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Supporting Communities In Need

Commissioner Jim Moran and Franklyn Baker
Baltimore Metropolitan Council
Commissioner Jim Moran and Franklyn Baker

Queen Anne's County Commissioner Jim Moran and Franklyn Baker, President and CEO of the United Way of Central Maryland, talk about how government and nonprofit partners are working to support communities in need throughout the region.

The podcast is produced by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, the council of local governments serving central Maryland, with assistance from WYPR.


Tom Hall: Welcome to the Chesapeake Connect Podcast. I'm Tom Hall. Chesapeake Connect is an annual learning trip that brings together leaders from around Baltimore to explore best practices and programs in a peer region. It's organized by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, a council of governments serving greater Baltimore. The council has organized trips to Cleveland, New Orleans and Nashville in recent years. Today on the Chesapeake Connect podcast, we're talking about how government and nonprofit leaders are supporting communities in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. I'm joined by Queen Anne's County commissioner, Jim Moran. Prior to his time as commissioner, Mr. Moran served on the Queen Anne's county planning commission and the Queen Anne's County economic development commission. Commissioner Moran has represented Queen Anne's county on the board of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council since 2016 and he's participated in all three Chesapeake Connect trips. Commissioner Jim Moran, welcome to the Chesapeake Connect podcast.

Jim Moran: Thank you and happy to be here.

Tom Hall: I'm also joined by Franklyn Baker. He's the president and CEO of the United Way of Central Maryland. Franklyn Baker attended the 2017 Chesapeake Connect trip to Cleveland, Ohio. Franklyn Baker, thank you as well for joining us here on the Chesapeake Connect podcast.

Franklyn Baker: Glad to be on thank you so much.

Tom Hall: And so Mr Baker, let me start with you. Of course, the United Way is a household name throughout the country, but tell us a little bit about what the United Way of Central Maryland is doing specifically here in the Baltimore region.

Franklyn Baker: Wonderful question. For nearly 100 years, the United Way of Central Maryland has worked really to increase access to the essentials of life, including health, housing, employment and education. And we really work hard to ensure the health of all people in the greater Baltimore region. And we promote equity, we break down barriers to accessing these basic needs. In addition to leveraging generous gifts from so many in our community to support dozens of nonprofits who are doing phenomenal work, we also identify gaps in our community. We roll up our sleeves to begin incubating promising best practice solutions and then we help other nonprofits and groups to build their own capacity to sustain great outcomes over time.

Tom Hall: And Commissioner Jim Moran, Queen Anne's county of course, is on the Eastern shore, but you represent the county on the Baltimore Metropolitan Council. Other than the Bay Bridge, what do you think connects your county with the Baltimore region?

Jim Moran: Well, if you know anything about me, you know the Bay Bridge is my bane of existence and I will say, do you really need anything else besides that? But with that being said, in the 2010 census, some parts of Kent Island and Grasonville, from the Bay Bridge to the 50 301 split met the population density to be designated as an urbanized area in the Baltimore region by the census bureau. What that meant was this designation by the census bureau, comes up with the requirement under federal law that every urbanized area be included as part of a metropolitan planning organization and NPO. The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board is the NPO for the Baltimore region and hence now, little Queen Anne's County is a part of that and it's a great privilege to get on the inside and see how things actually get done in these NPOs.

Tom Hall: Oh, that's terrific. And Franklyn Baker take us back to March of 2020. The governor has just issued his first restrictions, we're at the beginning of the pandemic. What were you thinking at that time? And what were the first conversations you and your team had as this pandemic began to take hold?

Franklyn Baker: Like many of us, Tom, I thought and my team thought, have we ever been here before? Have we ever seen this movie before? This felt like such an unprecedented situation on a global scale. We were asking ourselves questions like, "What does it mean for our daily business operations?" Like so many other businesses. "How will working remotely in this virtual setting affect our intensive impact work in neighborhoods and working closely with residents?" We were thinking, what will be the impact on our staff members? What will be the impact on many of our small and large businesses that we partner with every day? Will there be sufficient government support to get us through this pandemic? How do we begin to just sort of adjust our overall business model in light of what's happened? And will it be forever changed depending upon the lasting impact of this pandemic? And so we kept thinking let's really sort of lean into what we have become known for. Let's continue to provide what's needed where it's needed and we're doing more of this now than ever before.

Tom Hall: Yeah. And commissioner Moran, as Franklyn Baker says, there were so many unknowns at that time, but as leaders of a local government, what did you and the other commissioners think and do when Governor Hogan began to take these major steps in response to this emerging pandemic?

