Seal of Dane County County of Dane
County Executive's Office

2022 County Budget Initiatives: COVID-19

A year ago I talked at length of the resiliency of our community as we joined together to confront the mounting challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. Today, sadly the pandemic remains a great threat to the health of too many in our community. As I write this, young people still aren’t able to access a vaccine. Break thru infections as a result of the new Delta variant of Covid are mounting all while we carefully monitor still more new and emerging variations of the virus now on the horizon. In fact, numbers of Covid hospitalizations in our community are higher today than they were last October 1st. It's easy to look at these events and feel frustration, sadness, anger and/or fear. As our community does so often though, we have bound together with a shared willingness to get thru the continuing history being made in this moment. We do so with deep concern and care for our most vulnerable who remain at risk as a result of this seemingly unrelenting pandemic.

Drive-thru testingAlong with vaccines and masks, it's true our patience may be one of the best tools at our disposal at weathering whatever chapters remain to be written by the Coronavirus. That patience has been strained for all of us as parents and grandparents, friends and coworkers, kids and caretakers. Only weeks ago we had reason to believe we had turned the corner and were on a different trajectory. Life seemed on the verge of being the closest it had been to "pre-pandemic" in quite some time. It's imperative the optimism we felt with the early summer collapse of case counts transcend into a renewed, shared resiliency that we can answer whatever this unpredictable virus brings our way in the weeks and months ahead. No one thrives in the midst of uncertainty. While none of us know what or when the next turning point in this pandemic will occur, we can be certain of one thing; we are better positioned to respond if we start from a place of empathy and understanding and resist the urge to re-direct our frustrations at one another.

Virus Testing My 2022 Dane County budget recognizes that county government needs to be in it for the long haul against Covid-19. Sadly, this virus and its mutations aren't going anywhere soon. The best reflection of what's ahead is the decision by our Public Health Department to allocate $5.8 million for 19 new positions dedicated to Covid response through the end of 2024. Just a couple of weeks ago I announced county government is investing over $574,000 to install ultraviolet air purification and air filtration systems in 20 county facilities. I’m setting aside $5.25 million in American Rescue and Recovery Funds in this budget process for the unknown pandemic related expenses that will no doubt emerge in the year ahead. This safety net is critical to county government maintaining its ability to respond to acute, sometimes unexpected needs from the pandemic as they arise. Additionally, I’m extending housing protections for those at risk of homelessness into 2022 and our popular Emergency Food Pandemic Response partnership with Second Harvest to bolster the production and distribution of locally grown foods. To date, we have allocated over $23 million to stock the shelves of local food pantries with locally sourced products and this budget adds another $1 million to that effort. Programs like this that we built at the height of the Covid emergency continue to serve our most vulnerable with a safety net not seen in other communities.

Preventing exposure to and spread of COVID-19 among households experiencing homelessness has been a pillar of Dane County’s pandemic response. There’s no doubt our bold approach saved lives. Beginning in March of 2020, Dane County funded non-congregate hotel shelter operations and assisted with other congregate shelter expansions to quickly create critical social distancing in the community’s homeless shelter system. We partnered with numerous hotels to provide rooms, and with the City of Madison, Public Health Madison-Dane County, and frontline agencies to administer the programs. The County’s total investment in this area was more than $28 million in federal stimulus funds in 2020-2021. Next year’s County Budget will provide an additional $6.5 million to continue hotel sheltering until June 30th, 2022 to provide this important support as we continue to grapple with the uncertainty of the pandemic, most recently with the unpredictable and more transmissible delta variant of COVID-19. People experiencing homelessness who are at higher risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19 (informed by CDC guidelines), and people experiencing homelessness who are a close contact to a positive COVID-19 case or are symptomatic/positive for COVID-19 and need a safe place to recover will continue to have help. More than 600 people were served by this hotel sheltering program this year. The initiative we’ve taken to protect our most vulnerable neighbors has changed lives. Agencies that do this important work report that hotel shelter has enabled the people they serve to obtain employment, have a more consistent connection to medical care and non-emergency services, access behavioral health services, and more.

