Gov. Hochul delivers remarks (photo: Darren McGee/Governor's Office)
When she released her 2023 agenda in January, Governor Kathy Hochul announced a multi-pronged effort to “make government work better for New Yorkers” through improved access to government services and public benefits. How New Yorkers interact with state government will be overhauled and modernized, according to Hochul, in her 277-page State of the State policy book.
“By eliminating bureaucratic hurdles, simplifying processes, and utilizing new technology, we will vastly improve the way New Yorkers access services and benefits from State agencies,” Hochul said in the book that accompanied her address.
Hochul is promising residents a streamlined online experience, through the implementation of a series of technological enhancements aimed at uniting government agencies and eliminating red tape and frustrating inconsistencies.
The proposed statewide initiatives will move several benefit applications more fully online, introduce the increased use of direct deposits, and expedite access to aid for those who qualify. The changes would apply to everything from obtaining tax credits to Childcare Assistance Program applications to Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) services.
In addition, Hochul will appoint a new Chief Customer Experience Officer to supervise these widespread changes.
Perhaps most significantly, the governor is promising a single login or ‘One ID’ for use across state agencies that will reduce the duplicative applications currently required of New Yorkers in order to receive aid and interact with state government.
“The aim of ‘One ID’ is to create a simple, straightforward and seamless path for residents who are eligible for state services,” said Scott Reif, a spokesperson with the state Office of Information Technology Services. “When fully implemented, ‘One ID’ will help the State better prevent fraud and allow eligible New Yorkers to more easily interact with their government and receive the benefits they need and deserve.”
The ‘One ID’ rollout will be carried out in four phases, building on initiatives that are already underway, according to Reif. Duplicate accounts will be eliminated, accounts will be consolidated across services, and a single ‘One ID’ will be rolled out with a soft launch. No exact timeline has been established.
The proposal is reminiscent of New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ delayed ‘My City’ portal; it does not appear any effort is being made to unify the efficiency-focused initiatives.
Most of the governor’s plan to make state government work better for New Yorkers does not appear to need to be negotiated with the State Legislature, unlike many other parts of her policy and fiscal agenda. On February 1 Hochul released her $227 billion Executive Budget for next state fiscal year, which begins April 1, and it has become the focus of a series of legislative budget hearings.
Hochul’s plan includes expanded use of e-signature technology. Currently, many documents must be printed, signed, and then scanned, placing a ‘time tax’ on New Yorkers who are in need of services, and delaying the receipt of aid.
“We often field requests for assistance from New Yorkers who are having difficulty applying for rental assistance and other public benefits online because of the bureaucratic hurdles inherent in the process,” said Jeff Maclin of Community Service Society of New York, a nonprofit organization that works directly with low-income New Yorkers. “Any effort to make it easier and less onerous for people to navigate the system and obtain the information they need in a timely manner is a plus.”
Currently, New Yorkers who are entitled to government services are often met by long wait times and outdated websites, Hochul’s press release stated. Hochul’s announcement cited the bureaucratic hurdles that Maclin pointed to as often preventing residents from ever accessing the safety nets designed to help them. Filing for unemployment insurance, accessing tax credits, and even simply applying for a driver's license often require in-person appointments, according to Hochul’s release. Forms and websites are laden with complicated jargon. Surface mail communications frequently go missing. Different agencies require the same information to be submitted across multiple applications, wasting processing time both for residents and State workers.
In addition, eligibility for services like New York’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), often differs from county to county. Hochul’s plan seeks to streamline all this, easing access to government, unifying service eligibility statewide, and simplifying communication across government agencies.
According to the January 10 press release from Hochul’s office, despite increased federal and state funding for affordable child care, the state estimates that less than 10% of families eligible for New York’s child care assistance program currently access these services. Of those who qualify for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC program, the state estimates only 50% utilize the service.
“Child care is critical for working families, especially women, to reach their full career potential,” said Suzanne Miles-Gustave, Acting Commissioner of the state’s Office of Children and Family Services. Dr. James McDonald, acting state health commissioner, added, “Families that rely on the Department’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program should have easy access without the burden of navigating cumbersome bureaucratic obstacles.”
To understand why individuals and families are not accessing the services they are entitled to, Hochul’s plan includes conducting a survey of eligible families to guide the distribution of benefits in the future.
Along with updating how people interact online with state services, Hochul’s plan promises to lower call times through the increased use of voice automation and chatbots.
The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) believes that through these technological updates, callers will see wait times reduced by 30%, according to Hochul’s announcement. “This assistance from the governor will go a long way toward helping us achieve the goals of our ongoing transformation initiatives, including bringing the DMV to where the customer is and changing the public’s image about us and what we do each day,” said DMV Commissioner Mark J.F. Schroeder.
With customer satisfaction and user experience at the forefront of the entire initiative, Hochul points to her record as Erie County Clerk, where she claims to have transformed the Department of Motor Vehicles customer service experience.
To oversee the promised improvements, Hochul has announced that alongside the appointment of a Chief Customer Experience Officer, a new team of digital professionals will carry out the widespread changes. This team will have its work cut out for it, attempting to make the announced enhancements and updates to many of what Hochul’s administration estimates is over 100 New York state websites still not optimized for mobile use.
Maclin of CSSNY pointed to some additional potential hurdles in the initiatives designed to make services more accessible. “Not everyone has broadband and access to the internet,” Maclin said. “That goes for many low-income New Yorkers. So either there is a more aggressive push to expand broadband or options to conducting business with state agencies online is readily available and promoted.”
The state’s ongoing $1 billion broadband initiative seeks to alleviate these concerns, promising connectivity in underserved areas.
“New Yorkers who have limited access to the internet or technology will always have the option of contacting a customer service center by phone to get help from a live representative,” said Reif of the state’s Office of Information Technology Services, adding, “‘One ID’ and other initiatives will also reduce the number of people calling or visiting in person, which will free up personnel to help those who have difficulty accessing services online.”
by Talia Barrington, Gotham Gazette