Reshaping the safety net: The Integrated Benefits Initiative State Cohort

In the United States, the social safety net is composed of more than 80 services that together lift almost 50 million Americans above the poverty line each year. But millions are still falling through the cracks and miss out on the chance to get back on their feet. The benefits process can be complicated, time-consuming, and opaque — making people navigate through a system with numerous barriers that prevent fulfillment of basic needs like food and healthcare.

Public benefits eligibility and enrollment is a complex web of federal, state, and local policy — but it is ultimately states that deliver benefits. States are also tasked with defining the process approaches for providing services and the technology infrastructure that backs them up. After more than a year of field research across the country, the Integrated Benefits Initiative — led by Code for America, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and Nava Public Benefit Corporation — is pleased to announce our partnership with five states to pilot faster, more effective, and less expensive ways for people to access critical government services including SNAP (formerly food stamps) and Medicaid.

Code for America is leading pilots with Michigan, Colorado, Alaska, and Louisiana. Nava PBC is leading a pilot with Vermont. And the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities serves as policy and operations advisors across all pilot engagements.

We selected these states to reflect the geographical, political, and demographic diversity of the United States. The cohort of states also reflects a wide diversity in process, levels of inter-agency or technological integration, as well as variances in field office operations and workflows. Each pilot will reveal insights and lessons that we will lift up for other states to leverage.

Above all, the cohort was selected for their commitment to innovation — to experiment with new technology and methods, and to work together to consider and prioritize the client experience within their eligibility and enrollment processes.

Each of our pilot states are in the middle of eligibility system modernization efforts. These are large, multi-layer, multi-program, multi-system integration plans. Our pilots give states an important opportunity to leverage human-centered design and agile methods to move faster on one aspect of their eligibility and enrollment process; to gather a wealth of user research; to rapidly prototype, test, and iterate; and ultimately to demonstrate impact on key outcomes to inform future work

Michigan

Our Michigan pilot is driving faster eligibility determinations. We are one year into our pilot developing an integrated SNAP & Medicaid digital assister in partnership with the Michigan Department of Health & Social Services (MDHSS) and Civilla, a design studio based in Detroit. In Michigan, the partnership introduced a lower-barrier way for clients to submit applications for both Medicaid and SNAP with an integrated online intake process that can be completed from a mobile device in 10 minutes. We started our work by adapting and redeploying our SNAP digital assister for California (GetCalFresh) and iterated upon that tool to develop a separate, standalone digital assister for Medicaid. We then deployed a multi-program digital assister which allows clients in Genesee County to apply for both SNAP and Medicaid from one tool. This summer, the partnership is piloting two-way SMS communication to enable caseworkers to begin a conversation with clients about needed verification documents. Clients can take photos of those documents and submit them via text immediately, rather than wait many days to receive a paper notice advising of documents to mail back. The experiment aims to show that SMS communication between caseworkers and clients can further decrease the number of days to eligibility determination.

Colorado

The Colorado pilot is focused on improving the experience for clients and caseworkers to maintain benefits through better, more collaborative reporting of case updates or changes. Our workgroup in Colorado is committed to bringing human-centered design into Colorado’s technology tools. Beyond the development of a change-reporting tool, our work with Colorado will inform a new client experience team tasked with governing client-facing tools within the Governor’s Office of Information Technology. This presents a unique opportunity for our initiative and Colorado to inform how other state benefits administrations consider and commit resources to the performance of technology tools given a client’s perspective. Our workgroup in Colorado brings expertise and perspectives across a range of departments and initiatives including the Governor’s Office of Information Technology (OIT), the Lieutenant Governor’s office, Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF), Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS), PEAK Outreach Initiative, and Connect for Health Colorado.

Alaska

In Alaska, we are partnering with the Division of Public Assistance (DPA) to focus on improving equitable access to services. To do this, we are pursuing two different tools. One is intended to augment visibility and understanding of case status, helping the state to take strides toward a digital lobby experience and reduce reliance on in-person service. The second is a digital assister we’re developing to support Alaska’s network of application assisters in remote communities, called fee agents. Benefits administration in Alaska brings a number of unique challenges compared with what we have seen in other states, yet the potential for impact in Alaska is high: one-quarter of Alaska’s population accesses some form of public assistance. Our pilot work in Alaska must consider the challenges of service delivery in remote populations; limitations in connectivity across Alaska’s remote communities; as well as the state’s existing fiscal, staffing, and backlog challenges. Ultimately, we aim to improve the client experience by enabling more remote-friendly, “self-service” models of benefits administration. In the short term, we aim to reduce duplicate submissions and reliance on in-person assistance in an effort to improve efficiencies in already overburdened field offices.

Louisiana

We launched our research phase with the state of Louisiana to understand why, how, and where client’s struggle to enroll in all of the benefits programs they might need. Louisiana is in the midst of modernizing multiple eligibility and enrollment systems and eager to learn new approaches for data interoperability and cross program coordination. We will explore product opportunities that unify a client’s experience and reduces the touch points needed to enroll clients in multiple benefit programs. To further understand a client’s journey, we will also leverage the perspective of the agencies that oversee and administer Louisiana’s benefits programs including the Office of the Governor Policy Team, Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), the Louisiana Housing Corporation, and the Office of Technology Services (OTS).

Vermont

Nava PBC launched the research phase of their pilot with the Vermont Agency of Human Services this summer. In Vermont, Nava PBC is focusing on simplifying the experience of verification for both participants and caseworkers. In the short term that means prototyping a document upload tool that allows participants to quickly upload their documents and caseworkers to easily access information when they need it. The Vermont pilot strives to eliminate barriers that prevent participants from submitting the correct documents, reduce document processing time for caseworkers, and speed up the overall time to determination.

___________________________________________________________________

Support is provided by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, helping shape a world that is just, inclusive, and full of opportunity for all people.

Additional support provided by the Walmart Foundation and the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service.

Like what you read? Give By Code for America a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.