3 ways the ARPA stimulus may help strengthen public health and human services

How public health and health and human services (HHS) agencies can prioritize new COVID-19 relief funding opportunities, acting today to build the foundation for even greater benefits tomorrow

By | 3 minute read | April 14, 2021

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Over the last several months, the U.S. government has approved supplemental funding opportunities, including the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), to help communities stabilize the economy and recover from the pandemic.

There is incentive for federal, state and local agencies to act swiftly and enable immediate relief focusing on those short-term changes that will bring long-term benefits to the communities they serve. Here are three examples of how communities can make the most of supplemental funding by focusing on both short-term and long-term needs:

1. Make it easier for the most vulnerable.

Several funding sources are focusing on cash assistance, unemployment and closing critical gaps for our most vulnerable citizens. For example, a recent allocation of $25 billion is intended to help renters affected by the pandemic, enabling eligible households to receive up to 12 months of assistance.

Leading state and local agencies are making it easier for citizens to access emergency benefits by enhancing their online and mobile presence and applications. This immediate fix can provide short- and long-term benefits for HHS programs.

A great early example of how a public agency moved quickly to provide social services, including housing assistance, is Clark County’s citizen engagement initiatives for residents affected by the shutdown of tourism, entertainment and dining in Greater Las Vegas.

2. Revolutionize our relationship with HHS and public health data

The pandemic has forever changed society’s relationship with data and analytics. Media outlets, policy makers and health and social services agencies have spent the past year amplifying data by bringing sophisticated descriptive, predictive and prescriptive public health analytics to the headlines. HHS and public health agencies are more proactive than ever before in looking at the health and social factors that impact at-risk populations and program outcomes, such as cost, utilization and quality.

While public health has always been data-driven, the pandemic has been a call to action for a greater focus on the social determinants of health (SDoH). SDoH such as housing supports, food insecurity, cash assistance, and coordination with behavioral health are receiving more attention and increased funding opportunities. A full population view helps Medicaid and public health agencies bring together a more complete view of their populations and helps them ensure individuals receive emergency services.

In addition, state all-payer claims databases (APCDs), with supplementary funding in the No Surprises Act passed in December, will help provide a complete picture and public health insight across the state healthcare ecosystem. And the new interoperability and price transparency regulations will further increase the depth of information consumers can access to manage their care.

3. Enable secure, digital citizen engagement

The pandemic has also accelerated digital transformation and how public agencies are re-shaping how they interact with people.

Take, for example, digital health credentialling. Today, there is an emerging need for individuals to be able to share their health information, such as proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test results, as they return to physical locations. Of course, protecting privacy must be the top priority for these digital health passes to ensure security and trust.

If we look at the digital health credential example, there are obvious short-term needs during the pandemic and recovery. However, there are potential long-term applications for government agencies to explore with technology partners. For example, in the future, agencies can explore applying this digital technology to issue licenses or deliver other benefits.

In my experience, agencies have done a good job during this crisis. They’re directing funding for recovery to address short-term fixes with an eye toward ensuring long-term benefits. The recent funding helps health and human services move further in that direction. These are just a few examples of where agencies can act to apply innovative digital approaches to enable easier citizen engagement, gain deeper insight and optimize agency workflows.