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4 of 5 state contracts with nonprofits signed late

Four out of five state contracts with not-for-profit organizations for 2009 were signed late by the state, a delay that left nonprofits struggling to pay the bills as they provided such services as shelters and counseling, according to a new report from the state comptroller.

The report, which covered 2009, found that 82 percent of contracts were approved past the 150 to 180 days from the start of the contract, a timeline required by the state's prompt contracting law.

"Contracts for services are being held up and organizations can't get reimbursed for services they have already provided," state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a statement. "It's wrong to expect organizations that operate on shoestring budgets to float the state."

On Long Island, about 200 nonprofits had 436 contracts with the state in 2009.

In some cases, they had to wait more than a year to receive a signed contract even as they provided services to the state without being paid.

"I've spent many sleepless nights concerned that we're never going to get our contract back," said Hillary Rutter, executive director of The Adelphi NY Statewide Breast Cancer Hotline and Support Program.

The group had a state contract for $122,000 to operate its statewide breast cancer hotline. The contract was due to begin April 1, 2008, but a signed contract from the Department of Health didn't arrive until April 14, 2009 - a 379-day delay.

"The grant year was over by the time we received the contract back," Rutter said. Because the hotline is affiliated with Adelphi University, it was able to rely on the school for funding until the state money came through.

The report also found that the problem has gotten worse. In 2008, 63 percent of state contracts were approved late.

DiNapoli's report mentioned several reasons, including incomplete information from the nonprofits, a late state budget, or state departments saying they had too few resources to process the contracts.

While the report covers 2009, some nonprofits say that they're already in the same situation this year.

Self Initiated Living Options, a Coram nonprofit, is under contract with the Department of Health to assist people who have disabilities and brain injuries to live independently.

Their contract for $625,000 was due to start Jan. 1, but it wasn't approved by the state until the third week in April, said the group's co-executive director Kathleen Madigan. She said her group is waiting to be paid for the first quarter.

"We're going bankrupt from this," she said.

Claudia Hutton, director of public affairs for the state Health Department, said a combination of a hiring freeze in her department and the late state budget has caused a lag in contract approvals.

"When the budget's passed . . . we're going to have a huge backlog," she said. "So we will be behind for quite a while."

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