Mon County Commission President travels to Austin, Texas to discuss Pantry Plus More, social services

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Monongalia County Commission President Tom Bloom reports that he has received a lot of positive feedback from commissioners across the country on local county issues and programs.

Bloom met with commissioners as part of the National Association of Commissioners (NACo) annual conference in Austin, Texas, where the topic most discussed was social services and their efficacy. In response to concerns about homelessness and drug abuse, both issues affecting counties nationwide, NACo commissioners tossed ideas around on how to improve services to address the problems with the goal of improving delivery.

“The community is going to find it very interesting that the exact same three issues that we’re dealing with here are major national problems,” said Bloom. “One is mental health, two is homelessness, and the third is nonprofits and accountability,” he said.

The cause for the efficiency of social services to be placed under question as part of the NACo conference stems from over a decade of various programs that have not netted results considered reasonable to address mental health and homelessness. For Bloom, an example that was discussed by other commissioners is the ability to provide free housing that can eventually lead to employment. This was considered a not-ideal proposal due to past failures where property was left damaged, which resulted in minimal community participation. To avoid similar issues in the future, Bloom and other NACo representatives discussed the need to give firmer timelines and financial contributions.

“And what has happened in the past is we’d have all of these nonprofits requesting money for five, ten, or fifteen years, we’re giving money, and nothing is changing,” said Bloom on the state of nonprofits discussed at the NACo conference. “So what we’re looking for is accountability for these nonprofits to provide programs that help our community,” he said.

One example of an efficient social service program that was discussed at the NACo conference was the Monongalia County-initiated Pantry Plus More program. The local nonprofit that operates free school pantries, food giveaways, and health and wellness programs across the county with a minimal financial contribution was praised for their operation, which included multiple state inquiries towards Bloom. The positive feedback reflected what Bloom and other commissioners are looking for in the efficiency of social services.

“The Pantry Plus More program was discussed again at the NACo convention, and we have about five states that have contacted me,” said Bloom on WAJR’s Talk of the Town. “They want to see how they can adapt the Pantry Plus More program here to their state,” he said.

In the discussions of efficient and non-efficient social services, one thing that was a common theme amongst Bloom and other NACo commissioners was that the proverbial long-term leash on financial support will not be the same as in the past. With a combination of inflation-related windfalls and a recent rise in reports of open drug use and homeless-related crimes in Mon County, Bloom expects a further re-evaluation of future programs and how much county and state funding will be allocated to them.

“The state government and the county government are not social service agencies, and that’s what was coming across in that national convention,” he said.