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CARES Act Funding Offers State and Local Governments a Chance to Accelerate Digital Transformation Without Sacrificing Budget

As the pandemic spread earlier this year, many governments were keenly aware that their legacy systems alone would be unable to accommodate surging applications for unemployment and other forms of community relief.

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Shutterstock/Mark Agnor
Many government agencies in the United States are facing significant budget shortfalls due to declining revenues and unanticipated spend — and these challenges will extend well past the pandemic. New analysis from the National League of Cities anticipates that cities will experience a 13 percent decline in general fund revenues in the wake of COVID-19.

CARES Act funding made available to state and local governments offers a once in a lifetime opportunity for agencies to accelerate their digital transformation efforts by investing in technologies that support, inform, and protect a public still battling the pandemic. As of June 30, state and local governments had only deployed about 25 percent of funds available through the Coronavirus Relief Fund despite a looming December 2020 deadline.

Further supporting the case for this type of information, a recent Granicus survey showed that citizens and governments are ready for this shift — particularly in the areas of process modernization, new digital services to aid revenue recovery, and improved communications to drive awareness.

Offer Modern User Experiences That Scale

As the pandemic spread earlier this year, many governments were keenly aware that their legacy systems alone would be unable to accommodate surging applications for unemployment and other forms of community relief. In response, states like Oklahoma revamped their outdated unemployment portal to offer a unified, digital experience for applicants in less than 24 hours. With the deployment of the new Pandemic Unemployment Digital Application that enables customers to apply for and track their unemployment benefits online, the state has been able to process 30,000 claims per week and deliver more than $2 billion in unemployment checks — all without adding additional customer service representatives.

Realizing the impact of a digital service delivery system that can scale quickly, Oklahoma has since expanded its efforts to deliver 48 additional services digitally including driver’s license renewals, prescription pad orders, real estate licenses, ABC licenses, and more.

Identify New Opportunities for Revenue Generation

As governments are on the cusp of massive budget cuts in the wake of COVID-19, many are looking for creative ways to generate new sources of revenue to offset the loss in resources. As short-term rental (STR) usage is on the rise, local governments around the country are investing CARES funding in software that can automate compliance of STRs — bringing in millions in incremental revenue.

Cities like Nashville, a hot spot for short-term vacation rentals, struggle to accurately count and collect taxes from thousands of rentals. After implementing compliance management software for 4,500 STRs, the city was able to achieve 90 percent compliance and collect $2.8 million more in tax revenue in the first year of using software.

Drive Awareness of Government Services

The pandemic made many governments keenly aware of the limited reach and effectiveness of their communications efforts. The inability to connect quickly with residents on COVID-19 developments impacted many communities’ ability to reduce the spread of the virus and keep people safe. Once CARES Act funds became available, governments leapt at the opportunity to quickly build and grow their audiences and better reach underserved populations.

The communications team in Prince William County, Va., worked with its finance department and Office of Emergency Management to make the case for a new multichannel communications platform to deliver critical information around service access, public health and testing sites, and even real estate taxes through email, text, and social media messages. Four weeks in, Prince William County began sending communications to 213,000 residents via email and SMS and experienced significant growth in new subscriptions.

Preparing for The Uncertain Road Ahead

While several cities, counties and states have already begun to modernize using CARES funding, it’s not too late to maximize the impact of this funding and offset looming budget deficits and shortfalls facing states and localities across the country. Government leaders around the U.S. should use the coming days to pinpoint opportunities to procure and implement new technologies now that power citizen services and engagement for years to come.