Supporting our Communities during COVID-19

Greetings from Human Services!

It’s been a minute (okay, more like 2 months) since my last message out from Pierce County Human Services Department, and how things have changed.  I won’t keep you long, since I know you are all busy and a long weekend is about to begin, but I have just a few updates to share with you.

First, COVID-19.  It’s sickened hundreds in our county, proved fatal to over 70 individuals, and has changed life as we know it for everyone else.  Human Services was one of the first county departments to “go virtual” in mid-March, so all of our staff have been working from home for about 2 months now.  It’s not been easy for many reasons, but I am proud to report that all staff are fully employed from their homes, and we’ve been able to keep almost all of our programs up and running in some modified form.

Senior care is happening via phone and video chat, ECEAP teachers are creating videos for our kids, and we’ve (finally!) moved to signing contracts electronically so we can continue working with our large provider community.  I’m proud of the work the Human Services team has done to adapt to their new environment so they can continue serving our neighbors and those who need us most.

Terrell, a student from one of our ECEAP classes, proudly shows off his artwork from a virtual zoom lesson provided by his teacher.

Beginning in February, Congress began passing several funding packages to address our country’s response to COVID-19.  On March 27, they passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which includes the Coronavirus Relief Fund.  Jurisdictions with populations over 500K, like Pierce County, received a direct appropriation of relief funds.  Smaller jurisdictions (from Tacoma to Carbonado) are receiving an allocation of relief funds through our state’s Department of Commerce.   For all of these funds, the spending requirements are few, but important: spend before the year ends, don’t supplant other expenditures planned before March 2020, and use the funds to respond to COVID-19.

The County’s share of relief funds is $158M, and you’ll see lots of information on social media and in the news about how we are spending these dollars to help our community respond to and recover from COVID-19.  Here at Human Services, we are focusing on the following areas of need:

  • Food and nutrition
  • Housing Stability and homelessness
    • Shelter expansion
    • Rental assistance
    • Mortgage assistance
    • Affordable housing supports
  • Domestic and family violence prevention and intervention
    • Legal services
    • Shelter and outreach capacity
  • Transportation and other services for disabled and elderly populations
    • Senior center supports
    • Transportation to essential services
    • Supportive employment aid
  • Veterans services
    • Emergency grants for rent, utilities, gas, groceries, and other basic needs
  • Behavioral health services
    • Provider grants to maintain services, facilitate telehealth and physical distancing, and prepare for a surge in service demands
  • Child and family services
    • Support technology needs for our most vulnerable students
    • Help families access and pay for child care as they return to work
    • Support child care providers as they prepare for a new norm in child care

It’s an ambitious task to disperse over $22M to people who need it most over the next 6 months. We will have to be responsive, quick, and flexible. We must be fiscally responsible with our citizens tax dollars and ensure equity and transparency in our funding decisions.  Likewise, our provider community will need to step up and provide even more services in this time of uncertainty.  Finally, the people we serve, and who pay the taxes that eventually fund our work, will need to be patient, but we ask you to share input and hold us accountable.  I’ll do my best to keep you informed of what we are doing, but know you can always go here to check up on our progress.

So, that’s what’s up in my corner of the world.  Life continues to go on…our seniors graduate, babies are born, some families lose loved ones, and we all adapt to a new way of working, socializing, exercising, eating, celebrating, and connecting.  If you are anything like me, you fluctuate between resignation, acceptance, sadness, and frustration many times in a day…it’s a journey for us all.

What I am constantly bolstered by, though, is the amazing displays of innovation and resilience happening all around us.  Look for them, and keep in mind that amidst all of the change and uncertainty, there are incredible opportunities for our community lie ahead.

Enjoy your family this holiday weekend and spend some time remembering our fallen soldiers; may they rest in peace and not be forgotten.

Stay safe and be well, my friends.