American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)
Washington County, while a county that is fortunate to have natural, financial, and human resources, has residents who were greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as did every area in the country. Its leadership and residents are grateful to have additional resources to rebuild the organization and assist residents as the pandemic abates.
A number of projects will address needs and deficiencies and inequities that were exacerbated in the county by the pandemic. The hungry became more evident, the unhoused became more prevalent, the un- and under-employed suffered more acutely from their financial plight. A number of programs will address and, it is hoped, alleviate these deficiencies going forward.
This report includes a list of projects and initiatives that the county will undertake in its recovery.
If you have comments on the proposed plan, they may be submitted through this email form.
Washington County is approaching its recovery efforts in two phases. The first phase over the first two years commits approximately 80% of the county’s allocation to address continued response to ongoing pandemic needs, focusing on recovery for those most impacted by the public health emergency, addressing long-standing gaps in the economy that prevent equitable economic recovery, and shoring up government services to continue to serve the needs of the community.
Almost 38% of the county’s allocation has been dedicated to the public health response. Ensuring availability and access to COVID-19 vaccination and testing best positions the county to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency. Equipment, service, and building modifications in the recovery plan will assist in the response to COVID-19.
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) provides the county the opportunity to bolster its Crisis Response Team to address the increasing mental health needs within the county.
The county’s allocation addresses economic gaps experienced by residents, businesses, and non-profits by focusing on food security, internet access, and job training, and targets support to those hardest hit by the pandemic. It addresses housing stability with housing outreach and an Emergency Rental Assistance Program. Community Health Workers will address the health disparities exacerbated by the pandemic.
The county is using a portion of the allocation to improve the county’s infrastructure to better position itself for the ongoing public health emergency. Investments in the county’s information technology, capital equipment needs, and staff augmentation – for example, in the attorney’s division to address the case backlog as a result of the pandemic – will allow the county to continue its recovery and preparation for a future COVID-19 response.
The second phase of the county’s response is dependent on evaluation and assessment of phase one efforts.
Equity considerations are central to Washington County’s work. Although the county consistently ranks as one of the healthiest counties in Minnesota, some residents are still affected by poor health. The health outcomes of populations within the county can be starkly different, depending on a variety of factors, including race, education, income, and geography. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of these disparities that already existed.
The county’s equity work involves community partnerships, collaborations, and outreach.
Approaches to make county services more equitable include:
- removal of barriers that slow response time – such as limiting personal information needed for services like food support or vaccine appointments;
- working with diverse community representatives to understand communication gaps with historically underserved, marginalized, or adversely affected groups;
- seeking trusted messengers to equalize access to information;
- translating materials and having interpreter services available;
- eliminating transportation barriers by offering rides to residents who need transportation to vaccine clinics, COVID-19 testing facilities, or food distribution events; and
- offering no-contact delivery options for food support.
The Food Security Unit will embed equity through its ARPA funded projects by:
- continuing to remove administrative structures that would slow or limit a speedy or sustained response;
- asking only for size of household and age ranges of its members to ensure food quantity is proportional;
- removing the barrier of transportation by offering no-contact deliveries; and
- explicitly seeking trusted messengers to equalize access to information and to communicate options and opportunities to residents.
Through telephone calls, emails, and face-to-face communication, resident input has led directly to the development of specific programs, including the prepared meal delivery and the Harvest Express, two programs that will continue with ARPA funds. In addition, the county sought feedback from diverse community representatives in Spring 2021 to understand communication gaps with communities of color and underrepresented groups, specifically around vaccine information.
Ongoing community engagement work around COVID-19 response and beyond seeks to work through trusted partner organizations, and residents of affected communities. At the same time, the county continues to build staff capacity and understanding around health equity and how to advance the work.
The county relies heavily on following best practices from a number of sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and professional associations for planning and service delivery within the county. Some of the projects are directly tied to the American Rescue Plan Act’s identification of a program or initiative that would reduce the disparate impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency and/or address underlying economic inequities that are exacerbating the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Washington County is investing more than 20% of its allocation, or $11,087,000, in interventions, such as crisis response, food security, internet accessibility, housing support, community health workers, and career pathways to have a direct impact on the goals described for each of these initiatives.
Public Health $19,180,793
COVID-19 Vaccination Planning & Implementation, $500,000
This project is part of the county’s COVID-19 response, mitigation, and prevention activities and will include costs for staff, supplies, and materials. The county’s program will prioritize unserved or underserved communities in the county by basing vaccination efforts on geography, paired with the Minnesota Department of Health social vulnerability index for clinic offerings.
