For people who believe deeply in government and its potential as a force for equality, justice, and stability, you might assume that 2019 was a challenging year for us at Code for America.
And in some ways, you would be right: 2019 was a year when government disenfranchised eligible voters from participating in the political process, made it more difficult to receive healthcare and food assistance in times of need, and treated immigrants and their children in unspeakable ways.
At Code for America, we begin 2020 full of gratitude and hope. Because alongside these heartbreaks and challenges, the 10-year-old experiment that is Code for America, founded on the core belief that government can work, for the people and by the people, in the digital age, is changing millions of lives. We’re making critical safety net benefits work the way they should: simply, clearly, and effectively. We’re clearing convictions from people’s records and removing barriers to housing, jobs, and other opportunities. And we’re mobilizing volunteers around this work in all corners of the country.
Our vision is to make government work better for those who need it most by building services around people—and this vision for a delivery-driven government increasingly the standard by which governments are holding themselves accountable.
And this movement, our national Network of civic technologists, researchers, advocates, public servants, designers and developers who every day engage in the generational work of making government work for people who need it most—is growing, maturing, diversifying and becoming more inclusive and accountable.
We look forward to celebrating our 10th anniversary with all of you throughout 2020, but first let’s look back at a few highlights from 2019.
Showing what’s possible by designing services so good they inspire change
In June, GetCalFresh expanded to every county in California in three different languages—and in 2019 alone we helped more than 1 million people apply for food benefits! For a project that started as a rogue experiment to show that applying for food assistance could be dramatically better for applicants and more effectively administered, we’ve come a long way.
In October, we kicked off a new pilot focused on the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Along with SNAP, EITC is one of the most effective anti-poverty programs in the United States, yet one-fifth of eligible low-income households are missing out on this opportunity. We’re hoping to leverage everything we’ve learned about redesigning the SNAP experience to help close this gap, help low-income workers and their families, and show how efficient and respectful government service can be when we design them for people.
Helping others do this work themselves, to make change real
Our efforts to fundamentally rethink the record clearance process prove that it’s not as simple as just digitizing the government we have today. After clearing over 75,000 criminal convictions through a five-county Clear My Record Automatic pilot, we released a guide and open-source software to empower the rest of the California counties to do it themselves—and demonstrate that government can make good on its promises.
In August, our Integrated Benefits team launched a 50-state assessment project on the national landscape of social safety net benefit delivery, and we were immediately inundated with requests from agency leaders and advocates across the country looking for more information on how their state stacked up against the rest. The team has presented in front of more than a dozen states detailing an analysis of their state’s application process from the user perspective, helped identify roadblocks and barriers, and support in learning how their enrollment systems can become more human-centered.
Building a movement that makes change stick
In September, the Code for America Brigade volunteers held a day of “Civic Action for Justice” in partnership with National Expungement Week. They held 43 events across 30 states, bringing more than 1,000 volunteers together to create journey maps, service usability scorecards, and digital “know your rights” resources for those seeking conviction relief. The Network’s first collective day of action exemplified government working better for people because it’s done by people.
In May, we hosted our biggest Summit yet, convening over 1,350 attendees from around the world to share ideas and common struggles, and brainstorm solutions to break through some of government’s toughest challenges. Summit attendees reported myriad ways they will bring lessons learned back to their day-to-day work, from procurement models and design thinking to an increased commitment to outcomes-driven and user-centered service design.
Join us in D.C. in March for our first-ever Summit on the East Coast!
Code for America was founded on the belief that the principles and practices of the digital age could make government work for and by the people. Our founder was obsessed with the idea that bringing a user-centered, data-driven, and iterative approach into government could also help create a more just and equitable society.
Today, the fight for government that works for people is in many ways even more critical than it was ten years ago.
There is much work still to be done. But with your support, we can do it.