof the things I regularly hear is
is the challenge for this particular population. So it's yeah, it's exciting to
be working on it. Definitely.Well, thank you for all that.
We'll certainly talk more there, butJan Carl would love if you could let
our listeners know a little bit moreabout the Connecticut Community Nonprofit Alliance. Sure,

thank you. The Alliance is astatewide trade association of nonprofits of a
range of types. We have aboutthree hundred members altogether. They provide services
such as those at Oak Hill,but also they provide services for people with
addiction problems, other mental health issues, halfway houses for people going back to

their communities after prison, homeless shelters, at AID for children who are who
are in need of help, awhole range pretty much anything that you can
think of that nonprofits do. Wehave as members. Okay, and I
don't want to. I don't wantto leave out the arts community because in
a place like Hartford, you seeso many arts things that spring up that

help this be a vibrant place tolive, and usually those that are operated
by nonprofits too. Okay, Soabout how many members or you kind of
partners make up the organization. Wehave about three hundred member organizations nonprofits statewide,
though I always like to add thisbecause people don't think of it,

nonprofit state wide employee about one hundredand eighteen thousand people, wow, not
counting colleges and hospitals. Okay,and the contracts that nonprofits have with the
state total about two point four billiondollars. So those are a lot of
people getting paid to do a lotof services. The impact that they have
on the economy of the state,not just the quality of life in the

state, but the economy of thestate is enormous. And we like to
think of nonprofits as part of thebusiness community, different than most businesses,
but they are a vital part ofConnecticut's economy, a huge part. And
that's exactly what we're going to talkmore about today, because a lot of
what you just said there really sumsup the conversation We're going to dive deeper

on today. Such a huge impactfrom the employees, to the services being
provided, and really just too kindof the lifestyle that's a lot of these
nonprofits are creating for our communities,the positive lifestyle, which is really what
makes so many people want to livehere in Connecticut. So thank you for
you hit all the bullet points.I want to se right up top,
which made it easy, so perfect. Well, and Karen, we're so

thrilled to have you here today andwould love if you could talk a little
bit just about your relationship with OKILLand kind of you know what brings you
here to us today. I cantalk about how I became partners with OKILL
if you don't mind, of course, No, that's great, And I'm
going to have you just pull yourmicrophone a little bit closer because yeah,
perfect. So my daughter Stephanie isthe reason why I'm here. A beautiful

young lady. She has a geneticcondition that's very through all of her needs
throughout today. She's actually a twentyfour to seven care so she requires a
lot of staff members and a lotof talent that's needed for her to have
a quality lifestyle. So when mydaughter was first diagnosed, she graduated from

a birth to three program, andour Torrenton school system didn't have a program
that was appropriate for her, Okay, So we turned over every rock and
every stone that we possibly could untilwe actually came across o Kill and they
had a program that was available formy daughter that developed an individual educational plan

that was very creative to help herbe successful and be independent in her lifestyle.
Now. But when I say independent, I mean independent from her parents,
all right. So once she graduatedupon Oak Hill, she was actually
invited into a group home. Andin this setting, it's a dream come

true for a parent to see yourchild thriving in your absence, particularly over
COVID, where there's been a goodyear where I wasn't able to see her,
and she came out of COVID verywell. I mean very well.
I have such great pride for thestaff people that take care of Stephanie.

I don't know how I could doit without them. It's been a partnership
for almost thirteen years. Okay.I was going to ask you, Okay,
fantastic, that's well. Thank youfor sharing your story. I think
it's it's so important you know,we hear about the numbers of people being
served, but you're really seeing theimpacts on families is truly unbelievable. I
think the thing that's really important withmy story that I just said is the

continuum of the educational world to anadult living setting. It's just so it's
huge for the quality of life forindividuals, definitely similar to my daughter.
I know not everybody needs the sameprogramming, but there's so many just like
stuffani to lose the capacity would justbe a devastating thing to Connecticut, definitely,

And you know that kind of bringsus into the next piece I want
to touch on, So that capacityand kind of the resources. You know,
certainly you know a lot of theseservices are not inexpensive, and you
know, so Barry would love ifyou could touch a little bit just on
how Oak Hill you know is funded, you know, because I know there's
several sources, but a lot ofit too is a commitment from the state
absolute. I mean our funding.You know, we're approximately one hundred million

dollar organization with fifteen hundred employees servingthousands of people throughout Connecticut. But of
that, you know, the majorityof it is government funding and the state
in particular is our largest funder thenmunicipalities in the federal government. Okay,
and these are services that you know, people need and want. These are

