mobile phone user in subway

MyCOMPASS makes social services navigation mobile

A mobile app that lets recipients of Pennsylvania health and human services benefits check their case status, upload documents and use a single sign-on for smartphone or desktop access stands to save the state $3.2 million a year.

MyCOMPASS PA, which the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services launched in November 2016, initially offered six main functions, such as checking application status, but the anchor feature is the ability to upload and submit documents the department needs to disburse benefits. In the first three months of the app’s release, almost 22,000 documents were uploaded through the app. As of Feb. 27, that number was 229,715.

Previously, clients could submit documents via a desktop portal (COMPASS), mail or in-person drop-offs. Caseworkers can respond electronically, too, reducing the need for printing and postage and speeding exchanges with clients.

“It’s eliminating a phone call on our end and making it more convenient for everyone,” said Joel O’Donnell, director of the department’s Bureau of Program Evaluation.

Two subsequent releases of the app have added other capabilities such as completing the Semi-Annual Reporting (SAR) process, making Pennsylvania the first state to enable this submission through a mobile app. The review, which updates eligibility is required for recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

“That information directly loaded into the system, from a government worker’s perspective … does create an efficiency,” O’Donnell said.

Additionally, users can use a single login to access their information on the app and through the web portal. Clients receive a user ID and create a password, but they must also use some form of multifactor authentication such as entering a passcode sent to their email or answering security questions, said Erin Edris, a manager at DHS’ Division of Automation Planning and Support.

“On the client and applicant side, once they apply and have a case that’s open and are receiving benefits, they can go online and create an account or use an account that they’ve already created through the COMPASS website,” Edris said. “If they can view the benefits status and all the information related to their case. They can submit a change if they move or change jobs. They can submit all that to us electronically. There’s a change-recording module.”

Caseworkers receive a real-time alert via email that a client noted a change, and they can either make the change or follow up with the client, she added. Likewise, if a caseworker takes action, the client also receives a real-time email alert. The alert doesn’t describe the change, but lets users know they need to log in to get details.

The department uses an enterprise content management system to run the app, plus Documentum for viewing documents that have been submitted and Captiva document scanning and capture software.

It took the department about seven months to build the app, which has cost about $4.4 million. Compatible with Apple and Android devices, the app has been downloaded 195,430 times, and the number of logins reached 911,503 by the end of February.

“Just like with any app, you’re trying to provide the best overall customer service, so you’re trying to serve people the way they want to be served,” O’Donnell said. “Of course, we’re never going to be able to compete with your Fortune 500 companies, but from a government perspective, we want users to feel comfortable coming to us and accessing benefits in whatever medium they feel is most effective to them," he said.

DHS monitors the downloads and submitted documents to make sure users' contact preferences are honored. "We hear a lot from our users that a lot of them do not want to have interactions with the county assistance office," O’Donnell said. "They just prefer to do it electronically.”

In about three weeks, the department will release updates to the SAR process to make it more seamless, he added. Farther down the road, clients may be able to submit their Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program applications through the app.

MyCOMPASS is part of a larger state initiative to drive modernization called Governor Wolf’s Office of Transformation, Innovation, Management and Efficiency, or GO-TIME. It uses interagency coordination to maximize efficiency, update state government operations and provide high-quality services. The commonwealth aims to save $500 million by 2020 through GO-TIME.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.


  • Records management: Look beyond the NARA mandates

    Pandemic tests electronic records management

    Between the rush enable more virtual collaboration, stalled digitization of archived records and managing records that reside in datasets, records management executives are sorting through new challenges.

  • boy learning at home (Travelpixs/

    Tucson’s community wireless bridges the digital divide

    The city built cell sites at government-owned facilities such as fire departments and libraries that were already connected to Tucson’s existing fiber backbone.

Stay Connected