LA’MESSAGE is a one-way text messaging service that broadcasts reminders and guidance to clients at key points throughout the benefits enrollment and renewal process. We designed this service in collaboration with low-income Louisianians to help them better understand and complete Louisiana’s benefits application and renewal processes effectively. In partnership with Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services, Department of Health, Office of Technology Services, and the Governor’s Office, Code for America piloted LA’MESSAGE with residents enrolled in and eligible for Medicaid, SNAP, TANF, and WIC throughout the state of Louisiana.
This site serves as an example of what is possible when users are put at the center of designing and developing a government service. We are sharing our learnings in the hopes that other states and stakeholders can re-use this work and build upon it.
In Louisiana, tens of thousands of residents per year are denied benefits not because they’re ineligible, but because they failed to complete an administrative step to prove their eligibility. Many of these clients will go on to re-apply for benefits shortly after losing their status, which puts unnecessary stress on families and creates extra work for state administrators. Throughout our human-centered research process, two themes kept emerging from our conversations with clients: maintaining benefits was a major challenge, and text messages were a critical communication method.
Client fills out an initial application or attends an intake appointment.
Client provides documents to prove that they are eligible.
Agency determines if the client is eligible and informs them.
Client uses the benefit.
Client recertifies that they are eligible, repeating a variation of the first 3 steps.
Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants & Children
Early user research indicated that clients aren’t always sure what to bring to an appointment. Reminders clearly explained what is necessary for specific appointment types, and what to expect during the visit. This saved client and caseworker time.
High-risk nutritional counseling appointments carry tailored, detailed information for each client, and we followed staff recommendations to not share this over a text message. Instead, clients received generic messages about the appointment, and encouragement to call with questions.
In addition to content and wording, we also investigated the best cadence for sending messages. After starting our pilot with two reminders, we experimented with sending one, two, and three messages to see which most positively influenced the outcomes. We discovered that the outcomes are broadly similar across all three options, showing that even one message can improve a client’s ability to make an appointment.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program & Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
Some benefits require a mandatory phone interview to complete an application or annual renewal. Include the date and time of the upcoming interview. Also remind them that it may come from an unknown or out-of-town number to help clients make the connection.
Rescheduling is a common occurrance. Texts should include specific instructions on how to reschedule appointments, providing specific instructions on how to navigate the automated agency answering service.
All SNAP clients must submit a semi-annual report to maintain their case. Reminders should emphasize that the form is required for everyone, regardless of case details, and explain the consequences of not submitting it. Reminders should also list the options for submitting a form.
While this pilot only featured outgoing text messages (one-way texting), some clients replied to the messages, expecting a response. While we were not equipped or authorized to respond to messages, this feature created a critical feedback loop. For instance, clients pointed out an incorrect link in an early version of the message.
Health care for low-income individuals and families
The more customized the information, the more successful clients can be in completing a required task. Medicaid clients received the specific type of document needed for case verification.
Different interactions suit different audiences. We shared multiple options for submitting paperwork, letting recipients pick the one most convenient for them.
Be intentional about the language you use in order to inform clients in a calm, stress-free way. When explaining consequences, it’s not necessary to strike a dire tone. Neutrally state what will happen, and let the reader make the best decision for themselves.
We A/B tested different variations of opt-in language and tone to find out what was most successful. When we proved that a neutral “professional” tone was more effective than a “friendly” tone in helping clients respond to renewal reminders, we carried that language throughout our reminders.