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Administrative Burdens in the time of COVID-19

Pamela Herd

Donald Moynihan

Pamela Herd and Donald Moynihan
McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University

In this webinar recording Pamela Herd and Donald Moynihan explain how administrative burdens are affecting the coronavirus policy response in the United States and potentially increasing the economic fallout from the pandemic.

Administrative burdens are made up of learning, compliance, and psychological costs that individuals experience in their interactions with government. The effects of these burdens can be surprisingly large in limiting access to public programs.

This webinar gives examples of administrative burdens, and explains how they are often not simply the unintended byproducts of governance, but the result of deliberate policy choices. Because burdens affect people’s perceptions of government and often perpetuate long-standing inequalities, understanding why administrative burdens exist and how they can be reduced is essential for maintaining a healthy public sector.

Recording of the Webinar

Highlights from the Webinar

(Clicking on pictures will take you to the webinar recording)
The Covid-19 crisis is revealing the gap between the promise of public programs and the reality of their design, which makes it hard to get help. The short-term result will be unmet needs, a stymied economic recovery and profound frustration. The long-term result should be a reconfiguration of how we administer the safety net in the United States.
The unemployment system is a prime example of how burdens affect participation. At the best of times, unemployment insurance processes are difficult to navigate. Even before the coronavirus hit, one out of four people who were eligible did not receive benefits.
One program that does a good job of getting assistance to the intended group is Social Security. Meryl Mayo lost her husband in the World Trade Center on September 11th. In the days following his death she spent countless hours finding out what financial resources she was eligible for, filling out forms, pulling together documentation, and dealing with officials who offered varying levels of help and sympathy; only the Social Security application process was “refreshingly simple.” The first Social Security checks to victims’ family members were mailed out on October 3, 2001.
Automating processes would reduce burden. The presenters recommend that states authorize unemployment benefits first and seek complete eligibility verification later.


Another powerful way to reduce administrative burdens on individuals is to shift them to the government. While Social Security is a program with significant administrative complexity, accessing benefits is straightforward. Individuals do not need to keep track of their own earnings, the government does this for them. Benefits are accessed by filling out a simple form, either on-line or at a local Social Security Administration agency. Not surprisingly, take-up of Social Security benefits among eligible recipients is nearly 100 percent.


Economic Support, Inequality & Mobility, Means-Tested Programs, Racial/Ethnic Inequality


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