As part of an effort to address its recruitment and retention challenges, Memphis, Tennessee, will become the first municipality to provide financial assistance to all of its employees to pay down their student loans. Eligible city workers will receive monthly contributions of $50 towards principal repayment of their federal or private student loans, regardless of whether a degree was obtained. It has been determined that the average Memphis education borrower owes around $31,000. The city will track the participation of the roughly 6,000 eligible city employees to determine whether the incentive fulfills its stated goals of attracting and keeping good workers.
New Zealand has launched an End of Life service to assist its citizens in making bereavement plans when a loved one passes away. The government will use predictive services technology to help users address issues such as organizing a funeral and winding up financial and legal affairs. The site will also let users create and share their personalized plan for when they pass away. In addition, the site provides links to relevant funding organizations for financial support when encountering an unexpected life event such as contracting a terminal illness.
Public-sector use of drones continues to proliferate in various situations. Michigan state police have used drones to track and capture wanted felons, conduct crash analyses, and initiate fire inspections. University researchers in Arizona are working on the use of drones to more efficiently track tagged wildlife where normal signals from the tags can bounce off topographical features or be obstructed by trees. And, officials in Minnesota are using drones to conduct tricky bridge inspections of hard-to-reach areas.
Austin, Texas, recently launched a six-week, “speed dating” type of internship that matched a group of motivated high school interns with members of the city government to learn more about the challenges the employees face and to develop tech-based solutions for them. One team of students built a chatbot for the Municipal Court to assist in providing responses to online user queries. Another group created a mobile app that lists the city’s parks and their proximity to the user and another app that tracks the availability of the Parks and Recreation Department loaner equipment. And another group developed a calculator that residents can use to find affordable housing by zip code.
New York City is joining a growing number of municipalities in the US that is providing affordable housing targeting older lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. LGBT persons often need more assistance as they age because they are more likely to be single, have no children, and to be isolated from their families. It is hoped that the units will allow people to be more comfortable and supported as they grow older. Buildings in the Bronx and in Brooklyn are expected to be open in 2019 and will also serve the homeless population. It is estimated that more than 100,000 New York City residents are LGBT and 65 years or older.
To address the growing need for dental care in various areas, a growing number of states are looking to “dental therapists” to provide basic dental care at lower cost to the uninsured or Medicaid recipients. Akin to a nurse practitioner, dental therapists in Minnesota can now perform common procedures such as pulling teeth and filling cavities, leaving more complex tasks to licensed dentists. These dental therapists can help reach underserved populations by fanning out to schools, health clinics, nursing homes, and disadvantaged and rural areas. Maine and Vermont have passed similar laws that license dental therapists, and other states are considering following suit.