With the recent news that $2,093,964 is headed to Maine through the third and final round of funding from the opioid-crisis National Health Emergency Dislocated Worker Grant, program staff at Aroostook County Action Program (ACAP) are reflecting on the very successful first two years of the program in northern Maine as they plan for the year ahead.
U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King announced last week that the Maine Department of Labor, and it’s local funded grant partners, including ACAP in Aroostook County, have been awarded the third and final allocation under the initial grant – bringing the total funding from the program to $6,281,891 over the last two years.
Funding from the U.S. Department of Labor will support training, employment services, and disaster-relief jobs in Aroostook County and communities across Maine affected by the health and economic impacts of the opioid epidemic, allowing individuals who have struggled with substance use disorders to find good, sustainable employment that can help save lives. The funding comes as the state sees a spike in overdose fatalities due to challenges created by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the rising danger of fentanyl-laced drugs.
“For years, the opioid epidemic has devastated our state and taken the lives of far too many Maine people. The COVID-19 pandemic’s stresses, combined with the increased prevalence of fentanyl, have aggravated this crisis and driven the highest rates of overdose deaths that Maine has ever seen,” said Senators Collins and King. “In response to this worsening crisis, we must improve the resources and support available for people struggling with substance use. This important funding from the U.S. Department of Labor will help the most hard-hit communities across our state address the crisis, and give Mainers recovering from substance use disorders access to life-changing job programs. We’re so grateful for all the hard work our local partnershave done to implement these programs, provide a helping hand to those in need, and distribute these critical funds over the last two years.”
In the first two years of the program, ACAP enrolled a total of 56 participants - exceeding the goal set for Aroostook County of 40 in the original two-year span of the grant. To date, 29 program participants gained employment, including nine who are employed in the behavioral science field. Eleven enrolled in, or completed, training programs, and another 11 participated in work experiences. To date, 521 participants have been enrolled statewide.
“The National Emergency Grant has allowed us to provide essential supports and resources to individuals who have worked incredibly hard on their recovery and are actively attempting to re-engage in the workforce. This is a population that has been under recognized in the past and, due to stigma, has not always felt that they could ask for assistance,” said ACAP Career Counselor Meghan O’Berry, who has led the program for the Agency. “One of the largest benefits to a program such as this one is that it has made individuals who have been affected by opioid use disorder aware of resources available to them. The recovery community has a tremendous number of individuals who are incredibly tenacious and resilient and have proven themselves to be an integral part of the Aroostook County workforce.”
According to O’Berry, benefits and support services accessed by program participants have included laptops and books for training programs, appropriate work clothing, dentures, auto repair in order to drive to and from work, childcare, payment for background checks to prepare for interviews, prescription eye wear, and required tools for employment.
New recovery related partnerships and referral sources since the program’s inception include: Roads to Recovery (Caribou Recovery Center), Aroostook Recovery Center of Hope (Houlton), Limestone Residential Treatment Facility, the men’s sober living home and the new women’s sober living home (Inspiring Hope Haven) in Caribou, and the Presque Isle Comprehensive Treatment Center. The grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, is the last allocation of the National Health Emergency Dislocated Worker Grant awarded to the state in February 2020 to create temporary disaster-relief employment to address the crisis. The funding will also support employment and training services for people directly impacted by the crisis to prepare them for self-sustaining jobs. Supported by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014, Opioid Disaster Recovery Dislocated Worker Grants fund temporary employment opportunities in peer recovery positions and services to reintegrate workers affected by the opioid crisis back into the workforce.