Text alerts could streamline benefits redetermination processes
A text-based notification system could help agencies that administer federally funded benefits remind participants of applications, renewals and appointments.
As state and local agencies determine whether current recipients of COVID-era services are still eligible for benefits, a pilot program could help staff cut down on time and costs associated with re-enrollment.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has designated May 11 as the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency. The decision signals the beginning of the end for extra federal funding that supported continuous enrollment in benefits programs such as Medicaid.
But now that the PHE has an end date, so does continuous enrollment. State and local governments must comb through their lists of participants to determine who is eligible for re-enrollment and who is not.
To help ease the transition, the U.S. General Services Administration is piloting U.S. Notify, a streamlined enrollment management notification service that makes it easy for agencies to send customized text messages to benefit recipients. Using U.S. Notify, agencies can send program participants renewal notices, appointment and recertification reminders and requests for updated contact information, according to GSA’s Public Benefits Studio Director Amy Ashida.
PBS, recently created under GSA’s Technology Transformation Services, facilitates collaboration across government programs for implementing federally funded social services such as Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
A 2022 report found that 41 states planned to alert Medicaid participants of renewal reminders, but only 11 survey respondents said they would use text messages to do so. Text-based notifications can supplement traditional communication channels such as paper mail or online notices that may present challenges to benefits enrollment, Ashida said.
For instance, paper mail may be sent to the wrong address, and individuals may not have access to computers—or even an internet connection, she said. But according to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults, 97% of individuals earning less than $30,000 a year did own a cellphone, making text-based notifications feasible.
A streamlined notification system has advantages for government, too. For example, agencies spend more money to re-enroll an individual in a program rather than recertify or renew existing benefits, Ashida said. Timely text messages could help remind participants of critical tasks and deadlines they must complete to avoid unnecessary re-enrollment.
U.S. Notify leverages open-source software and service models to create a web-based interface that agencies can deploy within minutes without technical expertise or training, GSA said in an announcement last month. To reduce the risk of data breaches and scams, PBS limits how long it stores benefits data and advises agencies to avoid including or asking for personal information in text messages, Ashida said.
Agencies are “well-positioned to pilot” the text service if they directly administer federally funded programs for low-income families, present a use case in which texting complements existing notification methods and have one to two staff members available to manage U.S. Notify tasks, which includes gathering data, approving message content and sending texts, Ashida said.
PBS will assist participating agencies in identifying individuals who will receive text messages, drafting and testing content and measuring the impact of a texting campaign, she added.
Benefits agencies, nonprofits and vendors interested in piloting U.S. Notify are encouraged to email email@example.com. Three to four organizations will be accepted, and the program is slated to launch in the spring.
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