Finally, there’s hope: DSS seeks Norwalk area NEON replacement by May 25

It's possible that
It’s possible that a new Norwalk area Community Action Program (CAP) agency will begin issuing paychecks this summer, as the Connecticut Department of Social Services seeks to open such an agency in May.

NORWALK, Conn. — Secretive efforts to create a new antipoverty agency for Norwalk have become partially public with a formal call from the Connecticut Department of Social Services.

The Request for Qualifications (RFQ) was published on DSS’s website Tuesday. The contract for the successful applicant to be the Norwalk area’s new Community Action Program (CAP) agency would run from May 25 to Sept. 30, 2016. DSS says it has $869,008 to fund the agency, but some observers question the long-term viability of this plan as Gov. Dannel Malloy has proposed to eliminate the Human Services Infrastructure (HSI) funding from the state’s 2016-17 budget.

The Rev. Lindsay Curtis said in June that he and others were trying to form a new agency to replace the bankrupt Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON).

“Yes, there is a Norwalk group that is actively seeking the designation CAP agency,” Curtis said in an early Friday email. “Yes, we fully intend to meet the April 21st deadline.”

Count the South Norwalk Community Center out, board Chairman Warren Peña said Thursday.

“After much thought and consideration we are not interested in becoming the CAP agency but look forward to collaboration at some point,” Peña wrote.

The Community Action Agency of Western Connecticut, formerly the Community Action Committee of Danbury (CACD), is interested, according to Connecticut Association for Community Action (CAFCA) Executive Director Edith Pollock Karsky.

State Sen. Bob Duff (D-25) and State Rep. Chris Perone (D-137) did not respond to attempts to contact them Thursday. Neither did former NEON transitional CEO and President the Rev. Tommie Jackson, who offered information about the efforts in October but made it clear he would not be involved.

“I can assure you we will work diligently to ensure we have an effective and functioning CAP agency in Norwalk,” Mayor Harry Rilling wrote in an email.

The new CAP agency would service the Greater Norwalk catchment area: New Canaan, Norwalk, Wilton, Weston and Westport.

DSS is not casting a wide net. The website states:

Organizations eligible to apply for designation as the entity serving the Greater Norwalk catchment service area must:

  • Currently provide services to low-income persons located within the Greater Norwalk catchment area, or that is contiguous to the catchment area.
  • Demonstrate fiscal, programmatic and information technology capacity to provide services designed to eliminate the causes of poverty and foster self-sufficiency.
  • Be governed by a local tripartite (three-part) board for private non-profit or local advisory board for local unit of government.
  • Be fiscally solvent, which means, the Respondent’s current operating capacity covers two (2) months of resources to cover expenditures due to late payment issuance on the part of the Department.

“Through this RFQ, DSS is seeking to select a qualified organization in or near the Greater Norwalk catchment area to provide comprehensive services to low-income individuals, families and communities in the Greater Norwalk catchment area. Qualifications will be accepted from qualified organizations in or near the Greater Norwalk catchment area that meet the qualifications under Title 42 of the U.S. Code Section 9909,” DSS states.

The non-profit entity must be in the Greater Norwalk catchment area or contiguous to it.

“I am not sure who all will be applying, but the need is great from the services that the CAP agency provides to the jobs that it creates,” Councilwoman Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman (D-District B) said.

Councilwoman Sharon Stewart (D-At Large), formerly a NEON social worker, said she had “no idea” what is going on.

“I am trying to find out the same thing,” she said.

Stewart said she has been helping NEON’s former clients as a volunteer, connecting them with medical supplies, food and places to stay. “They are being serviced, because the South Norwalk Community Center is not servicing them,” she said.

“I can only speak to the fact that SoNoCC serves all people that walk through our doors in the capacity that we can,” Peña wrote. “If we cannot help them directly we refer them to other agencies who can.”

