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.”