HUNTERDON COUNTY, NJ - The county freeholder board heard from Meagan O'Reilly, administrator in the department of human services, and heard a report on nonprofits countywide that reach out and service people in need, including Meals on Wheels in Hunterdon, Inc.

O’Reilly said that in April 2020, there was a 130 percent increase in S.N.A.P. (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) applications for the Hunterdon County Division of Social Services, compared with April 2019 numbers.

During May, as part of the federal government’s “Families First” Coronavirus Response Act, households eligible for New Jersey S.N.A.P supplemental benefits will receive the difference between their regular S.N.A.P. benefits and the maximum benefits for their family size. This benefit was also issued to S.N.A.P recipients in the months of March and April as part of the federal Families First Response Act, she said.

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The housing division staff at county human services is working to calculate rent amounts for Section 8 housing recipients due to their income losses or changes, in order to ensure timely rent payments.

“They have also seen an increase in these changes due to people losing their jobs and applying for unemployment benefits,” O’Reilly said.

Also in April, applications in the County for TANF -- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families -- increased by over 160 percent.

“The state was granted multiple waivers from the federal government, easing requirements during the public health crisis, which aids human services staff in processing cases more efficiently,” O’Reilly said. “These changes have allowed the staff to focus on the needs of Hunterdon residents despite the increased volume of applications.”

Processing benefits and applications for first-time applicants for public assistance is an increasing part of the county division’s role during the pandemic. O’Reilly advised that anyone in need can go online to NewJerseyHelps.org or call the Hunterdon County Division of Social Services at 908-788-1300.

“Staff have stepped up to the plate in what has not been an easy time for any of us, they are doing a fantastic job in continuing to serve the county’s most vulnerable populations with care and enthusiasm,” O’Reilly said.

She also noted the local angle in an uptick in domestic violence cases reported nationally, as the county Division of Social Work Services is seeing increased Adult Protective Services referrals.

“Staff in this department need to meet with APS clients in the field and they are equipped with proper PPE to do so,” O’Reilly said.

Division of Social Work staff continue their efforts in preventing homelessness “by assisting clients with back rent and relocation assistance payments,” she said.

County Veteran Services Officer Richard Booth, in the division of senior, disability and veterans services, is working either in-office or remotely on weekdays during business hours.

“He is available Monday through Friday at 908-788-1361, and he’s ready to assist with information, referrals, case management and community outreach to our veterans,” O’Reilly told the freeholders.

Deputy freeholder director Sue Soloway noted the county Office of Emergency Management (OEM) support to long-term care (nursing and rehab) facilities, including over 72,500 pieces of PPE and other items, were made available between the county’s stockpile and shipments the OEM is facilitating being received and forwarded from the state.

“An area that has been in the news lately is health concerns for long-term care facilities,” Soloway said. "The county department of health provides reporting and resource assistance to these facilities when there’s a disease outbreak such as the present coronavirus. There are four long-term healthcare facilities in Hunterdon County where county health is engaged in outbreak monitoring. The county health department has provided significant support to these facilities, including updated technical guidance on isolating and controlling the spread of the disease within the facilities and the provision of over 72,500 pieces of PPE.”

Each long-term care facility in Hunterdon has a medical director as well as a director of nursing to implement “a containment action plan,” she added. The county department of health submits “outbreak control” reports to the state department of health, and presently NJDOH requires reporting of confirmed COVID-19 deaths and suspected but not-confirmed COVID-19 related deaths.

Some facilities are reporting the number of cases and deaths that would also include their staff members. Any non-COVID-19 related deaths that occur at long-term care facilities are not required to be reported.

“It is confusing, and that confusion may be the cause of the difference between the number of deaths that may have occurred at a facility and the number reported on the state report,” Soloway said. “We all know that containing the spread of an infectious disease in a closed environment like a long-term care facility is extremely difficult. Our hearts break for the loved ones lost in those facilities, isolated from their families.”

Brayden Fahey, county OEM coordinator, reported that OEM processed another 137 resource requests between the freeholders’ April 21 and May 5 meetings, bringing the total OEM has managed through the pandemic to 652 individual resource requests from first responders, municipal government entities, healthcare facilities and private sector agencies.

Fahey added that the Emergency Response Training Center was pleased to offer virtual learning for Hunterdon’s first responders at the beginning of May.

“Programs being offered have received extensive interest,” he said.

County health officer Karen DeMarco said that with each COVID-19 case investigation and contact tracing process, her staff is reminded of the significant consequences that the pandemic has had on residents each day, and county staffers’ sympathies are conveyed to the families directly impacted by the 715 Hunterdon residents who contracted COVID-19 and the 45 deaths from it as of May 10.

“We are still very much seeing the presence of illness here in Hunterdon County,” DeMarco said. Our goal is to stop the spread of disease and prevent additional impacts to our residents. Our team of public health investigators, public health nurses and health educators are working to control the disease spread with each case investigation while also answering general questions from employers, businesses, residents and other organizations.”

She added that as research on COVID-19 continues to evolve, new guidance on testing and treatment information will be added on the county health department and office of emergency management website and Facebook page.