As we approach Thanksgiving, many are asking, “What do we really have to be thankful for in this year of unprecedented circumstances?” That is not an unreasonable question for 2020. It should cause us to look harder and consider longer to reveal positive things that kept us going. After all, most of us are expecting things to get better and are looking forward to a brighter future.
In child support programs all across the country, despite COVID-19 and natural disasters, good things have happened in 2020. Let’s peel back the tough outer layers of a long year and get down to the heart of the matter.
What do we have to be thankful for?
- States, counties, and tribes continued to serve over 14.3 million children, though methods changed to accommodate COVID-19 requirements.
- Payments continued to flow promptly to many children, though some parents were faced with loss of work. Other benefits helped many in need, including Unemployment Insurance benefits, stimulus payments, increased SNAP benefits, and disaster payments for lost wages.
- Though traditional services were disrupted, agencies and vendors stepped up with new technology and ideas which could positively impact service delivery for years to come.
- Throughout the year, one thing was certain: Child support program staff, both government and private, kept in mind that our mission and purpose are to serve children and families.
In addition to being thankful for these positive things, now is the time to take positive steps. Informed by the events of 2020, many child support programs are taking this opportunity to review their processes, policies, and technology with an eye to improving programs even when the unexpected comes along.
This summer, NCSEA facilitated a dialogue with a small group of state child support directors to discuss the Future of Child Support. We gathered some of the group’s interesting and powerful observations into a white paper called “The Future of Child Support: Dealing With the Pandemic and Beyond.” You can read it here. While this conversation focused on child support programs, many government programs in the health and human services arena could potentially benefit from the ideas and recommendations that stemmed from it:
1) Embrace the use of technology and virtual platforms to get work done. Now is the time. Business process modernization is long overdue in some areas.
2) Review the value of virtual meetings and in-person meetings to determine when in-person meetings are the best practice.
3) Choose to centralize services when it makes sense for consistency and efficiency.
4) Consider the needs of payers who want better options for making payments.
5) Take a close look at all processes in the light of federal and state rules. Suggest changes based on current technology and the needs of those who are served.
Many activities and initiatives slowed down in 2020, but lessons were learned. We are working for a better year in 2021. Regardless of who your government program serves, examining the lessons of 2020 with an eye to improving services in 2021 is a worthwhile endeavor. If there’s a silver lining to the challenges this year has presented, that’s one more thing to be grateful for this Thanksgiving season.