Innovation that widens the social safety net
A dozen new projects aim to help more agencies connect low-income communities with government benefits.
U.S. Digital Response (USDR), a nonprofit that leverages a network of pro bono technical experts to address public-sector challenges, will modernize its grants management tools for cities and states and develop Spanish plain-language translation services for federal and state unemployment insurance departments.
The project is one of a dozen aimed at expanding access to government benefits for underprivileged communities by helping innovators develop, scale and support products and tools that make it easier for Americans to tap into crucial benefits. It is funded by the Social Safety Net Product Studio program, a $13 million philanthropic initiative.
Extending the public’s reach into government services can help unlock more than $100 million in benefits over the next two years, Schmidt Futures said in an announcement.
USDR will scale and open source its federal grant management tools to increase their availability to state and local governments. For instance, USDR’s grant identification tool uses an API to compile available grants from the federal grants.gov website. Users can plug in keywords and eligibility codes to find funding programs that meet their community’s needs reducing the need for daily, manual searches.
The other USDR project aims to make government services more inclusive for individuals with limited English proficiency. The organization will develop a Spanish plain language tool and content guide for federal and state unemployment insurance departments. These improvements will make it easier for vulnerable populations to better engage with benefits programs and serve as a model for improving language access for all public benefits.
All 12 of the Social Safety Net Product Studio projects are designed to improve benefits access for underprivileged populations through innovative technology, data and design.The teams bring together entrepreneurs, engineers, data scientists, designers and researchers funded by Schmidt Futures, the Ballmer Group, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies.
Another Product Studio participant is Beam, an organization that provides an end-to-end cash assistance platform where governments can design applications, verify and process applicants, disburse payments and track outcomes to meet social impact goals. The platform helps governments administer financial assistance and manage direct cash assistance and public benefits.
Global nonprofit DataKind and New America’s Future of Land and Housing Program are partnering to make it easier for housing assistance program administrators and community leaders to access housing-loss data, analysis and interpretation. The groups will expand the functionality and accessibility of the Foreclosure and Eviction Analysis Tool, an application they developed that tracks housing loss over time.
The Semicolon Design Group will create, distribute and implement open source and ready-made design files to improve communication and workflow between benefit recipients and states. Efforts entail incorporating visual design and engineering to build upon plain language resources available currently.
“There is a clear role for technology to play in improving access to the many public benefits programs that comprise our social safety net,” said Kevin Bromer, executive director and head of technology and data strategy at the Ballmer Group. “In order for the solutions of tomorrow to be equitable and effective, they must be designed in concert with dedicated technologists, program administrators, frontline staff, and those who access benefits.”
The full list of participants can be found here.