Demand Surges for County-Managed Social Safety Net Programs
Investments in Data Can Help Accelerate Support to Newly Needy Residents
Counties spend a significant amount of time and resources to help their local residents live well and navigate benefit programs. With the sudden rise in unemployment due to COVID-19 and the increased reduction in operating budgets, it has become even more important for agencies to deliver assistance as efficiently, timely and accurately as possible.
Many counties across the country are responsible for funding and operating county-based human services agencies. Those departments provide a variety of services for families and individuals, including housing, income grants, Medicaid-eligible services and food and cash assistance like the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
A 2018 Equifax survey showed benefit administrators’ top two priorities are service delivery and program integrity. They want to make it easier for individuals to apply for benefits and ensure they receive the right benefits. County agencies can use commercially available data to achieve both priorities.
Timely Income Verifications Can Improve Accuracy
The COVID-19 trickle-down effects for social services programs are growing. Therefore, county agencies are under greater pressure than ever to do more — and quickly. Most social safety net program applications start with a common data requirement: income. So applicants need to be able to easily and securely report their income. And county caseworkers need to quickly and accurately verify that income in order to begin a benefit determination for social assistance.
It’s important to integrate verified income data into the determination process in a timely manner. State wage data can be anywhere from 30-120 days old. IRS data can be even older, especially now since the 2019 tax deadline was extended to July 15, 2020. With over 45 million individuals filing for unemployment during COVID-19, shifts in income and need are out of sync with government reports.
Residents who are reliant on county programs for assistance can’t wait for the data to catch up to their needs. Social service verifications from The Work Number® deliver income information that is as recent as the applicant’s last payroll cycle. And it is continuously updated, so re-determinations can be simplified and adjusted as applicant needs change. That level of recency and accuracy helps support the overall integrity of the social service program.
Verified Income Data Helps Deliver Better Service
Faster determinations offer applicants better service. With verified income, it’s easier and faster for caseworkers to move an application through the process. Verifications that match the applicant’s stated income can move along, allowing caseworkers to expedite benefit determinations during periods of high application volume. Without recent income data, case workers might take longer to process applications, including those that are clearly eligible. That in turn, impacts applicants who have an immediate need for public assistance.
Data delivered electronically from a database like The Work Number can also reduce the burden on the applicant. They will no longer have to stop and start during the application process to collect, scan and upload pay stubs. This reduces the paper trail and the need for emailing back and forth, which makes the process more streamline and secure.
Social workers can complete re-determinations more quickly and help protect the integrity of the social service programs. Counties can choose to proactively review current beneficiaries and make adjustments, if needed. Standard determination periods can also be observed, with batch reviews helping to quickly confirm when benefits should continue.
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