benefits process

Redesigning access to social benefits

Administering benefits to state residents can be a cumbersome and time-intensive process for both beneficiaries and case workers. Code for America is working with five states to create faster, more effective and less expensive ways for people to gain access to critical government services.

The Integrated Benefits Initiative builds off its successful development of GetCalFresh, an online app that helps California families more easily enroll the state’s food stamps program.

The initiative is a partnership between Code for America, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Nava Public Benefit Corporation.  Code for America is leading pilots in Michigan, Colorado, Alaska and Louisiana, and Nava PBC is running a pilot in Vermont. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities serves as a policy and operations advisor across all the engagements.

“We have seen the value of the work that we have done in California and believe there is an opportunity to look across the country to understand how different states with different agency structures and technological infrastructures go about administering benefits,” Laura Ramos, senior director of Code for America’s Integrated Benefits program, told GCN.  “There is a way to streamline the way in which eligibility and enrollment is handled by states and also to achieve better outcomes for people using benefits programs.”

Each of the pilots started with a discovery phase focused on learning about clients' experiences as they enroll for benefits. Based on that information, the pilot partners determine what kinds of products to develop and test.

In Michigan, the Integrated Benefits Initiative project is in its second year.  It has developed a quick way for clients to submit applications for both Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program at one time from their mobile devices.

In Colorado, a group working with the governor’s Office of Information Technology, the lieutenant governor’s office and other state departments is improving the experience of clients and caseworkers through user-centered design and a development of a tool for collaborative reporting of case updates or changes. 

In Alaska, the initiative is creating a digital lobby experience to reduce reliance on in-person service.  The project is also developing a digital assistant to support Alaska’s network of free agents, the benefits assistance workers in remote communities.

In Louisiana, the initiative is researching why, how and where clients struggle to enroll in the state’s benefit programs. The project is exploring ways to unify the client experience and reduce the number of touch points needed to enroll clients in multiple benefit programs.

In Vermont, Nava PBC is working with the Vermont Agency of Human Services to conduct research on how to simplify the verification experience for both participants and caseworkers. In the short term, the program is implementing a document upload tool that allows participants to easily upload their documents and caseworkers to easily access the information.

“When people are eligible for one benefits program, we know that they are generally eligible for another,” Ramos said. “That’s why we also wanted to bring this initiative to other states since we can see the opportunity of meeting people where they are.”

Editor's note: This article was changed Sept. 7 to reflect the fact that Alaska's digital lobby project is in progess. 

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at sfriedman@gcn.com or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


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