Ocean County is getting ready to allocate more than $25 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds to assist with the negative effects left by the COVID 19 pandemic.
“With so many people, including children and teenagers, now suffering with negative mental and behavioral health impacts, and others struggling to get back on their feet financially, a large percentage of the funds will go to updated initiatives and expansion of current services to help our residents,” said Ocean County Commissioner Gary Quinn, who serves as a liaison to the Ocean County Finance Department along with Commissioner John P. Kelly. “After a thorough review of how the funds can be used, it was determined these are areas along with assisting our municipalities, that needed our response.”
Ocean County is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the intended funding allocation at 11 a.m., Feb. 7 in Room 119 of the Ocean County Administration Building, Hooper Avenue, here.
“It’s important residents and organizations have an opportunity to provide input and comments on how we anticipate allocating these funds,” Commissioner Kelly said. “While this is just a portion of the money Ocean County will receive, we want to be transparent of its use.”
The Ocean County Board of Commissioners is expected to approve the spending plan during its Feb. 15 meeting scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. also at the Ocean County Administration Building.
According to the County’s proposed funding plan, the Board of Commissioners has made addressing public health and negative economic impacts priorities for receiving funds.
“While Ocean County has many social services and human services programs available for our citizens, this will add an additional layer of help to those residents that need it,” said Commissioner Quinn. “Clearly, the pandemic highlighted many areas of concern that need to be addressed further.”
In order to meet these needs, Ocean County plans to appropriate approximately $9.5 million of the funding to combat the negative economic impacts of the pandemic.
The County is implementing the Housing Insecurities and Homelessness Services project – a full spectrum program providing temporary / transitional housing support through rapid re-housing strategies, and fiscal aid and wraparound services to those experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness.
According to the funding plan, the program will seek to address the housing stabilization needs of individuals and families, and offer financial assistance through rental security deposits, temporary rental assistance, rental application fees, moving expenses and other associated costs on a case-by-case basis.
In addition, there is a large population within the County that is at a risk of becoming unhoused. As a result of the pandemic, foreclosure rates increased further – with the majority of foreclosures relating to senior citizens at or below the Asset Limited Income Constrained and Employed threshold. In turn, with the aim to mitigate foreclosures and prevent the unhousing of seniors, the County is instituting the Eviction, Foreclosure, and Homelessness Prevention Legal Services Program.
The County’s Recovery Plan also includes the expansion of the already instituted Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) program, thereby offering care management services with a higher degree of focus and intensity to disabled seniors and young adults. Ocean County will also institute the Benefits Navigator program to provide support maneuvering through the benefit programs available to residents.
About $3.7 million will be allocated to address public health issues including negative mental health and behavioral health impacts resulting from and exacerbated by the pandemic in addition to upgrades to emergency response communications equipment.
“The County understands that addressing mental health issues calls for specialized skills,” according to the draft funding plan. “As such, the intelligent selection of professional partners offering behavioral health care expertise, case management, and links to services is paramount.”
The County is implementing projects such as the On Point co-responder program that diverts individuals experiencing mental illness from the criminal justice system, and provides critical professional partnership support to law enforcement operations to ensure the communities impacted by COVID-19-derived or exacerbated stress, anxiety, and depression can be effectively targeted for care.
As a result of the pandemic, many children and adolescents have experienced the loss of a caregiver due to COVID-19 directly, or suicide or drug overdose incidents borne from the pandemic’s impacts. In turn, children and adolescents have experienced grief that has been intensified or has been persistent and pervasive for a period of time that has transformed itself into trauma. In response, the County is putting into effect child and adolescent grief and trauma programs under its ARPA plan to treat immediate complicated grief instances as well as prevent future concerns such as mental illness and substance misuse in adulthood.
The plan also includes funds for the boroughs of Ship Bottom and Beach Haven for needed infrastructure upgrade projects and for the towns along the Northern Barrier Island from Berkeley Township to Point Pleasant Beach to cover the local costs for a needed beach renourishment project.
“Ocean County will continue to carefully review the priorities affecting our residents,” said Director of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners Joseph H. Vicari. “This proposed plan is the first step in allocating the federal funds we anticipate receiving.”
The draft plan is available for review on the Ocean County government website at www.co.ocean.nj.us