The coronavirus pandemic has put a heavy strain on the country’s social services programs. As jobs have been cut and the economy falters, a surge of citizens have turned to health and human services programs to get by – SNAP spending in June increased by $20 billion and Medicare enrollment is projected to increase by 45 percent. The agencies that run these programs are overwhelmed – employees and the technology they rely on are being pushed to the limit, explained Denise Winkler, Strategic Business Executive for Health and Human Services, Google Cloud, in a recent webinar.
With unemployment rates climbing, some economists estimate that 40 percent of jobs won’t return, shared Winkler. Citizens are relying on programs like unemployment benefits and SNAP – but to participate, they must apply. “The majority of people applying for these benefits have never applied for any before,” said Winkler. With questions on the process, the influx in applications, and programs and requirements changing rapidly, state and local governments that are offering these benefits need to adapt quickly.
The legacy systems powering these agencies and programs are struggling to handle the volume of citizens applying for benefits, accommodating changes to programs, virtual engagement, and the process of reopening which relies on easily accessible data. “The legacy systems that maintain the programs to deliver these benefits are faulty” with backlogs, losses in call centers and web portals, and more. “The websites for these critical services are slow and can’t keep pace,” explained Winkler.
To address these issues, agencies must look to technology that is scalable and secure. “Cloud technology is uniquely capable of addressing these issues,” said Winkler. Cloud protects against cyber threats, scales to meet citizen and agency demand, and unleashes the power of data that was once siloed by legacy systems. The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) and the New York Department of Labor have moved to the cloud to provide better service and outcomes to citizens throughout the pandemic.
The New York Department of Labor was faced with a 1,000 percent increase in unemployment applications and was having trouble processing pandemic specific applications. With the help of Google Cloud, the department was able to stand up a new application in the cloud that could take both applications. Moving to the cloud enabled New York to control the level of data that was going to the backend and ensure service. In the first 24 hours, the department took 100,000 applications and since May, they’ve easily processed 1.2 billion applications with the help of the cloud.
To handle the influx of interactions due to the virus, IDES implemented a cloud-based chatbot that could mimic human conversation. In the first two weeks, the chatbot took 3.2 million inquiries that would have gone to an employee, explained Winkler. “By absorbing these routine questions, humans can focus on more pressing issues,” she said. A virtual agent on the website and call center allows the agents to focus on more complex tasks and takes about 140,000 inquiries a day off employee workload.
The New York Department of Labor and IDES are just two examples of how the cloud can benefit social services organizations. Virtual agents and improved websites are just the beginning – agencies that implement cloud solutions are ready for the mission, even when crisis strikes.
Learn more about the benefits of the cloud by watching this webinar.