Webinar Explores the Social Services Safety Net During COVID-19 and Beyond
State health and human service agencies are facing a staggering increase in the number of Americans who need their services. While caseloads are up, manpower and capabilities are static (at best), and funding is limited. On top of that, agencies are juggling changes to requirements, benefits and the actual process itself. This leaves many to wonder how they’re going to handle it all.
Equifax and the American Public Human Services Association (APSHA) recently co-hosted a webinar titled, "Expanding Social Services Safety Net: Using Data to Enhance Benefit Processing During the Covid-19 Crisis." As a roundtable participant, I discussed with other experts how agencies can overcome these new challenges.
Changing Mindsets from “When Things Get Back to Normal” to “The New Normal”
The panel discussed how to think about “normalizing” the work that has been done to date. Tony Mathews, Deputy Commissioner/COO at Tennessee’s Department of Human Services said he believes more challenges are looming, so now is the time for state governments to embrace the “new normal.”
Mathews said many states have risen to the occasion by streamlining their standard processes and implementing new systems. Some have created new websites and/or mobile apps to meet the influx of new applicants. Mathews said the key to such success was new legislation like the CARES Act and other policy changes that gave states “federal flexibility.”
Ann Flagg, Senior Director of Policy and Practice at the American Public Human Services, said future challenges will require solutions that are not only scalable, but sustainable. In short, she said government agencies at every level have to prepare for and manage new spikes in demand. But they also must run efficient and cost-effective operations during less demanding times.
Look to Innovation in Data and Processes
Leo Ribas of the Change & Innovation Agency said that it’s become abundantly clear that automating processes to better deal with spikes in demand for services and benefits will be critical in order for states to keep up with further spikes in COVID-19. He says this can only be accomplished with improvements to technology and access to better data. But it can't be just any data.
Ribas and I explained how real-time data sets can provide access to metrics that reflect work currently in progress. Too many states evaluate success based on limited or old data. And then they try to measure success from those lagging indicators.
The impact of not having a strong same-day service or First Contact Resolution strategy is significant continued Ribas, as this creates additional unnecessary hand-offs to field office staff, processing delays and repeat calls. Using The Work Number® as an example, he explained how data has helped agencies determine eligibility and optimize program integrity in less time. It also can aggregate data from across multiple states to help identify duplicate applications throughout different states.
Managing the Future Demands of the "New Normal" in Human Services
Deploying current and shareable data sets like those only provided by The Work Number can help improve processes at a fraction of the cost compared to state agencies not making the change, says Ribas. All agreed that such solutions can quickly and efficiently put the right benefits into the hands of the right people. Furthermore, agencies can manage the (very near) future demands of the “new normal.”