COVID-19 Testing, $500,000
This project continues the county’s testing program and will include supplies, staff time, and materials. The county’s program will prioritize unserved or underserved communities by providing varying testing sites and times, and addressing transportation needs and language barriers within the community to ensure accessibility.
Protective Equipment & Measures, $500,000
This project will provide safety measures for virus transmission mitigation, including materials and supplies for personal protection, temporary modifications, enhanced cleaning, materials, and supplies for ongoing telework.
Stillwater Campus Heating and Cooling Improvements, $8,000,000
This project will replace the heating, cooling, and ventilation systems throughout the Washington County Stillwater campus, including boilers and chillers, and associated piping, pumps, and motors. The new equipment will provide a higher energy efficiency than the current equipment. Enhancements would include increased air flow and outside air intake
Building Modifications to Ensure Safe Service Delivery, $5,101,535
The project would reconfigure workstations and office spaces to accommodate changes in workstyles, including telework, due to the pandemic. Reconfiguration of front reception desks throughout county will enhance safety between front desk staff and the public, and increase security. Upgrades and installation of A/V equipment throughout the county will allow for enhanced virtual interaction between staff working between sites, between home and office, and between staff and clients.
Public Health Enhancements to County Environmental Centers, $439,800
The county uses its environmental center to support public health preparedness. This project will provide dedicated space in Woodbury, and at the new center in Forest Lake, for supplies and equipment needed to respond to public health emergencies.
Library Express Lockers, $350,000
The Library has express lockers in Hugo, Newport, and Marine on St. Croix. In 2020, the use of these lockers was 52% higher than in 2019. Also in 2020, all Washington County Library branches provided curbside pickup, a much-needed service during the pandemic. Adding express lockers outside all branches would provide 24/7 access to library materials across the county, and could replace the curbside pickup service.
Safe Working Environment at Big Marine Park Reserve, $168,000
The staff building at Big Marine Park Reserve does not have running water, staff restrooms, or a handwashing station. This project would add these basic amenities for staff, so staff have better opportunities to wash before eating, after using a restroom, and after being in a public place.
Safe Handling of Deposits, $100,000
This is for contactless safes to reduce armored car pick-ups. In addition to reducing the county's armored car expense, it eliminates contact between the armored car driver and county staff.
Public Health Records Assessment and Support, $400,000
This project improves the design and execution of public health records within the county to position the county to better address and assess health disparities in the county.
Payroll and Benefit Costs of Those Directly Responding to the Pandemic, $2,669,658
While the costs have dropped significantly in 2021 from 2020, the county continues to incur salary and benefit costs for those directly responding to the pandemic, including costs to administer these federal funds.
Virtual Meeting Service and Support, $201,800
The County Board Room requires a high-quality production to meet the needs of commissioners, the public, and county staff who attend meetings and workshops. In addition to the Board Room, there are 197 conference rooms that serve the public and departments that routinely need support for maintenance and programming. This position will develop conference room standards and a training program for staff, and coordinate contracted work that cannot be completed internally. This will support telework and client services.
Crisis Response Mental Health Services Augmentation, $250,000
The longer-term impacts of COVID-19 are yet to be determined, and there has been both an influx of new mental health intakes, as well as the suspension of routine case closures. This creates a swell of caseloads across programs. This project would employ the appropriate number of special project positions through July 31, 2023, to administer assistance programs based on current needs
Negative Economic Impacts, $802,000
Food Security Program,$202,000
To respond to the negative economic impacts of the COVID-19 public health emergency, Washington County will continue its Food Security Program in partnership with local food shelves to support the most severely impacted low-income populations. The program will include Emergency Food Pack delivery, transportation of food boxes to people in the community, and infrastructure to support food shelf partners. The Food Security Program aims to provide 90% of individuals/families who request support in completing steps to transition to other food support programs, as well as making sure 100% of current and newly-arrived shelter guests are connected to available food support programs.
Career Pathway System Project, $400,000
This request is to develop a sustainable Career Pathways System for Washington County employers and high school students. Career Pathways accelerates the talent pipeline that enables schools and employers to establish partnerships that integrate the skill needed by employers into school curriculum and experiential learning, and helps employers promote their businesses and career opportunities through engagement with students.
Businesses are struggling now, more than ever, to find qualified candidates, due to both COVID-19 and the baby-boomer generation retiring at a rate that can be higher than new entrants into the workforce. This project will help provide a more stable talent pipeline for industries in demand in Washington County, many of which are listed as those most impacted by COVID-19.
Young adults from disparately impacted families prior to and during COVID-19 need a better system to guide them through the process of identifying Career Pathways that meet their interests, abilities, and affordability.
Internet Access to Support Adults and Students, $200,000
This is a multi-year funding request for the Library's hotspot program, which has been serviced through CARES funding since its inception in November 2020.
