How do you get coronavirus relief funds to communities without the critical infrastructure to mobilize quickly?
If there’s a silver lining of sorts to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s surely the rapid appropriation of federal funding and synchronization of government programs to support all kinds of community needs across the country. Such funding can shore up critical infrastructure and help small businesses stay afloat to provide jobs, as well as provide fundamental, essential services like family support and childcare during uncertain and challenging times. But when the Hawaii Department of Human Services (HDHS) was awarded $80 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Child Care Development Block Grant in March 2021, it seemed relief was on the way. However, the grant brought with it immediateadministration and logistical hurdles, as well as a ticking clock to meet distribution compliance requirements. That complex set of challenges landed on the desks of an already taxed, short-staffed HDHS team and amid growing needs from community families, and especially those of frontline workers during the early stages of the pandemic.
Any of us could be forgiven, of course, for thinking that allocating these kinds of funds is a straightforward process. Shouldn’t a given state simply receive childcare program funding and its on-the-ground machine of administration, financial and services teams makes magic happen to immediately connect community organizations and families with the relief they need? But in the case of Hawaii, where a small population of 1.4 million has a smaller subset of childcare-age families, the state was left debating where and how to best allocate funding and direct policies appropriately in an efficient, consistent, federally compliant manner.
“Our team excels at what we do,” said Scott Nakasone, HDHS Assistant Division Administrator, “but I don’t mind saying that this was an entirely new venture for us at a time when our team was understaffed and overstretched. We were essentially out of ideas. We had collated opinions from the community, from providers and families themselves to get a better idea of needs and potential priorities, but it was clear we needed a partner to help us with more research, data analytics and to shape a strategic approach.”
A prior project connection with Ernst & Young LLP (EY US) brought the Hawaii Department of Human Services team together with EY US professionals, and a near record coalition of EY US service lines mobilized seamlessly to conceive, align and launch a program of solutions for Hawaii.
“I couldn’t be more impressed by the way our multi-department team came together quickly and was able to identify and marshal the right resources to bring to the table,” said Mike Ching, EY US Honolulu Office Managing Partner. “As a resident of Hawaii who was born and raised here, as well as a parent of three children, I understand the early childcare challenges in Hawaii, so I’m especially proud of the contributions that EY US brought to this statewide need.”
Six business units combine for a seamless, unified solution
We talk extensively with clients about the many benefits of our seamless process to meet their challenges,” notes Jeri Culley, Senior Manager, Business Consulting, Ernst & Young LLP, and day-to-day lead on the project. “A best-in-class cross-functionality of services, subject-matter specialists and support teams focused on one client service mission. But this project quickly became a testament to how that approach really supercharged the firm’s response, reduced our time to launch and put a customized program of solutions quickly into place.
An initial contract was signed in July, and work got underway by September with phase one: the EY Grants Accelerator (EYGA). That started with a targeted current state assessment to build a comprehensive understanding and picture of the State of Hawaii’s current childcare provider network, as well as a comparative review of programs in other states. Working with HDHS, the EY team identified challenges ahead and opportunities around which to align, as well as highlighting and helping HDHS set priorities for the program. Initial goals included stabilizing the service provider network and designing strategies for an intensive program of community engagement, as well as a program framework for distribution of Child Care Stabilization Funds (CCSF) and Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funds to providers and in support of families.
EY-Parthenon led the overall strategy and planning process, while our Forensic & Integrity Services team assisted in developing the program design and monitoring program. Our Indirect Tax Services team propped up a call center to provide technical assistance to Hawaii childcare providers who needed support throughout the process, and EY People Advisory Services professionals led communication outreach efforts. IT implementation of EYGA, which accepted applications, was managed by our Technology Consulting line, and our Business Consulting team directed the PMO and the multifaceted coordination between Hawaii’s Department of Human Services, six EY service lines and more than 500 providers across the state.
Throughout phase one of the program, the integrated EY US team designed a foundational program, aligned around ease of use, accessibility and success. This included the integration of technology into the department’s software platform that’s equally accessible for members of the childcare community, as well as internal HDHS team members. In the end, with EY US assistance, the state developed not just a platform to meet federal compliance requirements but ultimately a comprehensive technology solution and support processes flexible enough to manage all kinds of similar future funding challenges and alleviate stress on the team.
“Phase two is about the future,” said Barb Lambert, Partner, Forensic & Integrity Services, Ernst & Young LLP. “Our entire team’s goal beyond initial stabilization and program design was to put the technology, tools and foundational processes in place to very quickly transition system ownership, eligibility determinations and monitoring, and project management to an internal HDHS team. Part of that handoff will include the training and knowledge transfer so that the team has the skill set and tools to manage their own system and processes going forward.”
An agile tech platform and knowledge base to fund those in need
The Hawaii Department of Human Services met its goal, distributing 50% of funding to programs throughout the state by the December deadline. To date, the State of Hawaii has distributed all but $5 million of its $80 million federal grant, cutting through what could have been an administrative gridlock and getting funds to the childcare provider network that needs them most. That has meant money for underfunded provider organizations, bolstered support for employees of childcare providers, and a robust network of support for Hawaii’s childcare programs and services.
As the EY US team’s initial engagement on phase one wrapped up, the State of Hawaii turned its attention to organizing a second funds offering. Using the state’s newly implemented technology and processes, childcare centers providing post-pandemic mental health services to their staff has been identified and screened as a potential use of remaining funds.
Beyond the initial project, the EY US team is now working with HDHS to plot further avenues for the state’s new system. What started as a more limited EY US client reengagement has built a trusted collaboration for the future.