On Thursday, Florida TaxWatch (FTW) released “The Aftermath of COVID-19: Rethinking How the State Delivers Services to Floridians In Need,” an analysis of the shortcomings of the current state-administered, federal safety net programs, especially Florida’s Reemployment Assistance (Unemployment Insurance) program known as CONNECT.
In the report, FTW examines the issues with federal regulations restricting the use of contract employees to administer key functions of federal programs and the limited flexibility and opportunities for innovation, modernization, and accountability that these regulations create. The CARES Act has temporarily lifted these requirements and Florida has joined other states in hiring contract employees to help ramp up service delivery in response to COVID-19.
Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro weighed in on the report on Thursday.
“Florida TaxWatch has long celebrated government efficiencies and championed the hardworking men and women whose innovation has delivered services to Florida families with the greatest possible return on their tax dollar investment. As we continue to battle the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and take care of our vulnerable loved ones and neighbors, it is essential that we do not allow government to be bogged down with ineffective regulations. The recommendations offered by Florida TaxWatch will help create more efficient and cost-effective business processes which save taxpayers’ dollars and improve service delivery to Florida families,” Calabro said.
FTW offered the following Recommendations to Improve Delivery of State-Administered Safety Net Programs:
- Implement more flexible staffing provisions to help states respond more quickly and effectively to crises including:
Florida’s congressional delegation should lead the charge to make permanent the temporary provisions in the CARES Act (Section 2106) that provide additional emergency flexibility to hire temporary staff or to take other temporary actions to quickly process unemployment assistance applications and claims. States should not be required to hire private contractors to more quickly process safety net program applications and claims, but they should have that option if that is deemed to be the most efficient way to deliver safety net services.
- Enhance service delivery through enrollment efficiencies and the reprioritization of benefit verification including:
Eliminating denials based on red tape and bureaucratic requirements;
Authorizing safety net program benefits first and then verifying program eligibility. State and federal agencies have considerable resources (e.g., Internal Revenue Service) to identify and recover improper benefit payments;
Relaxing requirements (e.g., weekly or bi-weekly reporting of employment status, in-person interviews, etc.) to reduce administrative burdens and free up more time to process applications and claims;
Borrowing best practices from other federal programs, such as Social Security, that deliver benefits with minimal administrative burdens and fraud; and
Using administrative data from one safety net program (e.g., SNAP or TANF) to make enrollment in other safety net programs (e.g., reemployment assistance) easier and faster.
- Stop trying to “fix” the outdated and obsolete CONNECT website including:
Through proper outsourcing, a private contractor can apply “best-of-breed” technologies as needed to improve business processes and overall customer outcomes. Having state employee data stored in the cloud helps to ensure that it is backed up and more secure.
Outsource business processes to help overcome delays caused by burdensome public hiring processes and requirements.
Reform the state’s procurement system to improve transparency, open competition, and enhance the planning and contracting of large-scale IT projects.