Last spring, after acknowledging the pandemic, dozens of people reached out to agencies, organizations and neighbors asking how they could help. What emerged were drives for food and volunteer shoppers, pattern exchanges and tips for making masks and recognizing that we are in this together. We still are — mutually dependent in ways that only a global pandemic can reveal.

Today when asking “What can I do?” the first critical step is to honor the hospital CEO’s urgent call to action and the related public health orders. We cannot let up. Controlling the spread of the virus is required for us to move forward.

The next step is to vote in support of the general penny and tell your town councilors and county commissioners: you want that penny for the people. Here’s why:

People are struggling.

The pressure on the local human service safety net has never been this heavy or sustained. These social services attend to mental and behavioral health, child abuse and neglect, and intimate partner violence. They get food to those who are hungry and aid seniors with meals, transportation and home care. They support the needs of those with developmental disabilities and give working parents peace of mind through reliable child care.

The providers of these services have been dealt a combination punch. In addition to increased demand and adapting their organizations to serve clients safely, they have been told by the state and federal partners to prepare for funding cuts of between 20% and 40% beginning now and sustained for the next few years. That is on top of 2016 state funding cuts that, while partially cushioned by a boost in town and county funding, have never been fully restored.

The funding model for local human services is a frayed patchwork of earned income, local and state funding and private philanthropy. Despite being a critical resource partner for the hospital, schools, law enforcement, judicial system and employers, there has never been a dedicated and reliable funding source. Over $4.5 million in private philanthropy is needed this year to hold just 10 of the human service organizations afloat.

The county commissioners and town councilors placed a general penny sales tax item on the Nov. 3 ballot. You will hear a complaint about giving the government a “blank check.” And while these revenues go to the general fund and do not come with restrictions like those of the specific purpose excise tax or the lodging tax, it’s this spending flexibility that’s needed right now. We do not know what is on the horizon.

This is where the call to the Town Council and County Commission comes in. They are accountable to us and have a responsibility to use these funds to address community priorities. There is nothing more important in this moment of our collective history than people — you, me, our friends, neighbors, employees, frontline workers, health care workers, teachers and first responders. This is a “penny for the people.”

If they fail us, both the tax and their seats are up for reconsideration in future elections.

Frances VanHouten owns RainMaker Coaching LLC and has facilitated the Teton County System of Care meetings since 2004. She stepped out of her role as a neutral facilitator to speak in support of the human service providers. They are all busy addressing the growing community needs. Guest Shots are solely the opinion of their authors.

(1) comment

TERRENCE MILAN

The last SPET had nothing to do with human services. Last year about this time we were reading right here, where in Jackson, people care more about the Arts than human services. 90% of each dollar donated here goes to programs that have nothing to do human services and the human services organizations were wanting before there was a pandemic. What is needed in Jackson, is a culture change, not additional tax. If you read the counter article here, this is plainly clear. JHNG should reprint the article published last year about charitable giving. I would love to hear whether anything has changed. I doubt whether anything has, otherwise phony claims about this tax going to the greater good wouldn't appear.

(Edited by staff.)

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