Technology Investments Help Deliver Benefits Faster to Those in Need
The need for quick access to social safety net programs is clear. The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting millions of people across the country with social isolation, unemployment, food insecurity, homelessness and housing insecurity, stress and mental illness. Now more than ever, individuals are looking for a way to get benefits faster and more efficiently from their state or county-managed social service agencies.
Burden of Proof Falls on Applicants’ Shoulders
Unfortunately, the application process can be a huge burden on these individuals and families who may already be suffering from social, economic or health disruptions due to COVID-19. Applications often require a significant amount of time and documentation, as well as access to technology. Many times, they need things like scanners and a Wi-Fi connection to submit an application. Typically, states require the following from applicants:
- Proof of identity (identification card or driver’s license)
- Proof of citizenship or qualified immigrant status
- Social Security numbers for everyone requesting assistance
- Proof of income (pay stubs, child support payments, income award letters, etc.)
- Proof of expenses (childcare receipts, medical bills, medical transportation costs, child support payments, etc.)
State agencies may use this information to check an applicant's income and eligibility. They may also match the information against other federal, state and local agencies to verify income and eligibility. Additionally, they often track wage information and participation in work activities for ongoing benefit delivery.
Latency of Data can Cause Latency in Benefit Delivery
This can be a lot of information for applicants to gather. Plus, it creates a significant amount of work for state agencies tasked with verifying that information to determine eligibility and to ensure that recipients get all the benefits for which they’re entitled.
Confirming that information takes time. Any delay can create an increased financial burden on applicants as they wait for a decision. Our teams at Equifax Government Services have seen agency customers with a wait period of more than 45 days due to manual checks for income verification¹. This, in turn, delays potential benefits to those in need.
Outdated information sources may also cause processing delays. For example, state wage data can be typically anywhere from 30 to 120 days old. The National Directory of New Hires, which gathers state wage data the quarter after it’s been reported, is at least four months old. It also includes New Hire Data, which is at least 30 days old when released and only shows hires, rather than length, hours or separation².
Also, if there are significant delays in benefits processing, applicants may become anxious and sometimes re-apply unnecessarily. This means more work to pull the documentation together again and applications submitted twice can potentially lead to even greater delays in decisioning.
Verified Income Data for a Better Applicant Experience
Social Service agencies can help alleviate this burden on the applicant by using a systems-first approach to benefit determination. Integrating and referring first to a database like The Work Number® can help quickly verify employment and income information. Equifax Workforce Solutions also has products available that provide access to real-time incarceration data and financial records. Automated access to current data, as provided by employers 24/7, is critical for faster benefit decisions.
Additionally, the use of external data sources can help minimize the amount of work the applicant has to do to apply for - and prove continued need for - benefits. It is also more secure. With automated data supporting each case, applicants may not need to continue saving and submitting proof of need on paper. More importantly, any reduction in paper pay stubs and other sensitive documentation is a good step towards more privacy and security of applicant data.
For more information on how county agencies can help reduce the burden on families and applicants for social safety net programs, watch our video resources.
1 “State: New contract to reduce errors, cut wait times for SNAP and other public benefit programs,” The Nevada Independent, October 9, 2019.
2 “A Guide to the National Directory of New Hires,” Administration for Children and Families Office of Child Support Enforcement, April 2020.