HSITAG is proud to have contributed to the American Public Human Services Association’s (APHSA) most recent cornerstone policy briefing. The policy brief titled, “Harnessing Data and Technology to Construct a Human Services System that Supports Thriving and Equitable Communities, highlights how technological innovations have created new paths for Human Service agencies to use their data and technology to strengthen their infrastructure and ultimately build agencies that provide equal and fair access to essential benefits.

APSHA’s cornerstone policy briefing provides detailed, concrete policy steps on how Congress and the administration can help human service agencies obtain better access and reach as well as accelerate the construction of next generation services that are more equitable and efficient.

As noted in the brief, this past year has shown our nation that “resilient communities are built upon a foundation of health, economic, and social supports that enable people to weather storms and overcome adversity.” The need for comprehensive human service programs has become strikingly apparent over the course of the tumultuous past year.

When agencies became inundated with unemployment insurance claims as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, they were unable to adequately respond to the needs of their communities. Similarly, human services agencies’ faced a substantial increase in applications and caseloads, highlighting the need to update and integrate the state’s technology systems that provide essential benefits and services to those in need.

Human services programs are necessary to assist individuals facing adversity, and new advances in data and technology can strengthen these services to ensure they are able to evolve alongside societal changes. For example, APSHA’s first policy recommendation is to use a social determinants of health framework, including food, housing, economic security, education and community support to finance integrated HHS systems.  These program areas are all interconnected and need to be financed in the same manner.  For example Medicaid IT systems are reimbursed at a 90% federal financial participation rate but human services IT systems are funded at a much lower rate.  Providing states 90% federal funding for all HHS IT systems will modernize and counter siloed service delivery systems.

Technological advances are realizable, but underutilized. The technology to make aid both proactive and equitable exists, and it is time agencies begin to build and improve their systems of access and have the resources to be able to do so.

A key strategy to promote equitable communities is to shift systems of support in a preventative direction where systems are built to withstand crises before they occur. As demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic, human service agencies were challenged to adequately provide for individuals if they simply deal with crises as they arise; agencies need to incorporate the use of data and technology proactively through interoperable systems and within service organizations to provide better, more sustainable and equitable aid to individuals when they need it most.

The impacts of COVID-19 highlighted the inadequacies of our system and showed how vital efficient and equitable human services resources and their delivery are to our society. APSHA’s cornerstone brief ultimately seeks to deliver concrete policy recommendations to our federal government with steps they can take to modernize human services delivery systems through technology. This modernization would increase the effectiveness of these systems, promote interoperability, and allow for more enterprising programs that emphasize accessibility, equity and high-quality service.

Through investments in the public IT workforce and reevaluating the funding dynamics within our government, structural inequalities and limitations may be mitigated. APSHA’s policy suggestions provide detailed thoughts and guidelines on how Congress and the administration can alter their approach and priorities when financing these programs.

We look forward to spreading the insights and information developed throughout this brief. We find it important to continue this conversation and add these findings to our collection of information.

Author

  • Scott Dunn is Vice-Chair of HSITAG and serves as Director of Health and Human Services Programs at Optum.