Jim Moran: When it comes to Queen Anne's County, there's approximately 50,000 citizens live in Queen Anne's County and we're known for corn and soybeans and our water view. When this pandemic first began, we did not feel the impact of the pandemic. Our numbers were extremely low. On one side, we were blessed with the fact that we have spacing here. Just social distancing is something that comes with the amount of area we have here. That was not something in the beginning that really glared in front of us. What was alarming and what was starting to grow as the problem progressed, when they closed the schools, then the daycares closed. When the daycare is closed, now people couldn't go to work. And then the people that couldn't go to work, you had the people staying home to work. It just, it was a snowball.

We basically had to just meet each and every issue one at a time. And the one that we found the most pressing here in Queen Anne's County, a rural county, was that the need for assistance with food and shelter. More than anything else, the food was the biggest ones. Our pantries were overwhelmed. Our services here were overwhelmed. And again, the community steps up, county government steps up, the state steps up and infused a lot of those organizations with product to help them get out. And to this day, some of these organizations that we are dealing with and Haven Ministries and our community services here, and county government community services, our private side is Haven Ministries, a faith based organization.And the two of them really took the ball and took control of the situation. Organized food drives, organized the drive through feeding of so many people that it was truly a blessing here in Queen Anne's County.

Tom Hall: Yeah. And Franklyn Baker, the commissioner makes a point, I think both rural and urban areas had the same challenge of food being top of the list for many jurisdictions. One of United Way's central programs is this wonderful 211 helpline that you have so that it's a service that provides information and resources, referrals to health and human service providers. What kind of trends and changes did you see in your 211 calls as this pandemic took hold and continued?

Franklyn Baker: It's such a good question, Tom, because we're seeing cascading needs. As Jim pointed out, more people need it and continue to need food with pantries in so many different locations, whether it's a church or community center or other location, schools. More people becoming even more so at risk for eviction, from their apartments. More students falling behind and needing digital support. And just more people calling our 211 Maryland helpline itself. Just to give you the stats on this, just really baffling in some ways, but not surprising in others. The 211 Maryland United Way helpline received a record of more than 210,000 calls this past year, which really interestingly compares to a little more than a 100,000 calls in prior years. Literally a doubling of the call volume just because of the pandemic. And so the 24/7 information and referral service line that becomes a critical resource for those that are trying to navigate systems that are often complex, whether it's housing or COVID-19 concerns, mental health and so much more.

This helpline, it's a confidential helpline, has become a resource for our United Way. And it really has helped us to pinpoint needs and those that are emerging in the communities we serve. And so the most I'd say frequently reported needs at the beginning of the pandemic were food and also housing. And many of the record number of calls were from people seeking assistance for the very first time in their lives. They had never stood in a food pantry line or never call 211 before. And so COVID-19 has created this sort of unprecedented need across our region. And we started our efforts last year with the intention to respond to immediate needs and then shift to recovery and rebuilding. We're still responding as new needs are identified every day. But needless to say, Tom, there's a lot of work to be done.

Tom Hall: Sure. But it's quite something to think that not only for the providers has this been a very new and unique experience, but for the recipients, for the clients that you're helping out, many of them, as you say on food lines for the first time, many of them facing housing insecurity for the first time and it's a particular kind of challenge. And commissioner Jim Moran in Queen Anne's County and other parts of the rural areas of the eastern shore, you've got limited public transportation and I would imagine that a lot of folks are disconnected from service providers. Was that a challenge to you, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic?

Jim Moran: Yes, it was. And that plays right into the hands of our community services and our bus system that we have, our small commuter buses we have. Here, we are one of only two counties that does not have a full service hospital so those that are on dialysis need to be transported. We had to transport people safely, just one person on a bus. We were sending on a bus, to pick up these individuals to get them to their doctor's appointments, to get them to the care that they need. And then you got to remember Queen Anne's County was the first one to start the MICH unit. We have a mobile paramedic unit that goes out on a regular basis with a nurse to visit those that are in shelter, on medication, are frequent 911 callers. We stepped that program up to make sure that we were taking care of those that are in need, so they didn't have to travel. That was a big one.

And and I will echo what Franklyn said, all those services have seen a 100% increase in demand and getting back to the foods one. What we did here, Haven Ministries teamed up with some other local agencies and they started, they have two locations where they turned old buildings into stores. Again, those people had never been a food line, are trying to take care of their families. What these establishments did, they set an appointment, they come in, they shop no charge, and give them somewhat of dignity to ask for help and people are more than willing to help them. Just case in point again, we have 50,000 residents. We have a backpack program that I started in 2016, for those less fortunate to take home from school every day or on a Friday, they would take home a backpack so they could have food for Saturday and Sunday and bring the backpack Monday.

Well, when schools close that brought in a whole nother problem with those students that were getting subsidies in schools for meals so our backpack program went up to almost a 1,000 people, 1,000 students, kids a week that we were feeding. That just shows at a magnitude, even in a small county, that is an overwhelming number, but we got it done. The community will pull together in time of need that's for sure and it's refreshing to see that.