Stewart said she has “helped so many people that I can’t even tell you.” She offers this help at the Ben Franklin Center in a deal authorized by the Common Council in August. Stewart recused herself from the vote; it passed 12 to 1, with one abstention. The no vote came from Rich Bonenfant (R-At Large), who questioned the process by which it came to the Council.

DSS sought letters of interest last year, with an Oct. 27 deadline. DSS spokesman David Dearborn said Thursday afternoon that he would check to see who responded.

Karsky said the only respondent she knew of was the Community Action Agency of Western Connecticut (CAAWC), one of 11 Community Action Agencies in Connecticut, which serves Northwestern Fairfield and Litchfield counties.

CAAWC was established in 1965 and was referring to itself as the Community Action Committee of Danbury (CACD) as late as June, according to its Facebook page.

CACD ran into problems similar to those at NEON. “An audit, completed in April 2011 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s inspector general’s office, found ‘significant operating deficiencies existed at CACD that impacted the ability to manage and account for federal funds,’” the News Times reports.

The misspent funds were almost $100,000. DSS removed CACD’s “agency in crisis” designation a year ago, the News Times reported.

CAAWC has been providing case management services to Hispanic individuals and families living in Norwalk and interim case management services in Norwalk in a DSS contract set to expire on June 30, according to the CAAWC website.

Karsky, in an editorial published by the Connecticut Mirror on Tuesday, blasted Malloy’s proposal to eliminate HSI funding in the 2016-17 budget.

“Connecticut’s CAAs provide cost-efficient and cost-effective services across all state agencies, and HSI funds are critical for our network to continue to provide basic services in our communities. The proposed elimination of $3.4 million in HSI funds will actually mean a direct cut of almost $5 million in services to low-income families, since these funds are used as a match for federal funds,” Karsky wrote in the Mirror. “This devastating cut will severely impact our ability to help Connecticut’s families when they need us most, leaving our state’s most vulnerable residents behind in the process.”

Judy Meikle, a Norwalker who was employed as the GED instructor at NEON NorwalkWorks up to the bitter end, blasted Malloy to NoN on Thursday.

“The network of Community Action Agencies in Connecticut are the ultimate safety net for people experiencing extreme poverty. They provide critical services for families in crisis. They also support people to become self-sufficient for example with employment and adult education classes. The Human Services Infrastructure model is designed to link the services together,” Meikle wrote. “To expect a CAA to function without funding for HSI is like tearing out the walls and foundations from a building.”


7 responses to “Finally, there’s hope: DSS seeks Norwalk area NEON replacement by May 25”

  1. piberman

    The community is still waiting for Mayor Rilling’s promised investigation of NEON to identify just how and by whom it failed it’s mission and caused real hardship and difficulties to both its staff and clients. Is it because Democrats were involved ? Has anything been learned from NEON’s egregious failures over an extended time ? Was NEON a failure of local leadership ? Doesn’t anyone want to know what happened so it will not occur again ? Or is it just about politics ? Why aren’t Sen. Duff and our NAACP demanding an investigation ?

    1. Mark Chapman


      You are aware,of course, that investigating agencies will not talk about investigations, while they are open. This from a story we ran last June:

      (The Rev. Lindsay) Curtis said the state’s attorney in Hartford is investigating NEON. Mayor Harry Rilling confirmed that. “I have spoken with an agent of the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office – I am not able to comment further on that matter,” Rilling said in an email.

      And, as has been reported, NEON was administered by the state. The city’s role is limited to providing funding if it so chooses.

      Once again, it is a good idea to research before making assertions.

  2. piberman

    Did anything prevent Mayor Rilling from launching an investigation about NEON’s financial improprieties when taking office ? A year has gone by. And a prior Federal investigation found wrong doing. By not being more aggressive here the City demonstrates a less than caring attitude to those really in need. Where is the NAACP and Sen Duff here ? Real people were hurt by egregious behaviors here. Waiting for “something” to happen isn’t acceptable except demonstrate less than serious interest. A community wide meeting sponsored by the Mayor to let those affected by NEON that someone really cares would have been appropriate just to let the least fortunate among us know that the more fortunate among us really do care. Nothing prevents City Hall from creating a list of NEON Board Directors over the last 5 years. Maybe some have something to say. NEON is a test case how our City treats the less fortunate. That’s why it’s important to learn what happened.

