Right now, the people who need access to government benefits the most are not included in the design of government programs and services. And this exclusion results in barriers to America’s social safety net.
The social safety net is a network of largely disconnected supports that aims to promote the health and wellbeing of children, adults, and seniors—and to help them live with agency and dignity. But for too many people, the process of applying for and maintaining safety net benefits, such as food assistance, requires navigating a system with many barriers that push them further away from basic needs.
Since Code for America was founded in 2009, we have worked to break down barriers in accessing the social safety net in partnership with communities, governments, advocates, technologists, organizers, and more.
Ultimately, this work to make access to the social safety net equitable is a story about people. The story of our shared humanity and resilience starts with the simple, yet powerful trust that life will get better if we take one step forward. But for the millions of us who live with, or are at risk of, poverty, that trust is not always there. If we’ve fallen on hard times because systems in America aren’t designed for us to survive, especially because of systemic racism, then that “one step forward” is a precarious one. In fact, most of us in America are close to financial hardship. It’s not an “us” vs. “them” problem. It’s all of us. Our inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness built into America’s founding has been denied to many of us. That promise of America can seem elusive—and self-doubt more cyclical in times of hardship. That resilient step forward—like the one Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. says we should take even if we don’t see the whole staircase— can feel insurmountable.
America’s current realities call for economic justice and trust in equitable paths forward. The resilience and effectiveness of the safety net is a better measure of people’s economic recovery, compared with other economic indicators, such as the stock market or the Gross Domestic Product. Our trust in the social safety net is a measure of our confidence in society. Consider how complex and costly it is to administer benefits in systems with complicated barriers designed to exclude people. Reducing barriers to the social safety net reduces barriers to opportunity.
Our vision: a human-centered safety net—one that is simple and easy for people to access. When delivered effectively, a people-centered safety net can transform lives in meaningful, measurable ways—and therefore, make our systems and society more equitable and resilient.
Programs in this Portfolio
Partnering with communities and government to improve the delivery of food assistance in California.
Making it easier for people and families to access all their benefits in one place.
Working to get people the resources they need in times of crisis—and to use moments of crisis to create long-term transformation.