Rural Clay County residents can age in place while accessing city services 

Karen Newman 

At their December 28 meeting, Clay County Commissioners unanimously and enthusiastically supported a $50,000 funding request from Lakes and Prairies Community Action Partnership (CAPLP) Senior Transportation Service to ensure the Rural Routes program remains in place. Funding will come from the county’s share of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) which provides funds to state, local, and tribal governments negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Robin Christianson, Senior Program Coordinator, CAPLP and CAPLP Executive Director Lori Schwartz explained that the Rural Routes program targets older citizens in rural Clay County. Community needs assessments and focus group feedback indicate there is a need for transportation for those who may not be able to drive anymore. Christianson elaborated, “We started the program so that individuals were able to age in place in rural Clay County but also access amenities located in the Dilworth and Moorhead area.”

Christianson clarified why the group seeks ARPA funding, saying, “We started the program about six months before Covid really hit our area. Because of the demographic we were serving and their vulnerability, we had to put that on pause for a while. We are looking at funding to help us grow a little bit. We are confident that if we are able to resume pre-pandemic conditions, we will be able to demonstrate the program’s sustainability while seeking out other funding opportunities to help that grow.  She added, “We lost our driver to covid. I have gotten a lot of calls wondering when we will be able to start again…I swear, I am working on it! We understand that they want to stay where they grew up or where their families grew up but there aren’t a lot of options for shopping, pharmacies or clinic visits.”

The Rural Routes program utilizes a handicapped accessible bus so wheelchairs can be accommodated. There is a charge for using the van. Christianson explained that charges are based on a sliding fee rate. Documentation is not required. Covid shut the program down which ended their ability, as administrators, to collect data on program effectiveness for applying for funding.

Commissioner Jenny Mongeau praised the deceased Rural Routes driver, “She was a perfect fit for the demographic. She was a great person to really connect folks and made them feel that even though they needed help to get into town, it was never a burden.”

Addressing her support for the funding request, Mongeau said, “The ARPA Committee has really talked about this and feels that because of the demographic served and because of the interruption this service faced because of Covid, it certainly falls within the realm of qualifying for ARPA funds. This board has been pretty vocal about hearing the concerns of rural Clay County, significantly the elderly population. I wholeheartedly support this. We are hopeful that by approving $50,000 for the van, you will have a benchmark to be able to apply for assistance in other ways. This is very, very needed.”

Commission Chair Kevin Campbell said, “This is a helpful tool for our rural transportation needs. It is far from satisfying all of the needs and I know that you are willing to collaborate with the Social Services area to morph into something more for rural residents. Our ARPA committee strongly recommended that this be approved by the board. This is critical for our seniors living in rural areas.”

Commissioner David Ebinger, speaking of his parents and his in-laws, shared, “This hits home. They said that losing their ability to drive was when things started ending for them. I really appreciate you engaging on this and want you to know that you have our support.”

Commissioner Jenna Kahly declared, “This is a fabulous program. I love that it is a direct response to an expressed need from our communities to help seniors. Yes, 100%, we support this.”

“Who else is contributing?” inquired Commissioner Frank Gross. Schwartz explained that Community Services Block Grant funding comes from the federal government and state funds come through the Community Action Grant. These grants supplement services that are not otherwise fully funded.

Campbell reminded Christianson and Schwartz to be mindful of auditing requirements for dollars received through ARPA funds. He concluded, “Let’s get that program rolling!”

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