In the United States, the social safety net is composed of more than 80 services. Programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and Medicaid aim to lift almost 50 million Americans above the poverty line each year. But tens of millions of those people are still falling through the cracks.
Imagine you are a single parent who lost your job. You are working to make ends meet as you balance rent, bills, and other basic needs. Access to both food assistance and healthcare is huge—while it may not solve everything, it will make things easier for your family while you come up with a plan. But in many states, the process of applying for and maintaining benefits is complicated and time-consuming. Barriers cause many people to drop out of the application process. Millions are prevented from accessing the range of benefits that would effectively meet their needs. We can change that.
We need to break down these barriers so that applying for benefits is easier and faster for applicants—and more effective and less costly for states. The Integrated Benefits program uses technology to design a more people-centered social safety net.
We’re currently working side by side with the state of Minnesota to create an integrated benefit application that puts people first. MNBenefits.org is an easy-to-use, all-in-one application for safety net benefits like SNAP, cash assistance, childcare assistance, housing support, and Medicaid. Minnesota residents in four counties—representing 30% of all people applying for benefits in the state—can now apply for benefits through the site. The goal of this work is to expand statewide, and reduce the time to apply for these benefits from 110 minutes to less than 20 minutes with positive outcomes for clients and caseworkers.
Since 2017, the Integrated Benefits program has been partnering with states to combine the application processes for healthcare, food, childcare, and cash benefits. We piloted this strategy with state governments and civic tech allies in Michigan, Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana, and Vermont. Along with our partners in this work—the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Nava Public Benefit Corporation, and Civilla—we gained a realistic view of the challenges and opportunities in integrating benefits.
This work is only possible through collaboration with state agencies that are ready and willing to shift services to meet people where they are. In Michigan, we helped create a streamlined process for SNAP and Medicaid applicants—and the application now takes less than 20 minutes to complete. Our work with Louisiana gave state agencies the tools to deliver services during COVID-19, including text messages sent to more than 400,000 people with SNAP benefits to help them stay enrolled.
We are redesigning how people access social safety net benefits in states across the country.
- Strategic field research. We conduct state-based field research to help agency leaders. With our assistance, they can uncover new opportunities, understand the challenges that caseworkers face, and identify the evidence-based paths toward truly integrated benefits delivery.
- Service delivery. Based on the findings of field research, we will rapidly prototype open-source tools and comprehensive digital service delivery in partnership with state agencies. Each prototype and product seeks to create a more people-centered benefit system.
- Collaborative convenings. We want to share our open-source software and the insights our work generates. We convene leaders across local, state, and federal government to build connections and leverage what works.
These principles represent Code for America’s vision for Integrated Benefits. At the center of our work, we respect the needs and experiences of clients, caseworkers, and state and federal leaders. Everything about a system should meet those needs, from the people involved, to the policies and technology used. We are putting the needs of people first to ensure that when families need help, it is easily accessible.
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