Connecting state and local government leaders
New Mexico quickly launched a portal for residents to submit applications and track their progress, and a North Carolina county developed an integrated customer contact solution to better deliver payments and services.
Two government entities – one at the state level and one at the county – used cloud services to quickly stand up solutions to disburse Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) payments to residents.
Within four weeks of being put in charge of ERAP payments, the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) had a portal up and running through which applicants could fill out forms and submit documents – and see where they were in the review process. That speed would not have been possible without department leaders’ support and work with Salesforce’s Government Cloud Plus and MTX Group, DFA’s development partner, agency CIO Joseph Baros said.
“We literally went from March 5, our first design meeting to even come up with what we were trying to attempt, to April 5, taking in our first application online,” Baros said. As of Dec. 20, DFA has made almost 34,000 awards totaling about $80 million since April.
Within four and a half weeks of being tapped by the governor to lead this effort, DFA partnered with the Revenue and Taxation Department to transfer data securely for vetting at six validation points. In turn, the department could return the results and DFA could upload the data into its system.
Within five weeks, DFA was able to issue checks or ACH payments to applicants or landlords, thanks to integrations with financial systems. Within nine weeks it had begun working with the Human Services Department (HSD), which handles food and utility assistance programs.
DFA also created the first bulk upload process in the country, Baros said. “We would work directly with the large landlords, the large utility companies, the small utility companies as they know better who needs the help, who’s behind,” he said.
DFA gets lists of individuals in need, and the utilities and landlords help DFA gather the application forms, he added. “We would then take these files and we created and upload … directly into our Salesforce platform, create applications and still go through every single validation process we had to – Tax and Revenue, HSD,” Baros said. “It was a streamlined process, but it didn’t skip anything that we needed to do.”
The portal evolved to include the state’s hotel assistance program for people who were temporary housed in hotels and the relocation assistance program to help them find a new place to live. Applications for all three programs are available at RentHelpnm.org.
Applicants must provide personal information such as Social Security number and lease information, and landlords, whom DFA notifies about applications, submit a W-9 form so they can be paid directly as a state vendor, Baros said. A pre-audit team reviews the applications and sends them to Tax and Revenue, which tells DFA how many of the six validation points each application meets. The final step is approval from a grant manager, and payment goes out the next day.
For Baros, this project has humanized the work he does: “[We] helped the constituents in New Mexico stay in their homes, take care of their families and make it through probably one of the worst things we will ever see in our lifetime, and that’s something to take a lot of pride in.”
Focusing on customer experience
When the New Hanover, N.C., Health and Human Services department took on ERAP payments, it looked to adapt its Salesforce solution for online applications and e-signatures. It contracted with SeamlessDocs for an e-signature and form automation platform on the latter and integrated it with Salesforce, standing up an application portal within 30 days. Since March, the system has distributed more than $7 million.
Within eight weeks, the department shifted all the services it had provided in person to online through a customer contact solution with case management capabilities built on Salesforce Government Cloud Plus. This lets applicants visit the Salesforce portal to fill out a form, which creates a case in the platform.
“For our customers, it allowed them to communicate with us however if they decided,” said Tomashia Robinson, IT project coordinator in New Hanover County. “If that was calling us to fill out applications, we could do it that way. If that was doing it online, we could do that as well. They could text. I think the benefits there is giving the customer different options to communicate and work with the county.”
Today, when clients visit the Health and Human Services building in person, a greeter welcomes them, makes an appointment for them based on their need that day and directs them to the relevant service department, where a receptionist gathers additional information before notifying case workers through the platform that their client has arrived. This cuts back on the long lines of people who were filing in, Robinson said.
Because everything is on one platform, case workers can perform warm handoffs when they see that customers might benefit from other services. For example, if a veteran comes in seeking food and nutrition assistance, the case worker might alert someone in veterans services.
“Previously we were not able to do that,” Robinson said. “Veterans services had their application and [Department of Social Services] had their application, so there was no way to see that someone had come in for services who was also a veteran who may be in need…. We want our customers to tell the story one time.”
The county’s IT Department has since repeated what they learned from the ERAP effort with a request for broadband that could reach households of school-aged children.
“We have purchased an enterprise edition of [SeamlessDocs] because there are so many forms that we have as a county that when we look at it, we may be able to offer it to our citizens so they don’t have to print anything, they don’t have to mail something. They’re able to just submit that form or applications online,” Robinson said.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in Northern Virginia.