What it means
All touchpoints in the eligibility process should be quick, easy to understand, and clearly communicate outcomes and next steps. Clients should be guided through these simple actions in a way that asks clearly for necessary information and reduces errors in applications and renewals, saving time and confusion for caseworkers who can then help more clients through the process.
Online, we should create an experience that is user-friendly, and that doesn’t require overly complex interactions. Many clients are eligible for multiple benefits programs that require the same documentation, and the process of applying for them should be streamlined.
Why it matters
- Case Workers
- State Leaders
“I need to apply for SNAP, Medicaid, and WIC in my state, but that would take over two hours to complete—and that’s not even including scheduling the interview or reaching out for help. Between my two jobs and taking care of my kids, I don’t have enough time to complete this complicated process.”
Case workers say:
“I want to spend less time answering client questions about routine tasks, correcting errors in applications and renewals, and following up with clients to request additional documentation, verify income or asset details, etc. It would be better if clients could complete the process easily the first time without my help.”
State leaders say:
“If our state’s system is simple and easy for clients to complete, they can more successfully maintain benefits. Not only that, but caseworkers will be able to manage more cases at once—which means increased capacity without increasing staff.”
How to do it
1. Integrate multiple benefits programs into one seamless application.
Make it simple for clients to apply to multiple programs at once by bringing all applications into one central, easily accessible online portal.
- Create one entry point into multiple programs with one clean homepage that introduces all programs.
- Instead of making clients tell you which programs they want to apply to, let them tell you about their circumstances and then tell them which programs they’re eligible for.
- Coordinate correspondence and processes for the various programs. For instance, coordinate renewal timelines so that clients don’t need to renew separately for different programs just weeks apart.
- Address information silos: Any caseworker should be able to answer basic questions about the major benefits programs, not just the one they administer.
2. Enable document upload in the application.
Applicants should be able to quickly and easily submit supporting documents
- Take advantage of the fact that most phones have a camera: web applications should enable residents to take photos of documents and upload them directly.
- If clients do not have their documents with them at the time of application, they should receive simple reminders to upload documents, and be provided with an easy way to upload them via mobile phone at a later time.
3. Promote a simple and clean user workflow in all forms and applications.
Make it as easy as possible to work through all of the questions in an application or form.
- Phrase simple, short and direct questions and then provide clarifying context in visually distinct copy beneath the primary question.
- Sometimes less is more: Include only a few prompts or questions per screen to avoid confusion.
- Each screen should have a single, obvious, primary call to action.
- Organize questions around topics, not people: ask all questions about a given topic—health, money, housing, etc.—collectively for all applicants or household members instead of going person-by-person.
- When asking about household size, always clarify that the applicant should include themselves. Patiently explain program-specific definitions of household composition.
- On the application, note when certain piece of information will help their case and when it’s ok if they don’t have exact numbers.
- Use existing data where possible. Don’t ask a client for information that you already have.
- No dead ends: Allow people to progress through and submit the application even if they can’t answer a question.
What we measure
Decreased Time to Completion
Enrollment applications and renewals should be completed in under 20 minutes, even for multiple programs.
Improved Accuracy of Verifications
Procedural or administrative denials should impact less than 20% of eligible applicants.
Increased Customer Satisfaction
Customer satisfaction ratings should be at least 80% across all channels.
Michigan: Designing Clear and Concise Application Questions
In this Integrated Benefits Initiative pilot (run in partnership with Civilla), one of the most important design principles in our digital assister was to ask questions in ways that clients could understand, prompting them to take simple actions while still getting caseworkers the information they needed to make timely, accurate decisions. This pilot reduced time to completion to 10 minutes on average, while also decreasing the number of days it took caseworkers to make a determination.
GetCalFresh: The Application Workflow
Our earliest work to enroll eligible Californians in CalFresh started with a single-page web form with the only four questions. From this place of simplicity, we added questions over time based on feedback and our growing knowledge of which simple actions could boost application success. For instance, this constant iteration focused on supporting simple client actions ultimately increased the number of document verifications submitted with our applications by over 60%.
Vermont: Simple Ways to Submit Documents
This Integrated Benefits Initiative pilot, led by Nava Public Benefit Corporation, tackled the challenge of finding simple actions for submitting and processing eligibility documents that didn’t require mail or an office visit. Nava pioneered a quick and easy way to upload documents from a smartphone or computer that integrated seamlessly with Vermont systems and workflow, reducing the average times to both submit and process documents.