Did you know that our government safety net keeps more than 50 million Americans above the poverty line each year? In this holiday season, when thoughts turn towards those in our society who struggle to make ends meet, it’s important to remember government’s critical role.
Government spends at least 11 times the total of all charitable giving towards similar private services, which is why it’s so important to make sure that spending and those services work as well and as effectively as we can. Policy and service delivery organizations across the country advocate for less expensive administration, better program outcomes, broader eligibility rules, simplified reporting for clients, more accountability for everyone. Most critically, there are tens of millions of additional people who are eligible for federal and local food, housing, medical, re-entry, job training and childcare services today who, for many reasons, are not receiving them. The social safety net can work for those who can access it, but in order to create opportunity for all Americans, our government services have to be delivered better than they are today.
Code for America works at the intersection of government service delivery, government efficiency, citizen engagement and technology to make government work as it should for the American people in the digital age. You may know us as the non-profit transforming how CalFresh (food stamps) is delivered in California through GetCalfresh.org, or as the organizers of more than 70 local volunteer civic tech chapters called Brigades. You may think of us as the organization that puts on the largest government and civic tech convening in the country: the Code for America Summit. Or you may know our work to help people clear their criminal records through ClearMyRecord or successfully complete probation through ClientComm.
Today, we are announcing a new effort called the Integrated Benefits Initiative, also designed to help government better serve the most vulnerable Americans. We are proud and grateful that the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative shares our vision for world-class government services as a massive lever for societal change, and is funding this work. The goal of this work is to design a reimagined integrated enrollment service, demonstrating that government can deliver better outcomes for clients and better tools for caseworkers, both with less complexity and less risk for government. We will begin working closely with a handful of states to pilot these efforts and are proud and grateful that the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will help to support our work with these initial states.
Start with the User
At Code for America, we start with the people government serves. One of those people is Lennie-Jane, a doctor’s office administrator we met when she applied for for SNAP benefits for her family through GetCalFresh.org in 2015. She and her husband Kristian, a security guard, are raising three young boys in the San Francisco Bay Area. Both Lennie-Jane and Kristian have been learning to manage lifelong health conditions that emerged over the past few years — Lennie-Jane with breast cancer, and Kristian with Neurofibromatosis. Despite these hardships, Lennie-Jane is trying to go back to school and she and Kristian are trying to buy a house so they can keep building a better life for their boys. SNAP played a key role keeping their family healthy during a time of need.
Lennie-Jane credits the GetCalFresh team’s assistance with her successfully applying for SNAP benefits without having to take time off of work, or time away from her family to visit the office. But Lennie-Jane doesn’t just need help paying for groceries. Like tens of millions of Americans, her family will benefit services from across the safety net, and her community will benefit by investing in preventative care to avoid more expensive health interventions later. But right now, it is far too difficult for families like Lennie-Jane’s to navigate the various applications and processes that are required to receive and utilize benefits.
Government services may operate in silos, but people do not. The Integrated Benefits Initiative will help our clients navigate all of the programs they are eligible for, and improve the operations of those programs for the benefit of all.
The Integrated Benefits Initiative
We cannot tackle these challenges alone, which is why we are partnering with organizations across the private and public sector to move quickly and learn fast. With financial support from CZI, we will work with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS,) the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Digital Service, and Nava Public Benefit Corporation to create an integrated enrollment experience for clients, caseworkers, and managers for government programs like Medicaid and SNAP (food stamps).
Benefit enrollment and services must be non-partisan issues, which is why we will be piloting in a handful of states with differing political constituencies and leadership. A diverse cohort of pilot locations can help us better understand the challenges applicants face across the country, and the barriers that could stand in the way of expanding this method of enrollment nationally.
Through this process, we will increase enrollment, reduce churn, reduce administrative costs, and target the hardest-to-reach populations. We will begin by enrolling people into traditional safety net programs, but then expand to include the services Code for America already delivers, programs that help people stay out of jail, find work, and otherwise navigate government interactions.
Government Services that Fit Into People’s Lives
Government services need to keep up with the clients they serve. In the words of a state Human Services Director, they deserve “a government that fits into people’s lives, rather than a government that makes people fit their life into government forms.”
We’re working to do just that; to expand our multi-benefit work across the country to those who need it most.
Join the network of organizations and state agencies learning with the Integrated Benefits Partnership each step of the way! If you work in state government or on the delivery or policies of these services and are interested in partnering with us, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved.
We will also be hosting networking and learning sessions at the Code for America Summit about this work and delivery-driven policy; publishing insights and hosting virtual presentations focused on implementation results. All organizations and state agencies are invited to join!
At Code for America, we believe that government can work as it should in a digital age. Together with our partners, we can bring that belief to life with some of the biggest and most important services the public relies on. And when we do, we’re investing in the one institution accountable to every American at a time when our democracy desperately needs us.