Those struggling in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic may have new opportunities for financial and health assistance.
On Sept. 15, Le Sueur County invested more than $500,000 in CARES Act funds to human services providers, including disability services, financial and housing assistance, telehealth and more.
One of the many providers benefitting from these funds is MRCI (Managed Resource Connections Inc.), which provides job coaching, training, employment services as well as day services for adults with disabilities. With a one-time payment of $69,000 from the county, MRCI will be expanding its coverage area from locations like Mankato and New Ulm into Le Sueur County.
The expansion could have a great impact on people with disabilities in the area. The county saw Le Sueur County Developmental Services, which provided employment and life skills services to more than 50 adults with disabilities, permanently close last summer amid financial losses from shutting down operations during COVID-19.
“This will hopefully help pick up some of those from LCDS with the closing and service those folks as well,” said Le Sueur County Commissioner Steve Rohlfing.
To make services accessible during the pandemic, MRCI has been providing a number of virtual programs including check-ins, small group peer activities, career advice and skills training and employment services.
“It is exciting to work with them and they have a really good plan,” said Sue Rynda, Le Sueur County director of human services. “They want to hire someone in Le Sueur County and work on community jobs and support people virtually. They have lots of clubs and activities. I think providers and guardians and those that we serve are very excited about this opportunity.”
That’s not all the county is spending their CARES dollar on. To expand access to a variety of human services, Le Sueur County has contracted Minnesota Valley Action Council for $266,000 in emergency assistance. The nonprofit aims to empower low income-earners through a variety of programs that include employment and training, housing assistance, energy assistance and financial advice. Different programs have different eligibility requirements, often based on income level.
“A lot of the things we’re hoping to help families with, anything from housing to car repairs to getting them caught up with utility bills, just a variety of things,” said Tiffany Vanden Einde, a vocational advisor at MVAC.
CARES dollars will be spent not just on programming, but additional staffing at MVAC and new technology and hotspots to expand telehealth capabilities. MVAC’s satellite office in Le Center is currently closed to the public, but people will soon be allowed to pick up CARES Act applications from outside the building and submit their requests in a drop box outside.
“We are going to stay closely on top of this,” said Rynda. “We’re going to try and service as many people that are eligible as possible.”
With symptoms of mental illness and stressors becoming more common during the pandemic, the county has also put nearly $60,000 toward Counseling Services of Southern Minnesota to create support groups for teachers, students and parents of children at local school districts including Tri-City United, Waterville-Elysian-Morristown and Cleveland Public Schools.
“We recognize the strain on teachers, students, and families as they negotiate this unprecedented pandemic,” wrote Tom McNeely, Executive Director of Counseling Services of Southern Minnesota in a letter to the county. “In some cases, this strain is leading to a deterioration of general functioning, is interrupting child social, emotional and academic development. It is our proposal to create support groups for teachers, students and caregivers to enhance functioning and resilience during this challenging time.”
Funds will also be dedicated to ten devices, hot spots and a server upgrade to operate telemedicine services. In addition, the agency will use CARES dollars to create ten videos educating teachers on mental health and training them how to talk with students and families about COVID-19.
The county is also partnering LSS Financial Counseling to provide financial wellness services and community educational events to residents. Participants will be offered financial counseling appointments to help them navigate emergency budgeting, student loans, foreclosure, credit repair and more and will receive a budget and written action plan of steps to improve their financial situation. In addition, the firm will hold four different hour long financial educational events: two in the day and two in the evening.
Reach Reporter Carson Hughes at 507-931-8575. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All Rights Reserved.