Iowa Department of Public Health free counseling program applies for $1.4M more from FEMA

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Iowa Department of Human Services recently applied for about $1.4 million more in federal funding for COVID Recovery Iowa , a free, confidential government-run social services program, emergency mental health specialist and program spokeswoman Karen Hyatt told The Center Square in a phone interview Oct. 27.

The department has more than 75 employees working in the wholly FEMA-funded program. The program spent about $4.7 million from Sept. 9, 2020, to Sept. 9, 2021, and additional funding would support programming for December 2021 through March 2022, Hyatt said. The department will learn whether the funding request will be approved within the next two weeks. If FEMA does not provide more funding, their team will evaluate using American Rescue Plan funding that has been targeted for mental health, she said.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has continued, funding through FEMA’s Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program (the federal name for the state-by-state program) and the provision of services have continued as well, Hyatt said. The need for the support has also continued, particularly from people who have let staff know that they didn’t know where to go to get mental health support.

“They don’t know where to get it because they’ve never had to use it,” she said.

All Iowans impacted by the pandemic or the 2020 derecho are eligible for services, which include support groups, activities, free confidential virtual counseling and referrals to social services agencies, according to a department news release The Center Square received. Staff conduct support sessions to help Iowans navigate the workplace and work stress, which includes the pressures of taking care of family during work hours, concern about having to take time off for illness, worry about being exposed to COVID-19 at work, fluctuations of mask and vaccine guidelines and requirements and uncertainty of employment stability, the release said.

Overall, participants most frequently reported feeling isolated as well as anxious and fearful, and had experienced worsening health and difficulty concentrating, Hyatt said. They have led many self-care/anxiety reduction sessions for state departments and public health agencies. They will be offering a self-care compassion fatigue training in November for FEMA staff in Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas.

Hyatt said the team is helping people find solutions to the challenges they are facing as they attempt to get back to work. Some of the challenges include unstable housing and limited day care availability for infants.

“It’s not because they don’t want to work or they don’t want to have an income again, it’s that it’s difficult to put all the pieces back into place so we just help people work through some of that,” she said.

Hyatt said that before they applied for funding, they discussed with social services agencies and community health centers what needs they have. With waitlists at some social services agencies, COVID Recovery Iowa can be the stopgap, Hyatt said.

Services are available in English and Spanish. After completing a website contact form to obtain services, the team can typically reply within the following 48 hours, Hyatt said. The program has a YouTube channel , which broadcasts music from unemployed musicians, wellness discussions and encouraging book readings.

“There’s no shame in asking for help,” she said.

Iowans can call the Iowa Concern Line at 800-447-1985 or 844-775-WARM (9276) to connect with a COVID Recovery Iowa counselor or visit www.COVIDrecoveryiowa.org . For more information and information about workplace seminars, contact Karen Hyatt at 515-281-3128 or [email protected] .

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