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Relief Funds and Equitable Service

Tyler Kleykamp, Director of the State Chief Data Officers Network and a fellow at Georgetown University’s Beeck Center, recently noted, “States should be using funding from the American Rescue Plan to support the data infrastructure necessary for an informed and equitable recovery.”

While it may seem counterintuitive to make a change or adopt something new in a time of increased need and increased work, relief funds provide a unique opportunity. The passage of the American Rescue Plan Act, which provides $350 billion in dedicated funding to states, localities, territories and tribal governments, opens a window for governments to invest in technology that can help close the equity and access gap. This is important.

Barriers to Equity

When all residents have fair access to essential government services, individuals and communities can thrive. Unfortunately, barriers continue to exist that limit this access, including reliable transportation, childcare and available time off from work.

Needing to physically appear in court during business hours, for example, requires that a person have flexible daytime availability and a way to the courthouse and back. To provide in-person public comment at a city council meeting, meanwhile, requires evening availability and safe, even free, childcare. Some of these access issues are amplified in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic: in order to navigate vaccine distribution and sign up for an appointment, seniors and others need reliable internet access.

Enhancing Access

Across the country, jurisdictions are innovating new and creative ways to break down barriers, increase equity and enhance service. The following are just a few:

  • The Oregon Judicial Department helps self-represented litigants navigate complex court processes and fill out forms correctly on their own with a web-based platform that simplifies documents into plain-language questions.
  • The Superior Court of California’s County of Los Angeles uses a cloud-based online dispute resolution tool to help co-parents create parenting plans without having to hire a lawyer, find childcare, take time off of work or travel to a courthouse.
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee uses an enterprise cloud solution to maximize its data for better service. Analyzing incoming calls to the fire department, for example, showed that most calls were requests for medical assistance. This insight led to a partnership with a local agency to check on frequent callers, which saved fire department resources while enhancing service. The open data portal supported by the solution also helps the city measure and track equity and transparency efforts, including through a policing and racial equity dashboard.
  • The Wisconsin Department of Health Services uses a cloud-hosted case management system for its IRIS (Include, Respect, I Self-Direct) waiver program serving more than 22,000 seniors and individuals with disabilities. The system provides users with a way to manage their own benefits, directing their care and retaining agency over their health while at home or in another care setting.

The commonality in the above is modernization in the cloud. Cloud-based solutions like these and others help state and local governments overcome challenges that make it more difficult to deliver equitable services.

Forward-looking governments should leverage relief funds to increase equity and ensure fair access to essential government services through enabling technology. Communities in which essential needs are met are not only more successful, but smarter policy decisions result when all voices are included.

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Meredith Trimble is a former municipal official and Town Council Acting Chair, who focused on strategic planning, annual budgeting and bonded infrastructure projects. Her government experience also includes posts in both federal and state-level executive branch agencies: Associate Editor of the Federal Election Commission’s FEC Record; and Director of Education for the CT Office of State Ethics. In her current role as a Content Manager, Editorial with Tyler Technologies, Inc., she writes content to help empower those who serve the public. Her current focus is to help facilitate data-enabled organizations and create connections between governments and those they serve.

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