A longstanding North Dakota tradition was for social service programs to be managed and administered at the local county level. The majority of counties had their own social service department, leadership, and administration, while many counties joined one or more others in multi-county districts.
The programs they delivered included federal, state, and local programs to citizens, including food stamps, health care assistance, housing and home energy assistance, foster care, child/day care licensing, abuse and neglect intervention with the goal of helping people reach their maximum level of self-sufficiency. However, this came at a cost and there were significant local mill tax levies needed to support this model of service delivery.
Following lengthy study and pilot projects, the 65th Legislative Assembly passed a law known as SB 2124. This significant legislation created 19 Human Service Zones throughout North Dakota. Under this structure and service model, human service zones work collaboratively with each other and the ND Department of Human Services in meeting the needs of North Dakota citizens. Team members of each human service zone are employees of their host county. This shift has brought greater teamwork, efficiency, and administrative effectiveness while work is underway to improve service delivery models and policy.
It is notable that with this change in structure, funding also transitioned. Local mill tax levies are no longer used to support human service deliery direct costs. Rather, this funding comes from state funds and federal reimbursements.
Each Human Service Zone is supervised and managed by a Human Service Zone Director. The Human Service Zone Director is directly supervised collaboratively by the Human Service Zone Board and ND Department of Human Services.
What has not changed, however, is that counties and county employees continue to be the delivery point for essential services to those who need them.