Goodwill of Western and Northern CT ends program for people with brain trauma

Gov. Ned Lamont, center, in October 2020 alongside Goodwill Industries of Western and Northern Connecticut's interim CEO Jeff Wieser, right, and state Rep. Steve Stafstrom at a Goodwill thrift store in Bridgeport, Conn. (Press photo via Goodwill Industries of Western and Northern Connecticut)

Gov. Ned Lamont, center, in October 2020 alongside Goodwill Industries of Western and Northern Connecticut's interim CEO Jeff Wieser, right, and state Rep. Steve Stafstrom at a Goodwill thrift store in Bridgeport, Conn. (Press photo via Goodwill Industries of Western and Northern Connecticut)

Goodwill Industries of Western and Northern Connecticut is transferring as many as 60 jobs to other nonprofits as it pulls out of a program providing around-the-clock assistance to about 24 people with ongoing needs as a result of brain injuries incurred earlier in life.

The Acquired Brain Injury Waiver program is supported with Medicaid funding through the Connecticut Department of Social Services. On Monday, Goodwill’s local CEO Jeff Wieser expressed confidence that other social services providers will take on the support work that Goodwill has been providing under the ABI Waiver program.

While Goodwill is known for its thrift stores and donation stations located throughout Connecticut and the United States, the nonprofit’s main mission is to offer job training opportunities. Goodwill of Western and Northern Connecticut offers career coaching at its Bridgeport headquarters as well as in Hartford, Norwalk, Shelton, Waterbury and Enfield. A Torrington outpost has yet to reopen for public visits after closing last year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Statewide, more than 570 people were receiving support under the ABI Waiver program in Connecticut as of mid-2019, according to the Connecticut General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Research. The program costs about $125,000 annually for each individual, or close to $70 million in the 2019 fiscal year.

“So much of the mission of Goodwill is based around employment, but this is something that we very happily got into about 20 years ago and it’s been a pretty important part of our program,” Wieser said. “Two years ago we ... cut our activities in the ABA program down about half, because the reimbursement had not kept up with the expenses.”

The ABI Waiver is limited to those who might be at risk of being placed in a group home for institutional-level support, and are supported by an annual income below $75,000 and have less than $10,000 in assets.

“The loss of Goodwill to the brain injury community is devastating and also a significant loss for the individuals with brain injury they serve,” stated Julie Peters, executive director of the Windsor-based Brain Injury Alliance of Connecticut, said in an email Monday. “We understand that the reimbursement rate is very challenging for many providers. ... We have been assured by DSS that they are working on the rate issue, and we support them in their efforts. Until that happens, we fear we could lose more providers.”

Other nonprofits providing ABI support include Ability Beyond based in Bethel, The Kennedy Center in Trumbull, and Marrakech in Woodbridge.

Wieser said Monday that Goodwill has about 950 employees today, with annual revenue down slightly from the $50 million it reported in its most recent annual report to the IRS posted online for 2018, when net assets totaled just over that figure.

Goodwill reported assisting a total of 4,250 Connecticut job seekers last year at its career centers, landing what it described as “meaningful” work for close to 900 people. About 20 percent of the 600 people working in its own thrift stores have varying levels of disabilities.

The day after Goodwill reported the job cuts, a group of state lawmakers filed legislation that would require businesses that receive assistance from the state Department of Economic and Community Services to make “good faith” efforts to employ people with intellectual disabilities. DECD’s list of funded businesses increased significantly last year after the department became a clearing house for federal business aid under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Another bill under consideration in the legislative Commerce Committee would establish a workforce development pipeline for people with disabilities, with specifics not available immediately.

Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman