University of Nebraska Medical Center

Policy forum shows ARPA dollars already having an impact on behavioral health in Nebraska

The recent Nebraska Behavioral Health Policy Forum showed the $25.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars BHECN was charged with disseminating are having an impact but that even with the funding, major challenges exist in addressing the state’s workforce shortage.

An example of the impact was presented by Jon Barnes of Northeast Community College (NCC) in Norfolk, which is home to an online certificate program for licensed drug and alcohol counselors. The NCC project uses ARPA dollars to provide stipends to students to offset the cost of their education and practicum experiences.

While the ARPA funds did allow NCC to provide stipends for 14 students in Fall 2023 and five others in the upcoming Spring semester, the demand for the stipends far outpaced what they were able to award, Barnes said. NCC received 37 applications for Fall 2023 and 32 applications for Spring 2024 despite doing little to no marketing about the stipends, he said.

“The numbers are hard to keep up with,” Barnes said. “I wish we could support more students.”

Along with Barnes, Julie Ecklund of Evals by Eck presented during the forum. Her Scottsbluff-based organization received ARPA funding to support the online substance abuse evaluation services they provide. Thanks to ARPA support, Evals by Eck were able to provide services to 80 people over the past seven months that wouldn’t have received support without the ARPA funding, Ecklund said.

The forum also featured presentation a by BHECN-ARPA Awards Program Director Jessie Buche, MPH, MA, about the distribution of the funds and from Kendra Ratnapradipa, PhD., Associate Director of Research, about the most recent data from BHECN’s Nebraska Behavioral Health Workforce Dashboard.

You can watch a video of the forum and download presentation slides here.

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