Let's Not Go Back to "Normal"

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We’re hearing a lot of talk about wanting to “get back to normal” — meaning, the way things used to be before the COVID-19 pandemic spread to the U.S. We are impatient. We are frustrated. We are restless. We all want this public health crisis to be over, and the transition to economic recovery to begin. 

Despite the heroic efforts of many, here’s what pre-COVID-19 “normal” looked like from where we sit:

  • Over 46 million Americans living in poverty, about 15 million of whom are children
  • Share of wealth increasing for the top 1% of American households, while shrinking for the bottom 90%
  • Communities of color facing longstanding disparities in health and health care
  • An increasing number of households experiencing food and housing insecurity

This picture of normal existed before the over 30 million new claims for unemployment insurance were filed.

Let’s think about what “normal” means. Normal is what we’re used to, what we expect. Normal is what we’ve come to accept as the status quo. As a society, we have normalized poverty, inequality, and disparity. Is this the normal we want to return to?

Alluma is a non-profit social enterprise on a bold mission: to eliminate barriers that keep people from connecting to essential services. We know that economic security and health insurance programs like Medicaid, SNAP, and TANF help millions of Americans rise above the poverty line, provide health care to tens of millions, and have positive longer-term effects on children, helping them do better (and go further) in school and lift their earning power as adults. Yet some people face barriers to applying for and enrolling in these programs, and this is reluctantly accepted and considered “normal.” Policy, operational, and technology obstacles persist in some places, from separate, lengthy, and cumbersome application processes for individual programs; to some jurisdictions that are still forced to operate on outdated computer systems that don’t share data across programs and are expensive to maintain and operate.

In the coming months, as we transition into the next phase of a COVID-19 world with millions newly unemployed, we expect to see a surge of new applicants for these federal safety net programs. This will place even greater demands on our systems and institutions. But as we all tackle the challenges of this onrush and rapidly respond to the crisis, let’s also start building the foundations for a new, better normal. One that can reduce the endemic inequities that exist in our country today. 

We’re proud to partner with states and counties, community-based organizations and healthcare systems throughout the country to remove the barriers that limit people’s access to services unnecessarily. Together, we have been imagining and designing what a better system of connection can look like. For example:

  • In Arizona, we created a consumer facing, mobile-friendly application so people can apply for Medicaid, SNAP, and TANF at the same time, anytime, anywhere with an internet connection.
  • Based on the findings and recommendations from our Designing a Roadmap to Improve Verifications for Benefit Programs in California report, the State of California is developing a Statewide Verification Hub to streamline electronic verifications across multiple programs like SNAP, TANF, and Medicaid to simplify and improve the application experience for both applicants and county workers.
  • We’re standing with California Food Policy Advocates to call for online ordering and delivery options for participants in WIC, a critical program for low-income mothers and children. See the full SF Chronicle article.
So, what will “normal” look like post-COVID? Share your vision with us at connect@alluma.org or on Twitter @WeAreAlluma, and we’ll share your perspectives with our community of courageous changemakers and tenacious problem-solvers.

Let’s work together to realize a new normal where all people have access to the services and supports — like food, healthcare, housing, and education – they need to achieve the lives they dream of — with dignity.
 
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