California Department of Social ServicesCode for America


SAN FRANCISCO – California’s Department of Social Services (CDSS) and Code for America today announced that GetCalFresh – an innovative program to dramatically simplify applying for federal nutrition benefits – will be available in all of California’s 58 counties.

The statewide launch of GetCalFresh will especially benefit the 500,000 older adults and people with disabilities who are newly able to apply for CalFresh. This is a direct result of the state’s decision to expand eligibility for CalFresh to include Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients as of June 1.

“The expansion of CalFresh will make it easier for hundreds of thousands of Californians to get the healthy food they need, and GetCalFresh going statewide makes it much easier for all Californians to apply,” said Kim McCoy Wade, Chief of the CalFresh Branch for CDSS. “Combining the two efforts really supports the vision of a California for all.”

“We believe every Californian who qualifies for food assistance should be able to reliably get and keep benefits with ease, efficiency and dignity,” said Jennifer Pahlka, Code for America’s founder and executive director, “GetCalFresh is just one example of how we can transform government by putting users first. We believe this partnership creates a national blueprint for how people can apply for social safety net services in the digital age.”

Code for America built GetCalFresh on the principles of delivery-driven government and user-centered design. The program has slashed the time it takes to submit an application for nutrition benefits to under 10 minutes and has increased application rates in the counties where it is used.

Through the GetCalFresh program, Code for America can observe the process from a client’s perspective, gather valuable insights from staff, and analyze data trends to determine what barriers may be preventing eligible individuals from accessing benefits. These insights are shared with county staff, creating a feedback loop that drives process changes at the local level to improve client experience.

Kim McCoy Wade, Chief of the CalFresh Branch for CDSS, and Caitlin Docker, Associate Program Director at Code for America, made this announcement on the main stage of the 2019 Code for America Summit.

Transforming Government in the Digital Age

In 2013, Code for America began observing applicants as they tried to navigate the existing process to enroll in CalFresh. During a number of pilots, Code for America recognized a need to make the application simpler and accessible on mobile devices. These pilots eventually turned into a partnership with the State of California to develop GetCalFresh.

As GetCalFresh evolved, the team revised questions so that they were asked simply and with dignity, shrinking the initial application from 45 minutes to complete to just 10 minutes. CalFresh previously required applicants to fax, mail in, or drop off required documents, but GetCalFresh allows them to upload necessary paperwork using mobile phone cameras. Once someone has applied through GetCalFresh, the individual receives text messages to confirm that their application was submitted and to remind them about key milestones.

Taken together, these iterative innovations represent a model for how social safety net services can be delivered in the digital age.


About Code for America

Code for America believes government must work for the people, and by the people, in the digital age, starting with the people who need it most. We build digital services that enhance government capabilities, and we help others do the same across all levels of government. We organize thousands of volunteers across nearly 80 chapters nationwide who improve government in their local communities. Our goal: a 21st century government that effectively and equitably serves all Americans.