In 2020, the Library purchased 500 hotspots, making them available for check out. In the past six months, these hotspots have been checked out 2,754 times. Continuation of this program provides assistance to households, small businesses, and non-profits to address the impacts of the pandemic by the most severely impacted populations.
Housing Outreach Team Supervision, $250,000
The Housing Outreach Services Team (HOST) began in 2014 and has grown in the last six years, and especially during the pandemic. A supervisor will ensure county resources meet the need of the community and the anticipated growth. Funds are being directed to provide services to communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 public health emergency to promote and encourage strong, equitable growth.
County Emergency/Transitional Housing Capital Program, $6,800,000
This project would support the purchase of a 50-75 bed hotel to be converted into a 30-bed shelter. The costs include remodeling and first-year service and shelter costs.
Funds are being directed to provide services to communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 public health emergency to promote and encourage strong, equitable growth. This will be the first permanent shelter in Washington County for single adults and will allow residents to receive services in the community. The project will serve the hardest-hit communities and families, and address health disparities and the social determinants of health, investments in housing, and neighborhoods. The shelter should open in Spring 2023.
Emergency Rental Assistance, $350,000
The county is providing more than $14 million in rental assistance over the next two years. Additional staffing is necessary to ensure all applications are processed in a timely fashion and eligibility requirements are met.
Equitable Services Consultant, $400,000
This project will pay for a consultant to shift the county’s focus and resources to more equitably provide services to Washington County residents to address disparate outcomes for populations most vulnerable to the public health crisis. This includes access and resource development. This will be measured by an increase in the numbers of unduplicated residents from the target group who access services and the correlation to the overall population of Washington County.
Community Health Worker-Health Equity Initiative, $2,235,000
Community Health Workers (CHWs) are frontline public health workers who are trusted members of the community and have an understanding of the service needs within the community. They serve as a liaison between health/social services and the community to facilitate access to services and improve the quality and cultural competence of service delivery. This project aims to develop a community engagement program to directly address community recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic through a health equity lens.
Washington County’s effort is focused on services to address health disparities and the social determinants of health by providing services to communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 public health emergency. This will include services that connect residents with health care resources and public assistance programs and build healthier environments, and funding public benefits navigators to assist community members with navigating and applying for available federal, state, and local public benefits or services.
Broadband matching funds, $2,000,000
This project is in the planning phase and may include matching grants to local units of government for the expansion of high-speed broadband within Washington County.
Revenue Replacement $8,046,200
County Attorney Staff Augmentation, $198,800
This is a request for an attorney position for two years to address the backlog of lower level crimes to ensure effective government services.
Fleet Replacement, $1,000,000
The current Fleet Program Budget for 2022 is $641,300. The Fleet Program budget should be $1.52 million per year, based on needs due to end of useful life of Public Works equipment. In addition, the existing fleet and equipment replacement backlog is estimated at $5.4 million. It is anticipated that this will reduce the average age of replacement from 17.5 years to 10-12 years.
Public Safety Radio Replacement, $500,000
This request funds replacement of all Washington County public safety radios installed in squad cars. Current radios were purchased in 2007-2008 and are no longer supported for parts. The new radios offer several enhancements, such as encryption, improved controls, and wireless programming, which will decrease staff time in supporting the radios.
Election Equipment Replacement, $500,000
This project would replace the assistive voting devices (AVD) used in each precinct on Election Day and at all absentee voting locations. Washington County uses machines from 2004 and they are no longer manufactured. New parts are not available, with only refurbished parts/machines available when repair or replacement is needed. This would modernize the system and improve cyber security.
Voice-Telephone System Replacement, $2,017,200
To facilitate telework and virtually deliver county services efficiently and effectively, this project would replace the current county telephone system that is at the end of its useful life.
St. Croix Bluffs Boat Launch Improvement, $700,000
This funding will accelerate the replacement of the boat launch at St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park to provide accessibility to the river and fishing piers. The boat launch is used for access while responding to emergencies on the St. Croix River.
Information Technology Infrastructure, $3,130,200
This project will provide funding for increased information technology infrastructure and security measures as outlined in the county's capital equipment and technology plan. These improvements will support telework for county employees and remote access for those doing business with the county, as well as improve client communication, all in response to the pandemic.
County Emergency/Transitional Housing (Youth) $400,000
Washington County would partner with a neighboring jurisdiction to purchase a building to provide a youth shelter. Funds are being directed to provide services to communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 public health emergency to promote and encourage strong, equitable growth. Children and youth in need of short-term emergency housing will have access to a facility within 30 minutes of their family home and will benefit from the right level of support and services.