The Blueprint for a Better Safety Net

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the heightened national consciousness on racial disparities, HealthSpark launched an inclusive community effort in the spring and summer of 2020 to refresh the purpose, vision, and goals behind the Safety Net Resiliency Initiative. These conversations allowed us to crystallize the necessary policy, practice, and programmatic changes needed to ensure that the social safety net is able to withstand future crises and serve people to their fullest potential. As well, together we have begun to articulate opportunities for the system to play a stronger role in addressing deeply rooted social issues like poverty, social justice, and racial equity.

This vision and pathway forward is called the Blueprint for a Better Safety Net.

Download a printable version of the Blueprint below, or scroll down for a summary of its main opportunities for action.

Vision for a Better Safety Net

A strong safety net benefits everyone, and Montgomery County’s safety net will thrive through a shared commitment to nourish and sustain it.

Scroll down to read our Six Opportunities for Action.

This means first building personal, organizational, and systemic understandings of racism, white privilege, and institutionalized discrimination and how it manifests in our system. To build this knowledge, we need to identify appropriate trainers and education programs, as well as fund and require training for staff, boards, donors, and policymakers.

Second, it means dismantling oppressive structures and cultures across organizations and the system itself. This includes promoting anti-racist and anti-discriminatory policies and practices, developing pipelines into leadership for people of color and other underrepresented groups, and building equity into hiring and HR practices.

This work starts by advocating for full funding of the safety net system, so that services are funded at the true cost. This includes paying livable wages and health benefits for all staff, paying actual rates for administration, and funding evaluation and capacity building.

This also includes changing restrictive regulations that limit who qualifies for help. Ideas include raising income limits for services like subsidized childcare, reducing redundant application requirements across programs, and extending grace periods for income recalculations so that households aren't penalized for earning income.

Finally, this means developing a common agenda for advocacy and policy-making that supports a holistic approach to funding and providing safety net services.

This includes sustaining telehealth advances made in the past few months by working with payors to retain telehealth/service-related advances post-COVID (e.g., WIC, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare) and to health plans directly; and advocating for changes in HIPAA to allow telehealth to continue.

This also includes ensuring that tech advances don't exacerbate existing inequities. This includes taking steps to ensure access to Internet is available to everyone, create a program to provide equipment such as phones and tablets to individuals and families in need, and raising the skills of people who are new to technology.

This starts by supporting a community-wide approach to trauma-informed care that recognizes the intersection between trauma, racism, and poverty. This includes requiring trauma training for all providers, boards, and funders, and providing funding to support trauma-informed approaches.

This also includes ensuring that everyone in our community has access to mental health resources by designing outreach for those who cannot go to regular support services.

This also includes increasing mental health care resources for health care workers and essential workers, including case workers and front line staff.

This includes strengthening skills in financial management, scenario planning, and business continuity planning. It also includes supporting adaptations accelerated by COVID-19 such as banking, virtual work, and flexible work schedules.

Support organizational coordination, such as exploring shared purchasing power for back office services like professional services, benefits, fundraising technology and software, and insurance.

Strengthen nonprofit boards by bridging their knowledge gap about the sector and the impacts of the 2020 crises. Enhance organizational performance by increasing engagement of community leaders, volunteers, consumers, and the use of new service models.

Replicate and build-on collaborative models to promote coordination as a best practice and shared part of all organization’s values.

Share power with consumers and marginalized communities by establishing a Consumer Advisory Council to advise all service providers and create structured opportunities for listening to marginalized communities about their needs, and advancing their priorities.

Expect or mandate cultural and language competence and inclusion.

Engage in collective advocacy and learning, and integrate advocacy for policy change into the regular activities of safety net providers.

Promote the value of the safety net to building a more vibrant, active, and inclusive community, and increase respect and support for it.