Human Services Sees Reckoning and Rebirth in After ARPA Panel at #MACoCon

Fast, effective, and flexible approaches are key takeaways for human services professionals as they forecast needs and funding for the post-pandemic era.

The COVID-19 emergency spurred on an opportunity to see what kind of results can be driven by an influx of cash and what changes will last in delivering human services to residents. The status quo of slow, cumbersome, and useful programs is certainly a thing of the past where this panel is concerned. They lived through one of the most compressed, “make it work” moments of at least the last decade. Funding adjustment forecasts to meet new need in an altered landscape are the order of the day, and certainly in line with the Moore-Miller administrations new focus on infrastructure modernization.

An initial observation offered by Director David Trolio of Cecil County Human Services is that ARPA money was the tip of the iceberg. He took audience members down a, somewhat treacherously, winding road on the journey to receiving federal emergency response money from more than five different federal funding opportunities on top of ARPA dollars. The sheer number of grant types, requirements, and changing restrictions was dizzying. A key to Cecil’s success was the creative and flexible approach to managing the funds while modifying a number of internal programs and procedures. In essence, there was no way to tackle the crisis effectively with the rigidity of standard government practice.

For Montgomery County, Special Assistant to the Director of Health and Human Services, Dourakine Rosarion, reflected on responding to the crisis according to the needs of their immensely diverse. This strategy was a key factor that remains a prominent takeaway for the local teams. Breaking through cultural and linguistic access barriers will continue to evolve for them and be integrated into new and existing programs. They are certainly leading the charge on this initiative.

From the State perspective, Assistant Secretary for Strategic Initiatives in the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), Julia Glanz touched on her pride, and somewhat astonishment, at just how much rental and mortgage assistance the department has been able to distribute during this window. The ability to get money on the ground quickly allowed DHCD to keep hundreds of thousands of residents and families in their homes under dire circumstances.

During the question and answer session, one audience member asked what panelists would have done differently in hindsight. There was unanimous agreement that anticipating the severity of increase in need for mental and behavioral health services would have been paramount. But hindsight is twenty-twenty, and panelists and audience members alike agreed that there were silver linings to seeing what results programs could produce with an influx of cash. This is a rarity in government services and some research shows this era could be seen as an opportunity to accelerate a trajectory change.

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