MONTICELLO, NY — Sullivan County doesn’t have to ask you how to spend the $14.6 million in rescue plan funds that are coming its way. Staff and lawmakers are supposed to figure that out.
So, some citizens figured they’d see what the people wanted.
A coalition of organizations, from Action Toward Independence to the NAACP to the Committee for Equity and Justice, ran a survey online and in-person, asking folks how they would allocate the cash.
They reported the results in a letter to the Sullivan County Legislature, read aloud by clerk AnnMarie Martin last Thursday. (Although such correspondence is often just mentioned, this arrived while Martin was in a meeting that morning, she said. Legislators thus didn’t have copies to read themselves).
Here are the recommendations:
- Hire more mental health staff, so “services are available 24/7.” COVID-19 has “caused enormous stress,” community services director Melissa Stickle said recently in a River Reporter story. But the pandemic relegated mental health care and support for people struggling with addiction to Zoom. This came with a number of problems, according to therapists like Jessica Gold, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis who wrote about it in Self. Now that more people are vaccinated, offices are opening and, hopefully, those problems will evaporate. Then counselors can go back to in-person sessions, which will help people deal with the aftereffects of COVID stress.
- Create a collaborative committee of different sectors “that would track all county projects and set goals.” It would make recommendations and stay on top of what’s happening afterward.
- Premium pay for essential workers. This is a form of hazard pay for those who were exposed regularly to COVID-19 as part of their jobs (like care workers in nursing homes, grocery store employees, corrections officers and so on). Section 9901 of ARPA gives employers “the opportunity to secure premium pay for their employees in an amount up to $13 per hour, subject to a cap of $25,000 per “eligible worker,” according to law firm Miller Johnson.
- “Support for inpatient and outpatient opioid treatment and detox centers,” given that there were 350+ hospital admissions for opioid overdoses in the county in 2019. This could expand medication-assisted treatment. County coroner Albee Bockman has been reporting increasing numbers of overdose deaths at legislative meetings.
- More support for youth programs.
“We hope that you will keep these preferences in mind” as lawmakers debate what to do with the American Rescue Plan funds, the writers wrote.
The survey took place through the first couple of weeks of May, and 371 people responded.