Shelter provides an essential safety net and plays an important role in our community’s goal to end homelessness. So too do the services that are provided to people who are living outside in cars, or unsheltered for a number of reasons. Additional supports are needed to assist people with connecting with community resources like the ones outlined above. People who are living unsheltered outside of the City of Madison can be even more disconnected from centralized services, or reluctant to seek services out of fear of losing the space they are living in. To help, my budget includes $300,000 in new funding to support outreach services for people living unsheltered throughout Dane County.

Affordable Housing Graphic

Having more housing opportunities and housing services are key to making a stay in emergency shelter, or unsheltered homelessness, brief and non-reoccurring. In 2021, I announced a historic investment that provides a bridge from hotel shelter to permanent housing. Known as the Hotels to Housing program, this multi-agency partnership aims to assist up to 297 households experiencing homelessness with housing search assistance, case management, and funds to help pay housing costs for up to two years. Since the program began in late June of 2021, with the help of our case management agency partners, more than 90 people have moved from hotel shelter and into permanent housing of their own. My budget also continues this program through 2022 with an $8.2 million investment.

Dane County’s housing crisis is profound, persistent, and impacts many of our neighbors. A lack of stable housing makes life extremely difficult, impacting physical and mental health, the ability to learn, and the ability to maintain meaningful employment. We have made great strides as a community to increase awareness of the need for affordable housing, and to help support the construction of more affordable housing units.

Next year will mark the seventh year of the Dane County Affordable Housing Development Fund (AHDF). Since that time, Dane County has helped create 1,837 units of affordable housing. My budget continues Dane County’s commitment with $6 million to jumpstart affordable housing partnerships next year.

In addition to more affordable housing units, a variety of housing options are necessary to end homelessness and increase access to housing for more people. My budget includes $500,000 to support the development of a new tiny house village and $2 million in new grant funding to allow a developer to purchase a hotel or other facility for conversion into affordable housing. Many communities across the country have converted buildings like hotels into affordable housing. With construction costs rising due to the economic strain of the pandemic, acquisition and rehab of existing facilities provides an innovative way to increase available housing units in our community.

Protecting housing stability for households at-risk of homelessness continues to be a priority as well. My budget includes $250,000 to fund legal services at court for families facing eviction or foreclosure. Many families going through these processes may not know their legal rights. Having access to professional legal support can help a family maintain their housing and prevent homelessness.

Affordable housing unitsMy budget also reflects the ongoing federal funding we have targeted for emergency rental assistance (ERA) support. In partnership with Urban Triage, the City of Madison, and other partner agencies, eligible Dane County tenants have access to financial support through the Dane CORE 2.0 program. Funds are available to assist with back-owed rent, forward rent, and utilities. Emergency rental assistance has been a lifeline for households who have been hit hard by the economic downturn spawned by the pandemic. This second phase of emergency rental assistance builds on the assistance provided by the first Dane CORE Emergency Rental Assistance program. Launched in February of 2021 with the City of Madison and our community agency partners, Dane CORE processed over 14,000 applications and assisted households in paying over $13 million dollars in back-owed rent.

This budget includes $3 million in capital dollars to help refurbish and modernize properties owned by the Dane County Housing Authority. While the Authority itself is separate from county government, properties it owns left in disrepair are a poor reflection on more than just this independent entity and more importantly impact the quality of life for tenants.

I’m also the providing $225,000 for development of a Regional Housing Strategy, helping communities across our county develop more affordable and workforce housing. Thanks to the coordination and leadership of the Dane County Departmentof Planning and Development, this work will bring municipalities across the county together to review ongoing affordable housing efforts and explore best practices and how everyone can come together moving forward to address the ongoing shortage of workforce housing. The Regional Housing Strategy will provide a roadmap for the future of housing in Dane County for the next 10-20 years.