Resource Development Associates

Impact of COVID-19 on Safety-Net Systems

By John Cervettosafety net, public services, unemployment, COVID-19

California’s swift response to the COVID-19 Pandemic has so far “flattened  the curve” in terms of the rate of infection. While the healthcare systems may have been spared from an overwhelming number of sick people to care for, the social and economic impacts of the resulting shutdowns and social distancing measures to our public safety-net systems are staggering.

Our safety-net system is made up of a wide range of benefits services including  (CalWORKs) unemployment benefits, social security disability, nutrition programs (CalFRESH), subsidized healthcare, housing and homelessness services, and victim services. In California, our safety-net services are delivered by a patchwork of state, county, and community-based agencies.  Most safety-net benefits are designed to serve a relatively small slice of the population who are experiencing temporary challenges and need support to get through a difficult time.

However, when mass unemployment occurs in such a rapid time frame, the capacity of our safety-net systems to meet the demand is greatly diminished while at the same time eligibility has expanded to include workers not previously eligible for unemployment benefits such as contractors and gig workers. Social services providers are already seeing a rapid influx of individuals applying for benefits at such an increased rate that websites are crashing and offices are overwhelmed. Agencies in some states have instituted processes to attempt to regulate the traffic by assigning days that individuals can apply based on the first letter of their last name. Other areas simply do not have the resources to process the number of claims, leading to long delays to receive unemployment benefits. Similarly, nutrition programs such as food banks and meal programs are experiencing a sharp increased demand while their supply chains of food product donations that they rely upon to operate have experienced mass disruptions.

As public and community-based providers adapt to the new normal of increased demand putting pressure on an already over-stressed system, they will have to look at new and innovative approaches to continue to serve their communities. As consultants, we have the opportunity to work with human services and safety-net providers across California.  We have observed that innovation often comes out of organizations trying to address seemingly impossible challenges. We would like to hear from you about what your organization or agency is doing to adapt to the increased need in your community.  Please contact us to share your ideas, strategies, and innovations! Your efforts could help another community in need.

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