Tom Hall: Yeah, well good for you because those are really, really serious challenges. And Franklyn Baker, there's no doubt that the need increased exponentially. The demand was there. How about the supply? United Way of course relies on donors and partners throughout central Maryland. Have they responded to your calls for help during this past year?

Franklyn Baker: They really have, Tom. I'm so gratified by the generosity. We have raised nearly $3 million in our COVID-19 community fund since the onset of the pandemic. We quickly shifted gears. This time last year to really began to set the fund up and we work with partners to both distribute the funds and also to identify the myriad needs that was throughout the region. As a part of this work, we did participate in funding collaboratives with the COVID-19 Funding Collaborative of Greater Baltimore, as well as HoCoResponds, specifically for Howard County. These funds that we raised through these two collaboratives have really helped our efforts to provide what's needed where it's needed in such an unprecedented time. We did partner in so many ways. I'll just give you a sampling of those.

We partnered with a pro bono counseling project to offer free mental health support and access to providers to address our high increase in mental health related calls. We work with Baltimore Digital Equity Coalition and Byte Back to offer tech support. We've never done this before through our 211 for those in adult education or workforce development programs. We work with Amazon with ongoing delivery to neighborhoods in need of food and cleaning supplies and personal care items. We partnered with the Baltimore city mayor's office, the homeless services to provide a supply of hotel rooms with those individuals needing supplies for homelessness prevention.

And finally, for those that were struggling to remain in their apartments and there were thousands, we partnered with Baltimore County to launch this pilot called Strategic Targeted Eviction Prevention Program or STEP. And it provides three to nine months of past due rent for those who have lost income due to the pandemic. We actually were able to move about $4 million in rental assistance to the landlords and support of about 935 Baltimore County households. The average rental assistance per household was upwards of 4,200 bucks. The STEP program, Tom, it targets vulnerable communities, those with structural poverty, high risk for eviction, they're food insecure. And so we're now working to expand this STEP program to other jurisdictions across Maryland.

Tom Hall: Yeah, well you're just expanding so many of the services that you offer. And Commissioner Moran, as you look ahead, now we've got higher and higher rates of vaccination. There are people, lots of folks who are looking forward to having the pandemic kind of in the rear view mirror, what do you think the lasting impacts of the pandemic are going to be for Queen Anne's County? And I wonder, obviously there's a bunch of negative impacts, but do you see any positive impacts on the horizon as well?

Jim Moran: Well, the glass is always half full, but I will start on the negative side. And I think the biggest thing that this pandemic exposed in Queen Anne's County and really rural Maryland is the broadband connectivity. It is a huge problem here. We have been trying to resolve it for years and I think this is going to give us a great push to finally take a bite out of that cake and get moving on it. That is the biggest one.

As far as the positive sides of this, last summer and spring and fall in Queen Anne's County, we were inundated, inundated with people coming to the beaches, to our parks and our Cross Island Trails. It was to the point where we had to hire a private security service just to manage the crowd. The outdoors, our parks, people wanting to enjoy the outdoors, it brought new meaning to that and to those that use it. That was, I think the biggest positive that came out of that. And I think a lot of people just appreciate their health and they're careful now with what they do, wearing their mask and visiting locations and doing the same for those that are around them. I think that that's a big plus.

Tom Hall: Well, I think Commissioner, you're exactly right that perhaps all of us have a greater appreciation for what we used to think of the little things in life. And Franklyn Baker, what do you think the lasting impacts of COVID-19 are going to be on the folks that you serve here in central Maryland?

Franklyn Baker: I would say sort of to piggyback from what Jim said, on the negative side, before the pandemic hit, this is a number that just really strikes me as incredible, 39% of households were not earning enough to just afford the basic household necessities that we all take for granted, food, housing, transportation, childcare, et cetera. And this is according to our 2020 ALICE report. And those who are listening to this podcast can literally go to our website, uwcm.org and click on Alice and you'll be able to read that. That number, Tom, is undoubtedly higher today. 39% is a high number, but we are currently conducting a COVID-19 survey along with the United Ways in Maryland to help us get a better sense of the needs in our communities a year since the start of the pandemic.

This confidential survey is currently available. If they go to our website, it's open through April 12th. And the main point of this, it'll help us to sort of identify increased need throughout the state, as well as try to do our best to improve on pinpointing those specific needs in nearly every asset aspect or facet of what makes a community has been impacted by COVID. From the health of residents to businesses, to the economy, to our educational system and much more.

On the positive side, I say, we stepped up really to provide vital services. I think we are impressed by what we were able to do as a community to really address the crucial needs in our community. And our hope is of course, probably like Jim as well, that we move into the recovery and the rebuilding stages to help people emerge from this pandemic in the coming months.

