MERIDEN — Three separate proposals to increase staffing in the city Health & Human Services Department, provide housing and support services to victims of domestic violence and to create a marketing program for small businesses impacted by the pandemic received preliminary approval from the American Rescue Plan Steering Committee this week.
The committee, which met remotely through video conference Monday night, voted to advance all three proposals to the City Council. The three votes were unanimous.
The council will take up the funding requests when it meets Jan. 18.
If authorized by the council, they would be funded through the city’s federal American Rescue Plan Act allocation of $36.3 million.
Health & Human Services applied for more than $1.275 million in funding. The proposal would add a full-time public health nurse in the school-based health offices to provide daily care, along with a nurse administrator to oversee the city’s entire school health program and a public health clinic supervisor to oversee the department’s clinic operations.
According to the department’s application, the nurse administrator position is an existing position vacant since 2018. The clinic supervisor position would be newly created — tasked with overseeing the administration of vaccinations, communicable disease investigation, school health registration and other responsibilities.
“Currently, the Associate Health Director (who is an RN) is overseeing both school health and clinic supervisory responsibilities,” officials wrote in the application. “There is a need… for the RN Administrator and Supervisor positions so that the Associate Director position can assist the Director with Department administrative responsibilities.”
The application stated, and Health and Human Services Director Lea Crown reiterated during a presentation Monday night, staff in the department have been working seven days a week since February 2020 addressing conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Filling the Public Health Nurse Administrator and creating a new Public Health Clinic Supervisor position, in addition to an additional RN in our schools, will allow greater internal capacity for COVID-19 response and creation/implementation/evaluation of direct essential public health services,” the application stated. “It will also free up existing staff time so we can continue to respond to current and emerging public health and human services concerns and issues in our community.”
Crown, during her presentation to the steering committee, described her department’s current workload as “not sustainable” with its current staffing.
“Staff are incredibly burnt out,” Crown said, later adding she sees the positions as “needed.”
Mayor Kevin Scarpati, a member of the committee, said he supports the proposal.
“It’s clear and evident there’s a need,” Scarpati said.
City Councilor Bruce Fontanella asked Crown whether the three proposed positions would have any impact on her time commitments and responsibilities.
Crown responded that filling the supervisor position alone would create “a domino effect.”
“It will take a lot of the workload off of the assistant health director, who can then do some of my responsibilities,” Crown said, noting there are many “things that cannot be done right now while all [of us] are wearing multiple hats.”Domestic violence
Meriden-Wallingford Chrysalis Inc., a local non-profit organization that provides housing support and other services for victims of domestic violence, seeks $618,000 in funding over three years.
“As a result of the COVID pandemic, our utilization of services is three times the average requests, and Chrysalis is facing budget constraints due to a lack of funds for all programs, particularly our transitions Housing Program,” the agency’s application states.
Chrysalis was one of a small number of domestic violence centers “that never shut down or moved to only remote services during Covid,” the agency stated, while explaining some operational procedures had been modified to ensure safety.
“The need for increased housing support and services in our community is evident. Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault affects 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men. The trauma can have a profound and lasting impact. Recovery without support systems, internal and external, is virtually impossible,” the applicants wrote.
The agency received notice that federal funding it had long received to provide direct client assistance had been halted for at least one year.
“This request is an urgent need as it will help serve existing staffing and help us continue to support community members at the same level of direct client financial assistance,” the application stated. Funds would enable the agency to continue its transitional housing programs and other programs meant to help clients obtain financial independence, according to the application.
Several steering committee members, prior to voting to advance the request, made statements recognizing the need for services like those provided by Meriden-Wallingford Chrysalis.
City Councilor and committee chair Yvette Cortez noted that crisis services, such as those provided by the agency, throughout the country are being utilized at an “extremely high rate.” She described those services as “incredibly important.”
City Councilor Michael Rohde similarly stated incidents of domestic abuse “has skyrocketed.”
“These are the most vulnerable people in our community,” Rohde said, adding they include single mothers trapped in situations with their abusers.
“I have a lot of empathy for these poor folks who really need help and support to get out of a dangerous situation and get on with their lives,” Rohde said, describing Chrysalis itself as “an ally” for those individuals.Local business aid
The third application the steering committee advanced is a joint $300,000 request called “Meriden Business Boost” submitted as a partnership that includes city economic development officials, the Midstate Chamber of Commerce and the RJ Media Group, which owns the Record-Journal.
The application describes a partnership intended to help local businesses recover from the economic downturn spurred by the pandemic. Applicants pledged the ARPA funding would be matched with RJ Media Group’s own $300,000 contribution.
The funds would enable small businesses to receive what applicants described as “high impact multimedia marketing grants,” which include print, digital, video and social media marketing. In a presentation, applicants described the grants as free marketing.
Applicants described a plan to provide customized multimedia marketing grants valued at $4,000 to at least 150 Meriden businesses that would be used over a two- to four- month period.
As part of the application, businesses that newly join the MidState Chamber of Commerce would receive a $50 discount in their membership fees. Existing members would receive a $50 credit to use toward advertising.
Applicants cited the success of a previous $100,000 grant the RJ Media Group received during the summer of 2020 from Facebook. The company used those funds to provide free marketing campaigns, valued at $120,000, to 40 local nonprofit agencies.
RJ Media Group executive vice president and Record-Journal publisher Liz White Notarangelo explained those campaigns would be customized to the goals of each business.
White Notarangelo said her company works with hundreds of local businesses, which “we know are still being impacted every day” by the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. She described a goal of helping “as many businesses as possible recover and thrive.”
Meriden Economic Development Director Joseph Feest described the proposal as a way to stimulate the local economy.
Scarpati, while describing the proposal’s local focus as “exactly what ARP money” is for, asked why the applicants chose a cap — 25 full-time equivalent employees — on the maximum number of employees for businesses that would utilize the marketing grants.
Feest said the reason was to ensure grants go to “smaller mom and pop shops instead of your larger national chains.”
After considerable discussion, the committee voted to recommend the application with an amendment Scarpati proposed — 50 of the 150 grants would be targeted toward businesses with 25 or fewer full-time employees.