services that people feel. Really theemployees that we have are driven and are
committed like no other. But thatfunding, you know, we're in a
partnership with government. We're in apartnership with the state, and so how
they view our services and how theyview our employees comes out, you know,

as part of the budget process.And that's the phase we're in now.
I mean, we we are,you know, asking for adequate funding
that will allow us to show thatour employees are valued for what they do.
You that, you know, thethe ask that we have is a

five percent increase for our employees,which given the rate of inflation and given
that you know, we've gone decadeswhere we've gotten zeros, you know it.
It's it's a partnership, and sowe're hoping that our advocacy with the
legislature that they view it as apartnership as well. Definitely, and if
you don't mind touching a little bit, I think some historic historical data is

always helpful. Is you know whereyou did, say the last couple of
years there hasn't been an increase.So looking at that five percent really is
you know, which which inflation we'reyou know that are above we are we
are making up for a little bitmore than just absolutely we are far behind
on this. And you know,I'm going to turn to John Carl because
he's the expert on that history asfar as it's gone. But really,

you know, the the sad partabout getting all those zeros for all that
time is eventually it catches up,and so we have programs that are closed.
I mean, we have on averageclosed about one group home a year
for the last ten years. Wecurrently have four group homes that are sitting
vacant. These are jobs that arenot being filled and these are people who

are not getting services. We haveyou know, a weight, you know
at our mental health clinic, wehave a weight to get into our substance
abuse services. These are people inthe community who need services and without proper
funding aren't going to get it.So if young karv anything you want to
add on to there, well,you know nonprofits are thirty two percent behind

in the buying power that they hadin two thousand and seven. Okay,
so there isn't any kind of entityanywhere, not a family, not a
business, that can provide the sameservices, buy the same things, do
the same things if they are athird down in terms of buying power.
And nonprofits aren't just being asked totake care of the same people or served

the same people that they were servingin two thousand and seven. They're being
asked to serve an increasing rate ofneed, so they have less money and
more need. And to sort ofput it in simple terms, if you
don't have the money. If theydon't have the money, they can't hire
people. If they can't hire people, they can't have programs. If they

can't have programs, people who needservices, who rely on them for services
aren't going to get them. Andso we see waiting lists stay wide for
a variety of different kinds of programs, such as those who serve intellectual developmental
disabilities. We also see waiting listsfor behavioral health organizations, some organizations that

have not had it before. Fora long time, there was an attitude
that, well, you know,your folks don't need to get all the
money because they're going to take careof people anyway. And I think that
probably was true for a while certainlytheir hearts are good enough that they do
anything they can to serve the peoplethat are part of their mission. But

I think we've gotten to the pointwhere this social safety net has been torn,
okay, and we're now seeing peoplewho just aren't getting access to services
that they need. Okay. Yeah, I mean, you know, we're
in a moment in time where Connecticuthas a very vibrant economy ran things have
really turned around. It is,you know, there's prosperity that's happening,

and you know, the question becomes, you know, are these services our
employees right now? The state paysus seventeen little more than seventeen dollars an
hour, that's what they're paying us. So how we're able to attract people
to be doing these kinds of services. It takes a really special person to

be able to provide, you know, the kinds of care that the state
asked us to do, To beable to do personal care that I was
going to say, pretty it's prettyhard for you know, people to want
to do that, and we havean incredibly dedicated staff who want to do
that, but they also deserve tobe a part of the prosperity that's happening

Connecticut, and the bulk of ouremployees are women. And frankly, you
know, if we want to reducethe wage gap for women, if we
want to have you know, thethings that have been a part of the
institutional discrimination against you know, apopulation, government can really have an impact
on the very thing that it saysthat it wants to break down if it

engages and sees us as a partner. Definitely, no, all good points
there, And Karen would love foryou to chime in here. You touched
a little bit on kind of justthe importance of these services, but you
know from your perspective, and youknow, certainly with your daughter, but
then also sure, I'm sure there'sother families you've engaged with. You know,
really, if some of these servicesare pulled back or people don't have

access to you know, what areyou seeing the impact from your vantage point?
Sadly, I'm seeing families drowning inthe care of their loved ones,
literally drowning. As aging parents ofa daughter, I couldn't imagine if she
was home twenty four to seven becausethere weren't services available, Or we have

situations where staffing is just so badthat as Barry says, group homes have
to close. Raising Stephanie has beena daunting task, but having the care
and the love from the staff membersstaff is my daughter's greatest assets. Nothing
in the world compares to having awonderful staff member. And Barry's capability and

challenges of hiring and training staff membersto take care of these individuals. It's
just I stand in awe what he'saccomplished. Even with the budget being as
bad. I can only imagine ifthe budget does take care of our individual
staff, how much better the servicescould be. Right, No, thank
you so much for that, definitely. So with all that and the budget,

