5 Lessons for Governments Distributing Emergency Relief Funding

How Submittable can help governments avoid common mistakes in disbursing emergency relief to communities in need

When it comes to disbursing emergency relief, government employees face a tall order. Expected to distribute often millions (or even billions) of funds quickly and fairly, their ability to execute has a direct, tangible impact in people’s lives. Meanwhile, they’re typically exhausted—overworked, and at times under incredible political and economic pressure. In emergencies, the workload for government employees inevitably grows. And depending on the type of emergency, they may be expected to take it all on with a smaller staff than ever, due to layoffs, illness, or other factors.

To best prepare for future catastrophes, it’s crucial to learn from the past. Here, we’ll examine five areas where governments have faced challenges in distributing emergency relief in the past. The lessons examined here, along with the right technology and services partner, can help governments prepare to get it right the next time.

5 lessons for governments on COVID relief grants

Lesson #1: The need for partners in the work.

Perhaps the overarching lesson is this: with so many moving pieces and not enough staff, governments need a true partner in managing their grants. Submittable offers best-in-class customer support and professional services that can bridge the gap for when you have the budget to run a grants program, but simply not enough staff.

First, Submittable will serve as your project manager and trainer. With Submittable’s Professional Services, we join your team, helping you to design a concise form that captures necessary information without creating a burden for applicants. We’ll also help you make sure you gather all the information you need to report on later, and get your team going faster.  

When the State of Montana needed to distribute $1.25B in CARES Act funding quickly, working with Submittable’s Implementation Team, their grant was up and running within weeks. (In fact, the average Submittable client launches even a robust new program in just 14 days.) In the State of Montana’s case, extensive preparation with Submittable’s professionals proved essential—they received over 5,000 applications within the first 24 hours

Anticipating a high volume of submissions is where the other side of a partnership in the work proves critical: Submittable will help your applicants. Submittable offers real, human, helpful technical support to your applicants. In emergencies, people are hurting and scared. The last thing they need is to run into burdens when they are asking for help. Submittable’s technical support team has deep experience working with grant applicants, answering their questions and helping them troubleshoot any issues. We resolve 76% of applicant questions on our first response. We will never tell someone we can’t help them or try to push them off to someone else. 

Crucially, we also connect the dots for you based on what we hear from applicants. For example, our technical support team may notice an influx in questions from applicants if a certain question proves confusing, or guidelines are unclear. We’ll then work with you to resolve the issue and improve the applicant experience. 

I personally appreciate the support folks and that we received feedback from support. If they saw a particular portion of an application folks were having an issue with, and if they had a potential improvement that would maybe help applicants be more successful, they’d let us know. So that feedback was appreciated.

Angie Nelson, Senior Budget Analyst, State of Montana 

In the case of the State of Montana, with feedback from the Submittable team, they edited their application form to make it smoother for applicants using mobile phones. 

“We moved to accepting photos of documents and other non-traditional file types. We just tried to be flexible as we needed to pivot in the middle of the process,” says Angie Nelson, Senior Budget Analyst with the State of Montana. 

Partner with Submittable

We help governments launch equitable grants programs, fast. We’d love to learn more about your specific needs, and see how we can help.

Lesson #2: The need for streamlined funds distribution.

With Submittable, every piece of your program that you need will live in a single platform, including payment delivery. We partner with payment vendors to get payments to awardees quickly and securely, directly into awardees’ bank accounts (including handling tax forms). You can trigger an award with the click of a button.

This means no internal red tape for you, while getting payments out the door quickly and conveniently. Meanwhile, awardees won’t need to go to the bank to deposit a check. There’s also no need to be concerned about a check getting lost in the mail or misplaced, and all of the confusion and delays that can cause.

Lesson #3: The need to reduce fraud and human error.

It’s unfortunate but true: when the dust settles from a relief program, governments sometimes discover that some of the money went to people it shouldn’t have. Misappropriated funding can show up in several varieties—all of which Submittable offers a solution for.

Some misappropriation may be a result of inadequate eligibility screening. Submittable’s Eligibility Forms ensure that only eligible applicants may continue to fill out an application, redirecting anyone who does not meet your custom-defined eligibility criteria. 

An eligibility quiz is an efficient way to screen applicants based on your criteria. In Submittable, you can choose to allow or disallow specific IRS nonprofits designations.

Other issues are due to simple human error, or in some cases, fraud. With government employees overworked and exhausted—and after all, human—some mistakes are inevitable. On the other end, all the money available has attracted some bad actors, who have falsified claims. 

The solution in each case is to use intelligent technology to review applications, which will both avoid human error and identify fraud at a higher rate than a human can. Submittable offers review services powered by artificial intelligence (AI). 

Review AI can not only move at speeds simply incomparable to humans, it greatly reduces mistakes, can see things humans can’t, and has the capacity to cross-reference vast amounts more data than a human could. It has the capability to:

  • Scan vast databases, such as online reviews
  • Review documents, such as tax forms and identification 
  • Check for organic internet footprints
  • Verify identities, including by reviewing video recordings of applicants

Submittable’s Automated Review product was built to review applications for government grant programs, and is customized for your specific program. This technology can take on the work of an entire team of human resources—and do the job better.

Lesson #4: The need to improve equity.

Governments have learned the hard way that the wrong solution can result in compounding systemic racism through inequitable funding distribution. They’ve also discovered that certain barriers to apply may disproportionately impact distinct populations, including rural communities. Submittable is an inclusive solution that can help governments reach more equitable outcomes, including in the following ways:

  • Submittable is mobile responsive. Up to 80% of grant applications come via mobile phone. This is especially important during emergencies (such as a pandemic or natural disaster) which restrict access to libraries, where some populations have historically accessed the internet, or in rural communities where Internet access might be limited.
  • Submittable is easy to use. Often, those who are most vulnerable to a threat may not have the highest technological literacy. Submittable is a straightforward platform that is highly rated for ease of use on top software review sites. 
  • Submittable is highly accessible. Submittable attained a VPAT affirming it is accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities. 
  • Submittable’s Automated Review is an inclusive technology. Automated Review can read more than just receipts or other more traditional documentation. For instance, an applicant can describe their business goals and accomplishments in their own words, and the technology will have the ability to evaluate that information fairly.
  • Submittable’s team is expert at inclusive best practices. You don’t need to become an expert overnight on best practices for creating inclusive application forms, collecting demographic data, and unbiased review processes. Our team has the knowledge to apply the product’s suite of technical tools to do it for you.  

Lesson #5: The need for a partner in accountability. 

We won’t take your money and say goodbye. We’ll be with you throughout the lifecycle of your grant program. That means, if something goes wrong—a payment gets delayed, a Freedom of Information Request is filed, an eligible applicant gets denied—you won’t be on your own. We’ll stand by you until, together, we make it right.

The truth is, during emergencies, governments are under enormous pressure—politically and otherwise. Distributing relief funds is hard work, and it’s not without risk. It’s also absolutely essential to get funding to people who desperately need it. And it has to be done as quickly and fairly as possible. Submittable is here to take on that risk with you as your partner. Because like you, we believe that emergency relief is too important to shy away from the challenge. Let’s do this together.

Learn more about Submittable 

Submittable has helped the State of Montana and many other governments respond to emergencies such as COVID-19, and we can help you too. Contact us today to get started. 

Natalya Taylor

Natalya is the director of product marketing at Submittable and is focused on helping organizations get a ton of value out of the platform. She is a bookworm, adventure enthusiast and card-carrying cat lady as well as a writer and yogi.