Answering the Pandemic

by Rafael Ortega

Every day at Ramsey County, we are reminded that we are facing the largest health and economic crisis in 100 years and trying to answer multiple needs of our residents. This past week we introduced new ways to help folks who are looking for jobs right now.

On August 3, we at Ramsey County gathered with news media at Dayton’s Bluff Library to announce the launch of six new Community Center Labs at locations throughout the county. These sites provide critical computer access to help those who have been impacted by COVID-19 connect with workforce services – from applications, to training, to virtual meetings with career counselors. Careful planning for these sites and a strong partnership with Saint Paul Public Library have allowed us to safely open these sites for reservation-only access following Public Health guidelines for those who have lost their jobs, had hours reduced, have been furloughed or otherwise had their employment affected by COVID-19.

Two of the sites are at our Ramsey County Library locations in Maplewood and Roseville, while the other four are partner sites at libraries serving some of the hardest hit neighborhoods in Saint Paul – Dayton’s Bluff, Rice Street, Rondo Community Library and Sun Ray. When we launch our Downtown Service Center in the Ramsey County East Building later this month, we will open a Community Career Lab there as well. We’re also remaining flexible so we can add pop-up and community sites based on demand to ensure we’re serving all of our communities and meeting our residents where they are.

Community Career Labs are a great example of how Workforce Solutions and partners in other departments like Finance, Information Services, Property Management and Communications & Public Relations are aligning resources quickly to put the $96 million of federal funding through the CARES act into operation for those who need help most in our communities as a result of COVID-19. We commend staff for bringing programs like this forward just weeks after our commissioners approved a framework for investing the CARES funding. These Ramsey County Reinvestment and Support Efforts (RISE) address three main areas: Employment support programs, including Community Career Labs, are helping to get people back to work, providing training and helping to provide technology resources for those who don’t have access for job searching, digital literacy, career development and more. 

Another focus area is small business. Just this morning we announced a second round of applications for grants of up to $10,000 to help sole proprietors and those contributing to the local creative economy pay for critical expenses such as rent or mortgage payments, utilities and costs associated with reopening. Small businesses with 20 or fewer employees who missed the first round of millions in grants that have been awarded since June through the Small Business Relief Fund are encouraged to apply. In total, at least $15 million of CARES funding will be provided to help small businesses through these efforts led by Community & Economic Development. I encourage businesses to apply at bit.ly/countyrelief

As always, I encourage people to contact me at rafael.e.ortega@co.ramsey.mn.us if they have questions or suggestions.

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