we're in the middle of the sessionnow as we have this conversation,
and if you don't mind giving justa kind of high level overview, you
know, of the session of thetimeline, you know, and really what
are some major items you know,really on the agenda for this year.
Yeah, so the session ends Mayeighth, so we're you know, on
a race sad sort of get attention, you know to the the our budget

issues that are in there. Butreally, you know, the major issues
are we're looking for increased funding foryou know, the community providers. We
are literally a line item in thebudget. And the Medicaid rates the state
has the studies the Medicaid rates absolutelyhave been shown to be under comparative states

by almost fifty percent for some ofour services. So there's no shortage of
data that shows you know that weyou know, are in need of that.
But we want to stabilize the system. I mean, you know,
as I was saying earlier, wehave homes that are closed, we have
people that are on wait lists,and you know, we want to move

that as well. So these arethe things that the legislature is grappling with
and as they go forward, youknow that we're in a we're at a
moment in time where there are unprecedentedsurpluses and we are in an emergency situation
that the you know, the systemneeds support. You know, as I

mentioned earlier, we went over tenyears with no increases. Our room and
board rates have gone fourteen years,uh, you know, with no you
know increases. This is not apartnership that's sustainable. If you know,
these services are valued and if weare in treated fairly going forward, this

ends up being a win win becauseif the rates go up on these services
fifty percent of those rates are coveredby our new dollars coming to the state
through the federal government. Okay,the federal government pays fifty cents on the
dollar for the services that we provide. I didn't realize it. And so
to that end, this is youcan you can love all the services,

you can love it. But thisis also economic stimulus for the community as
well. You know, I whenI closed a program, I had a
landlord call me and say, please, is there anything you can do to
stop this? You are my steadyyou know, rental income that I get,
and so this and every community thatwe're in we rent, We buy

local, these local gas, localgroceries. You know, our staff you
know go out and buy lunch.So we have a positive impact, you
know, all over the state.The economic multiplier effect also needs to be
thought about in you know, thedecisions that get made. Definitely no,
and I think that's for Oak Hilland also for many community nonprofits. And

you know, you and Carl wouldlove if you could touch a little bit
just on that impacts and also too, a on a hole in numbers.
Maybe tough to give, but youknow, kind of how much support is
the state providing to a lot ofthe you know, the organizations, not
community nonprofits across the state. Thevalue of the contracts that nonprofits have with
the state is over two billion dollars. Okay, they are a major part

of the state budget and they're amajor part of taking care of the people
of Connecticut. What I said earlierthat nonprofits are thirty two percent behind the
buying power they had in two thousandand seven, I didn't We didn't just
pick that date out of the airbecause it was when the iPhone came out.
Was there was a year before theGreat Recession, and Connecticut had had

a long slog through very difficult years, and during those years, nonprofits didn't
like the fact that they were fallingbehind the need, but they understood that
the state was in fiscal trouble.We are right now in the seventh consecutive
year of large state budget surpluses.Hundreds of millions of dollars in state surpluses.

If you look at the state revenuepicture as a whole, everything that
the state does to raise revenue,the surpluses over six hundred million dollars.
Predicted to be over six hundred milliondollars this year. The state has the
revenue. It's just a matter ofchoosing to spend it on the prior on

priorities and making nonprofits and the servicesthat they provide services people need, making
those things a priority when they makebudget decisions. Okay, So what are
kind of looking at this year's goalsfor the session? You know, certainly
looking at the five percent increase.Are there other kind of main goals that
you know, you guys have inmind for this year kind of are fighting

for. Well, one of thethings is that we would like a bunch
of figures to be indexed. Okay. In many areas the state says,
okay, well, and when inflationgoes up, our spending on X,
Y or Z will go up aswell. They don't do that for nonprofits,
and we think would be only fairto catch up some of the way

to behind, but then at leasthave a predictable, steady under steady and
predictable way to know what's going tocome the next year. Okay. Ex
a lot easier as a major employerand as a as a sizeable business.
Predictability you know is key for mebeing able to budget and being able to

you know, talk with the boardabout where we can make investments and how
we can deal with and so goingyear to year not either one not knowing
what's going to happen the big questionmark exactly. And I can't imagine that
legislators love us, you know,coming every year, and it's kind of
demoralizing to have to beg every yearto be just treated with, you know,

give us inflation. You know,there are many as John call said,
there's many parts of the budget thatrecently they have said, Okay,
we're going to tie this to inflation, so we don't have to deal with
this every year. And again,this is a relationship. We provide a
service that the state wants to purchase. So in that you know, in