Tom Hall: And that ALICE report, I for one recommended it very highly. Franklyn, you and I have talked about it on the midday show and I think it's just really important data and important information for folks to have so I recommend folks going to the United Way website and checking it out. And Jim Moran, as I said at the top of the pod, you have participated in all three of the Chesapeake Connect trips. What are some of the experiences from those trips that stand out for you?

Jim Moran: Well, I would say in Cleveland, it was again, coming from a rural county to the big cities like that and going to Cleveland, I was truly impressed with those. Some of the rehabilitation program with the restaurant, I thought that was fascinating, how they could work that into their everyday lives. I thought that was great. But I will say that by far, the best trip that I went on was New Orleans. There was a lot there that I thought related to Baltimore. There was a lot there I thought related to sea level rise and climate change when it came to how they manage their water, rainwater, stormwater management practices, I thought was fascinating.

But nothing struck me greater than their school system. How the greater New Orleans area went to charter schools and just the sheer numbers, doubling their graduation rate, doubling their college entrance rate. If the teachers weren't performing and sitting down and talking to the teachers and staff on it, I could have stayed there all day long just because what they did to win back the public and to go out into the neighborhoods and basically connect with the parents and tell them, "Look at, we want your, your child in school." And how they could select any school they wanted to go to inside of that area, the greater New Orleans area. They weren't limited just to the school down the street. It built a great camaraderie I think. And just to sit there and watch some of the classrooms and what went on I thought it was fascinating and I thought it was a very, very well informed trip and can't complain about the food at all there. It was a great time.

Tom Hall: Yeah. You get very few complaints about the food in New Orleans. And Franklyn Baker, you went on the trip to Cleveland. All of these Chesapeake Connect trips the folks that we've talked to here on this podcast have spoken so highly of them because they've picked up so much. What stands out for you about the Chesapeake Connect trip to Cleveland when you went?

Franklyn Baker: Yeah, Just first want to just say thanks to Mike Kelly and the entire team, the BNC team for a really incredible invitation and I really enjoyed the trip. I think overall, I thought that the trip to Cleveland was quite informative. I probably just as the old saying, "Pictures are worth a 1,000 words," and everyone's perspective is different. And so for me, what stood out was just how similar in many ways, the challenges and also some of the successes. The people that presented to us that were happening in Cleveland, how similar they were to some of the successes and challenges in greater Baltimore. From the challenges that we all are facing here of maintaining just a healthy number of affordable housing units, to the ongoing issue of struggling to make homelessness rare and brief. I think about the point in time count that we struggle with here in Baltimore city hovering around 3,000 or so every year, it's like the things that were happening in Cleveland to try to reduce that number. Was so good to hear some of their strategies.

And things like trying to ensure that we're able to secure sufficient levels of public and private funding so we can sustain some of the small and medium sized businesses. And that was a particular of reflection because of what's happened to a lot of our small and medium sized businesses during the pandemic. Especially for those who are led by people of color. We think about equity and the inequalities and the lack of access to some of our businesses who are led by folks who are Black and brown. This trip served as a sort of mirror of sorts for viewing in a different way the myriad challenges and the also the same number of opportunities that we happen to face here in Baltimore.

Tom Hall: I'm glad to hear that. As I said, we've heard that from so many of the other folks that we've had here on the Chesapeake Connect podcast about the great benefits of these trips. That's Franklyn Baker, he is the president and CEO of the United Way of Central Maryland. Franklyn, thanks so much for joining us here on the pod. We appreciate it.

Franklyn Baker: Thank you so much for participating.

Tom Hall: And were also happy to have been joined by Queen Anne's County commissioner, Jim Moran. Commissioner, thank you as well for joining us. I very much appreciate it.

Jim Moran: Thank you. And you have a great day.

Tom Hall: And you as well. The Chesapeake Connect podcast is produced by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council with assistance from WYPR. Please subscribe to the podcast on whatever podcasting app that you use, to give us a rating if you're so inclined as well. It helps other listeners find out about our show. The Baltimore Metropolitan Council works collaboratively with our region's elected executives to identify mutual interests and develop collaborative strategies, plans and programs that improve our quality of life and economic vitality. BMC's member jurisdictions include Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard and Queen Anne's Counties. For more information, please visit baltometro.org.

Our producer is Mark Gunnery and on our next episode of the Chesapeake Connect podcast, we'll talk about the future of the Preakness and why it means so much for both Baltimore City and Harford County. It's staying at Pimlico in Baltimore and that is an important development. My guest will be delegate Antonio Bridges who represents Baltimore City in the General assembly and Harford County Executive Barry Glassman. Until then, I'm Tom Hall, thanks for connecting.

Host, Midday (M-F 12:00-1:00)