The Maricopa County Human Services Department established a new check writing process, including review and issuance of payments, by internalizing the review. This change ensures greater accountability, fiscal responsibility, and greater programmatic oversight over the issuance of monies. This change is also unique among many jurisdictions who, when reviewing their check writing process, may decide to contract for these services because of potential cost savings.
Problem or Need for the Program
HSD The Maricopa County Human Services Department (HSD) had a longstanding practice of paying a contractor to process rent and mortgage assistance payments for a variety of federal program funding provided by the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) including Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Low-Income Housing Energy Program (LIHEAP). During an internal review of payment practices HSD management realized it had the opportunity to not only reduce some costs but ensure better programmatic and fiscal oversight as well as improve compliance with all federal, state, and local regulations by bringing the process in-house. By bringing the process in house HSD was able to track programmatic reviews, fiscal reviews, and payments more effectively.
Prior to January 2021 the Maricopa County Human Services Department contracted with vendor to process rent and mortgage assistance payments. In the fall of 2020 the average monthly reimbursement to contracted vendor was approximately $20,000. This fee equaled approximately $19.00 per check for the contracted vendor to process payments.
Description of the Program
Under this previous process the contracted vendor was conducting both the programmatic and fiscal review and approval of all rent and mortgage payments. The HSD Community Services Division (CSD) and Finance Unit were reviewing and approving the reimbursement and related check processing fees based on reports provided by contracted vendor.
As of January 2021, HSD Finance began processing all rent and mortgage assistance payments in addition to the utility payments the team was already issuing. For example, in addition to the DES funding listed above HSD Finance began processing payments with pandemic related federal funding; specifically Emergency Rental Assistance payments that were funded from the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act. This increase in funding due to the pandemic resulted in hiring of additional staff and the formation of the eviction prevention payment team consisting of four (4) payment processing positions. Under this new process CSD and the Community Action Partnership Offices conduct the programmatic review, CSD conducts the programmatic approval, and HSD Finance conducts the fiscal review and approval for all payments related to rent, mortgage, and utility assistance.
The Cost of the Program
Prior to process change, HSD paid a fee of $19.00 per check for contracted vendor to process rent and mortgage assistance payments. With the HSD processing all payments the county saves the $19.00 per check processing fee, with equates 20,000 per year. However, these costs were not entirely eliminated because HSD hired four (4) additional positions to process payments. Meaning other jurisdictions who may seek to move check writing processes in-house compared to contracting for services should balance cost savings with improvements in programmatic and fiscal oversight. In the case of HSD, the improved oversight of the entire payment process more than justified the decision to bring the check writing process in house.
Results/Success of the Program
The main success of this program is that HSD now can ensure; programmatic assurances and fiscal requirements are met prior to issuing checks for rent and mortgage assistance. This ensures greater internal control of monies, improved information security by not relying on a vendor, and improved consistency of the programmatic reviews. Additionally this change resulted in HSD saving up to $20,000 in check processing fees, that were previous contracted to pay to vendor.