that view, why wouldn't they justtie us also to inflation so that way
our employees and the services and ourinfrastructure. I mean, I have electronic
health records, I have all kindsof technology that I need to keep up
in order to meet the state's regulationson how I handle data. Okay,
and so as a highly regulated,you know, business that does business with

and for the state, you wouldthink that they would want me to have
that kind of infrastructure that I needas well as the employees to provide the
services, right, definitely, Solooking at this kind of the last part
of the show is kind of youknow, how can others kind of help
to get involved, to really helpsupport efforts and why not? I'll start
first kind of you know, Bear, I think just and young Carl from

the business community. Kind of whatthose listening, you know, we're part
of the business community. What canthose individuals and those companies do to kind
of help support this, you knownow? And then also going forward,
I know which one of you wantsto take that first, right, Well,
I'll say, talk to talk toyour legislators, tell them how important
nonprofits are and the services nonprofits areto your community. You know, we

talk about budgets and it's a wholenumbers game, and we talk about nonprofits
that's sort of these corporate entities.But really what matters are people like Karen
who depend who depend on the services, the human aspect behind the numbers.
And when we talk about nonprofits notgetting enough, it's not nonprofits is some

abstract thing. It is the peoplewho depend on the nonprofit services that aren't
right enough. We're proud of beingin Connecticut. Connecticut is a great place.
I've lived here my whole life,but we have fallen behind other states
in a way in which would takecare of the people who live here.
Yeah, I would say, yeah, the same there. And also the

other thing I would say is whywould the business community take you know,
notice is our business community is amazing. They are incredibly generous and incredibly supportive
between the volunteerism and the donations thatthey make. But is it fair to
the business community to be making upthe shortfall that the state, excellent point

is providing. And that's that's oneof those points is you know, I
always say is that you know,the states should pay a fair price for
the services that it's wanting and notrequire us to go out hunting for donations,
right to make up you know,they don't ask the bridge builder to
build eighty percent of the bridge andthen go fundraise for the rest this last

twenty percent you have just like yourname on a brick. Yeah, So,
I mean, this is a serviceand these are real jobs and real
people that need these services. AndI agree with John Kyle. I mean,
Connecticut is an amazing place to beand I'm also lifelong and you know,
love it here, but I'm alsoa lifelong advocate for you know,
fairness and justice in how we goforward. We definitely are and that which

we are why we are very gladto have you here. Very that's amongst
others. But you know, Karen, at last, I'll give the last
question to you is if you couldshare, you know, kind of from
the Oakill Board perspective and you know, really what are ways that individuals,
families and you know, businesses herecould help support your efforts. Well,
that's easy. I'm terribly proud ofOKILL. They've done some really remarkable things.

Sitting back and getting to witness someof the things that have are OKILL
being work in progress that you've developed, some of the programs, the in
school technologies that you're using, thecommunication boards that are popping up all over
Connecticut for nonverbal participants. The gosh, the list is just so long.

It is, It really is solong. And I'm terribly proud of OKILL
and all they've done. I justI hope that nonprofits get recognized during this
budget for the sake of a lotof individuals very similar to my daughter,
but also to the families. Sowhen the families are taking care of its
very uplifting for them. I'd liketo think of my daughter's futures all set

so that I can actually rest asI get older. No, that's wonderful,
Thank you so much, Karen,appreciate that. And where can individuals
go to learn more about OKILL andyou know, and also kind of all
the happenings and how they can getinvolved if they would like to. Sure
OKILLCT dot org is always the easiestone stop place to go and find out

all the different services. Fantastic andto learn more about the Alliance CT nonprofit
Alliance dot org. All right,I make it really easy for people to
send messages to elected representatives. Okay, very nice, that's great. Well,
thank you all so much for theconversation today. Truly appreciate it and
all the information too. It's,you know, certainly a conversation built on

fact. So we appreciate you beinghere today, and we also appreciate you
listeners for tuning in with us heretoday. And before we close out our
show, we would like to welcomea new investor to the MHA. We
refer to our members as investors becausethey're investing in the work we're doing to
help promote and grow the region.Here today we welcome Watkinson's School. Watkinson
School has been committed to education excellencein Greater Hertford since eighteen eighty one.

A co educational day school for gradessix through twelve and postgrad their mission is
to develop their students the power toshape their lives in the world around them.
For more information, visit Watkinson dotorg. And for all the details
about today's show, you can visitMetrohartford dot com. Again, thank you,
Barry, and thank you to Okillfor being such a great partner of

Pulse of the Region. I'm KateAuman. Go out and make today a
good day here in Connecticut.
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