    1. Mark Chapman


      The Federal “investigation” was an audit.

      Do a search. We ran a list of all board members going back several years. By what authority does the mayor of Norwalk launch an investigation into a state-run agency? What resources does he use? Why would the previous mayor, during whose watch the wrongdoing was discovered, not have launched an investigation if it were feasible? Why would the city, with limited resources and a punitive tax rate with stagnant property values and overpaid teachers — so we’ve heard — pay for an investigation that would parallel that of the state? Have you had discussions with the state and city legal departments to get up to speed on all of this? There is a responsibility for leaders to work within the system, and to not shoot from the lip and offer opinions based on overactive imaginations spurred by too much time on their hands.

  3. Mike Mushak

    That is because Peter Berman has decided that no matter what Mayor Rilling does, it is wrong. We need to launch an investigation into why he has taken over every news outlet in Norwalk and turned it into a anti-Rilling and anti-Democrat rant. From what we can tell, Mr. Berman has not offered his time or energy to help fix anything in Norwalk like so many of us are trying to do every day, as if he relentlessly criticizes for his own personal entertainment out of boredom.

    Please, Mr. Berman, share your list of volunteer activities, positions appointed or elected to, and charities you support in Norwalk. Or better yet, lets just launch an investigation. We are curious what gives you such insight into the failings of everyone and everything you set your sights on. Since you passionately hate just about everyone and everything about Norwalk, please do something about it besides rant incessantly.

    Have you sent your resume in to Mayor Rilling for a position? It’s also been called putting your money where your mouth is, or practicing what you preach.

  4. piberman

    State run agency ? Not a Norwalk agenc ? Norwalk City funding here ? Board of Directors were Norwalk citizens including Common Council members. Board Chair was appointed by the Mayor to the BET. That sure raised some eyebrows. Looks to me like a Norwark agency serving Norwalk citizens staffed by Norwalk employees. City residents using the agency and the local community expected some interest in learning what went wrong. No ones blaming Mayor Rilling for what happened to NEON with its 150k salary for its CEO and financial contretempts. But surely there are some lessons to be learned here. When the BOE had some budget issues the City stepped in with assists and eventually the BOE beefed up its financial staffing. But when NEON became unglued not much City assistance was offered and the Board bailed. We ought not pass the buck to other agencies here. Even if there is some dirty linen. Are there any lessons to be learned ?

    Editor’s note: Yes, NEON was overseen by the state. No, it was not a Norwalk agency. Yes, it received an annual grant from Norwalk until former mayor Moccia stopped it when the state and federal audits showed mishandling of funds. Yes, Greg Burnett and several other Norwalk politicians, both Republican and Democrat, served on the board, along with many other people from other municipalities. The board installed in spring 2013 comprised 8 Norwalkers and 11 non-Norwalkers, and soon dissolved to the point where it was mostly Stamford residents, including Chairman Mike Berkoff. After Norwalk’s Joe Mann resigned in 2012, Patricia Wilson Phaeneous, not from Norwalk, took over and presided over NEON’s further descent, with right-hand assistant Chiquita Stepheson, who then took over as interim CEO and president before being removed after handing out paychecks on empty accounts. Stephenson is from Wilton. There are tens of thousands of words on this site chronicling NEON’s downfall. All of this info in there. We advise anyone interested to read it if they are interested in facts.

    Additional links regarding administration of CAA agencies:

  5. Taxpayer Fatigue

    How about publishing the members of the board of directors for the past ten years? They were responsible for oversight of NEON. A fundamental responsibility of any board is to ensure proper financial controls are in place. Of course, you may not want to see this as their were prominent republicans on the board as well as democrats. NEONs failure was a bipartisan effort.

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