A complex application process should never stand in the way of a hungry family accessing food assistance. Code for America partners with local and state government agencies and community-based organizations to increase access to healthy food. Using GetCalFresh we are on our way to closing the SNAP participation gap in California and across the country; ensuring every eligible America receives the food assistance they need to live a long and healthy life.

Key facts 

  • SNAP supports the lowest income and most vulnerable Americans.
  • 76% of SNAP benefits support households with children.
  • 1.5 million Californians are eligible for food assistance, but don’t get it. For every dollar of SNAP lost, the broader economy loses almost two.

Goals

  • Scale GetCalFresh and close the participation gap ensuring every eligible Californian is enrolled in CalFresh by the end of 2018.
  • Reduce application time from 45 minutes to 10 minutes. Ensuring a low-wage worker can apply for SNAP and still grab a drink of water on a 15 minute break. 
  • Partner with nine California counties in 2016 and fifty-seven in 2017 to provide comprehensive program data on how applicants experience program enrollment and work with them to address barriers and bottlenecks.

The problem 

Hungry kids can't learn. Hungry families must make hard trade-offs between paying rent and buying food. The SNAP program feeds 45 million American's and yet 10million people are eligible and not enrolled in the program. California has led the way by improving outreach, reducing policy barriers, and running public campaigns, but we still have the second lowest SNAP enrollment rate in the United States. Applicants face many barriers.

  • Each application asks clients over 100 questions, many of of which aren’t required or don’t pertain to them. Applicants have reported spending up to three hours on their application and 62% of people who begin an application don’t ever finish for these very reasons.
  • Applications don’t work on mobile devices, despite evidence that low-income Americans access primary the internet primarily through smartphones. Each year, there are over 200,000 Google searches for CalFresh from a mobile device. Without a mobile friendly CalFresh application, many Californians have no way to apply for CalFresh benefits online. 
  • Even after a client’s initial application is submitted, the rest of the process can be challenging. For instance, the official online applications in California don’t support document uploading.

Our approach

GetCalFresh allows clients to submit their application in 10 minutes using our easy-to-understand online form, which can also be easily completed on a smartphone. We then submit their CalFresh application to the appropriate county for eligibility determination. GetCalFresh is the only SNAP application in the country that works on a mobile device. We don’t just make the application easier, we improve the entire process by:

  • Building awareness of the availability of food assistance through online advertising.
  • Making sure the process is accessible on a mobile phone or tablet.
  • Answering people’s questions via online chat, providing prompts if they are stuck.
  • Removing the need for faxing or scanning of documents (we enable users to upload photos of their documents).
  • Using a robust reminder system to send text or email reminders (depending on user preference) to provide visibility into their application progress, their required interview, and how to maintain their enrollment.
  • Providing support to overcome common barriers, such as rescheduling interviews.

We also address underlying enrollment issues in partner countries, resulting in changes to the overall application process that benefit every CalFresh user. For example, we recently uncovered that a feature that enables clients to upload required documents in San Francisco was silently failing clients for three years. 

We estimated that 100,000 to 250,000 cases were wrongly denied because of this glitch, which would mean that $9,000,000 of food assistance wasn’t distributed over that period. Once we highlighted this problem, the county was able to address it. Fixing these root problems ensures that all users of the food assistance system benefit from our work, not just those using GetCalFresh.

Impact

In the nine months that GetCalFresh has been active, we have already served 10,000 clients. The application is so effective that GetCalFresh is currently the only online application Marin County lists on their website and dozens of application assisters at local food banks use GetCalFresh to assist their clients.