Justice, Fairness, Inclusion, and Performance.

Many Americans struggle with the health and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) and American Rescue Plan (ARP) Acts, funding has been made available for businesses and individuals, but accessing these programs has not been straightforward. The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC), with support from the Academy, conducted its fourth roundtable (on June 15th, 2022) to examine the effects of pandemic relief spending. This roundtable discussed what it is like applying for pandemic relief funds and featured:

  • Pamela Herd (Georgetown University, Professor of Public Policy)
  • Nina Olsen (Executive Director and Founder, Center for Taxpayer Rights)
  • Julia Simon-Mishel (Philadelphia Legal Assistance, Supervising Attorney)

These experts discussed the challenges associated with implementing COVID funding programs, specifically around efficiently accessing the funds. As the Biden Administration noted in an Executive Order related to customer experience in December, many federal programs impose a “time tax” to discover, apply for, and receive benefits. The roundtable’s panelists identified how the IRS and states could improve their ability to reach those in need while addressing the abuse of these vital systems.

What are the key barriers, burdens, and costs of receiving COVID relief funding? Panelists identified three key problems:

  • Outreach is often insufficient, especially for individuals already disconnected from government resources.
  • The application process is overly burdensome—people are unsure of the process and the necessary documentation. They also lack access to the technology required to apply efficiently and experience difficulty contacting the various programs for additional information and needed support.
  • Applicants experience unnecessary stress given already low levels of trust in government. 

Despite these pain points, panelists agreed that some burdens are seeing reductions:

  • Eligibility was expanded for some programs, allowing millions of people to access funds more efficiently.
  • The IRS improved its interactions with non-filers, providing a portal for “new” individuals to provide basic information necessary for funding.
  • Agencies need an increased focus on getting people into programs and ensuring they can stay enrolled with policies like an auto extension for some benefits.
  • Data sharing across intergovernmental levels and agency siloes improved but continues to be a major challenge.

The pandemic relief programs provide the nation with the opportunity to learn lessons on how to improve such efforts in the future. In the coming years, it will be necessary to continue improving inefficient and malfunctioning systems while undertaking new efforts to reduce fraud and identity theft. The Academy is grateful for the panelists’ contributions and the continued partnership with the PRAC. Please utilize the following links to view a recording of this event or learn more about previous NAPA-PRAC roundtables and other Academy activities.

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