Florida TaxWatch (FTW) released a report today which offered its recommendations for improving Florida’s delivery of federal safety net programs to Floridians in need.
In particular, the report The Aftermath of COVID-19: Rethinking How the State Delivers Services to Floridians In Need, singles out what FTW identifies as shortcomings in the embattled state-administered Florida’s Reemployment Assistance (unemployment insurance) program known as CONNECT.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act has temporarily lifted federal regulations restricting the use of contract employees to administer key functions of federal programs for the state and Florida has taken advantage of that by hiring contract employees to help ramp-up service delivery in response to COVID-19. FTW claims regulations restricting the use of contract employees limits flexibility and opportunities for innovation, modernization and accountability.
FTW President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro said, “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.”
FTW’s report recommends Implementing more flexible staffing provisions to help the state respond more quickly and effectively to crises.
The report says, “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, but they should have that option if that is deemed to be the most efficient way to deliver safety net services.”
Some of the reports other recommendations include the authorizing safety net program benefits first and then verifying program eligibility. According to the report, State and federal agencies have considerable resources (e.g., Internal Revenue Service) to identify and recover improper benefit payments.
Other recommendations include the following: relaxing requirements (e.g., weekly or bi-weekly reporting of employment status, in-person interviews, etc.) to reduce administrative burdens and freeing up more time to process applications and claims; borrowing best practices from other federal programs, such as Social Security, which 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.
The report also urges the state to “stop trying to ‘fix’ the outdated and obsolete CONNECT website,” which was completely overwhelmed during the surge in Covid-related unemployment claims.
You can read the full The Aftermath of COVID-19: Rethinking How the State Delivers Services to Floridians In Need report here.