Missoula County funds social organizations, looks to address equity with new position

As part of its annual distribution, Missoula County this week began earmarking revenue for a handful of social organizations to meet what officials described as basic human needs.

It also took steps to gauge the role a new position will play as the county looks to move away from its “history of oppression and domination” to address issues around equity, diversity and inclusion.

Nancy Rittel, a grants administrator with the county, said 17 organizations will receive revenue from the Community Assistance Fund and the FY21 budget this year. Seven of those organizations were identified this week.

“There’s approximately $820,000 for the basic human needs that Missoula County is committed to helping residents with through these multiple agencies,” Rittel said. “Seventeen contracts will be coming forth from the $820,000 pool of funds.”

Among the recipients, the Missoula Food Bank will receive $47,000 to help fund its Kids EmPower Pack program. The program provides food to certain youth to ensure they have nourishment over the weekend.

The YWCA also received two contributions totaling around $79,000 to help staff the agency’s domestic violence shelter, along with the shelter for homeless families. The funding will also help with case management.

The Human Resource Council will receive $229,000 to help offer assistance to the disabled as they await approval from the Social Security Administration. Rittel said approval can take several years to receive and the funding the county spends to bridge the gap is mostly reimbursed from the SSA.

“This helps the disabled elderly and disabled find housing and case management,” Rittel said. “As they are waiting to apply for Social Security decisions, they’ll apply to receive assistance. Oftentimes, they need some help with rental assistance as they’re awaiting Social Security’s decision.”

Other recipients of community assistance include the Watson Children’s Shelter, Youth Homes and Mountain Home Montana, which provides shelter to young mothers and their children.

“We’re excited about being a part of these organizations,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “I think the collective ‘we’ can help support these organizations and help support our friends and neighbors who receive these services. We’re all in this together.”

The county is also working to fill a new position to address issues around equity, diversity and inclusion. It’s sending letters to a number of agencies across the county looking for feedback on what the job should entail.

The letters suggest that Missoula County, like all local governments, grew out of “a history of oppression and domination, perpetuated by a society built to centralize power based on the whiteness of a person’s skin.”

“This position will … be charged with reviewing everything we do as an organization, with a specific focus on making Missoula County a more inclusive leader in the community,” one letter reads. “We recognize many of our policies and practices are under-scrutinized and, to effect real change, we must look at the way Missoula County conducts every aspect of the services we provide and how we interact with all members of our community.”