Amid worsening mental health and financial distress among county residents, as well as growing anxiety concerning when a vaccine will become available, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman announced a package of programs to strengthen the safety net for those hardest hit by the pandemic, which will help slow the spread of the virus.
The new services include:
- Enhanced contact tracing and case management to provide wraparound services for COVID-positive individuals and families;
- Expanded grief counseling and mental health support for survivors of COVID; and
- Financial relief for families with delinquent water bills, which in some instances is a leading indicator of eventual foreclosure.
“Coronavirus and the recession it has caused directly impact the most vulnerable households in our county,” said Pittman. “Each week we observe more trauma and government must continue the hard work of protecting our residents. Water bill assistance, grief counseling and services for families recovering from the virus are just the latest new programs. We continue our food distribution, eviction prevention, cash assistance and business assistance efforts as well.”
The COVID Care Coordination Program (CCC) is an extension of the Department of Health’s contact tracing program and will supplement the work of DoH after the initial 14-day isolation and quarantine period. In collaboration with the Partnership for Children, Youth and Families and the Department of Aging and Disabilities, bi-lingual family assistance navigators and critical case managers will customize an individual plan for COVID-positive individuals and families. Case managers will provide wraparound services including food, shelter, housing, commodities, and financial assistance to reduce the spread and help individuals recover.
The number of new cases in the county has been on a steady increase since mid-August, along with increasing death rates. The COVID Recovery and Grief Support Program will provide additional funding to expand mental health and grief counseling services for survivors and families who have suffered devastating loss from COVID. This program will address the increasing number of calls to the Mental Health warmline, which directly dispatches the Mobile Crisis Team (MCT). Additional funding will support access to grief counseling for individuals and family members who are coping with the loss of loved ones, some of whom died alone in a facility.
The Water Bill Relief Program will provide temporary financial assistance to Anne Arundel County homeowners who are unable to pay their water and wastewater services due to financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 crisis. The $2 million program is a partnership between the county’s Department of Public Works (DPW), the Office of Finance, and the nonprofit organization Arundel Community Development Services.
Executive Order 30, signed on Sept. 4, directed that residential utility service for county water or wastewater service shall not be terminated for nonpayment and shall remain in service through Nov. 15.
“Twenty-thousand county residents have not paid their water bills. Last year at this time, that number was only 1,000,” said Pittman. “If we don’t help these people, they could not only have their water cut off, but the liens that we are required to put on their homes, and the subsequent foreclosure proceedings could leave them homeless. Helping to pay their bills is essential.”