Message from our CEO
This has been a tough year to say the least.
COVID-19 triggered the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Each week, nearly a million individuals are filing their first jobless claim, for a total of 44 million people claiming unemployment benefits. Today, one in eight Americans is experiencing food insecurity. The crisis has impacted every aspect of life, and once again, the most marginalized have been hit the hardest.
And each and every one of us has been called to do all that we can in this moment.
I am humbled and proud to lead an organization of people who care about helping others. In these times, we need more caring… and more doing. Our ethos at Code for America has always been about jumping in and doing the work to make things better. We knew that COVID-19 would require an immediate shift for us to do more, and do it faster. We expanded our programs, increased our outreach to more families, and assisted state administrators throughout the country to provide food and cash assistance. In total, Code for America served over 6 million people in partnership with governments and millions more through our volunteer network across the US. As I reflect on our work and the community that came together to help others, I remain hopeful about our collective future.
I am under no illusions that the next several months may be our hardest yet, but I also know that we have seen remarkable, resilient acts of courage, stamina, and change. We have seen governments fast-track policy to feed more families, we have watched community organizations come together to find solutions, and we have surfaced racial equity needs to address systemic racism. This is why I have hope. We are capable of changing the country―one person, one program, and one system at a time.
Please join me in reflecting on our year, and please consider partnering with us by making a donation.
Thank you for caring. Thank you for being on this journey with us.
Chief Executive Officer
Take a second to imagine with us:
- Imagine if we had been prepared to operate in a fully digital world before the pandemic―we could have shifted to a new normal to keep people from facing hunger or housing shortages.
- Imagine if we had a safety net that treated everyone with dignity and respect, and lifted people up in difficult times―we would have delivered services to those in need instead of hundreds of thousands of families lined up in cars waiting for food.
- Imagine if we had a just justice system―we would have automatic record clearance in every state in the country and no one would be held back because of an old record.
- Imagine if every community had a citizen-led, digital-ready Brigade to help fill needed gaps―we would have an active mutual aid network ready to help local governments address and anticipate evolving community needs.
This is the kind of government we are working toward―a government by the people, for the people in the digital age.
This year we have partnered with more governments, community advocates, volunteers, civic tech organizations, and supporters to meet the needs of the country. We are grateful to everyone who has been in the trenches with us, and we stand with you in partnership to create a resilient government we can all be proud of.
An Unprecedented Year in Review
Thank you for supporting our work at this critical time in order to serve over 6 million people who needed food and cash assistance, as well as supporting the 25,000 volunteer-strong Brigade Network that stepped in to help local communities all across the country.
Despite the challenges of 2020, we continued to show what’s possible, by designing services so good they inspire change; help others do this work themselves, to make change stick; and build a movement, to change systems for generations to come. And, we stayed true to our principles:
This year, more than any other, our five principles held strong and influenced others as we scaled our work to more states and program areas.
Helping over 3 million people access food benefits
GetCalFresh.org is a program that has helped millions of families access food through the US Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program.
This year, our outreach and enrollment assistance processed an unprecedented volume of applications. Before COVID-19, we averaged about 2,000 applications per day; on May 22, 2020, we received a record 13,083 in a single day. As of the time of this report, our applications continue to track at three times the pre-COVID volume. To date, GetCalFresh has helped more people gain access to food assistance in 2020 than in the last five years combined.
We also helped GetCalFresh applicants access other benefits and services, including assistance with voter registration. In this pilot phase, we registered over 8,500 people to vote. In 2021, we will continue exploring opportunities to expand access to benefits while anticipating the high volumes for GetCalFresh services to remain throughout the year.
Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) was a new federal program authorized in March to assist the more than 30 million families who rely on School Meal Programs by providing cash-equivalent benefits for groceries while schools were closed.
At the onset of P-EBT, states struggled with multiple and unprecedented challenges due the increase in need, rigidity of procurement contracts, lack of clear guidance, and difficulty with old data systems, just to name a few. We worked across the country, providing technical assistance and implementation support to reach as many kids as possible in multiple states. In addition to offering implementation assistance to a handful of states, we built a digital P-EBT application for families in California and Minnesota that helped distribute over $619 million in benefits.
Putting cash relief into the hands of families with low income
GetYourRefund.org is the first-ever free mobile app that helps families with low income complete government forms to access all tax benefits, including this year’s $1,200 stimulus program.
One of the most effective anti-poverty programs is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Unfortunately, one in five families who are eligible for EITC do not claim it, leaving more than $10 billion in unclaimed tax benefits every year.
In the spring, after Congress authorized the disbursement of economic stimulus payments, our GetYourRefund platform became a critical entry point for millions of people to access their stimulus checks. Additionally, we quickly learned that people needed one-on-one guidance, especially new filers. In response, we built a volunteer infrastructure by partnering with Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites around the county and tapped into our national volunteer network to provide one-on-one help by chat and phone.
By the end of the tax year, we had over 2.2 million site visitors, 500,000 visitors helped, 945 tax prep volunteers, 55 active tax prep partners, and $62 million in flexible cash distributed to families.
Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants (DRAI) was a short-term, California-based emergency cash assistance program for immigrant families.
During this pandemic, immigrant communities have faced more hardship because of their ineligibility to access unemployment benefits and other relief assistance under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. In response, a number of states stepped up to provide relief assistance.
Per the invitation of the State of California, Code for America built an agile enrollment and disbursement system that helped community-based organizations distribute disaster relief cash of up to $1,000 per household to undocumented adults who experienced economic hardship as a result of COVID-19.
In just 35 days, we created a customized system for local organizations to effectively serve communities living in the shadows. The system was carefully crafted to maintain security and garner trust and respect in the community. In total, DRAI distributed $75 million to 150,000 undocumented individuals. The success of DRAI led to similar efforts to provide immigrants with cash relief in Washington State and Detroit, Michigan as well.
Designing a human-centered, integrated application, that takes less than 20 minutes
Integrated Benefits is the execution of a vision to have one simple, accessible application process for safety net benefits. In 2019, we piloted a few state processes and released a nationwide analysis of safety net benefits in each state. The research garnered a good deal of attention in the civic tech ecosystem and inspired the team to deepen state relationships to show the tangible benefits of integrating systems.
Louisiana: We partnered with Louisiana on an initiative to help 100,000 Louisiana residents enrolled in WIC, SNAP, TANF, and Medicaid maintain their benefits with timely and specific text message reminders when paperwork was due. Shortly thereafter, Louisiana used lessons from the pilot to deliver services during COVID-19, including text messaging more than 400,000 SNAP recipients for continuity of benefits and hiring SNAP clients to provide direct feedback on policy and messaging.
Minnesota: In close partnership with Minnesota administrators, we are working together to reduce application time for food, cash, and healthcare benefits. By using a human-centered, integrated application process, we are reducing the time from 110 minutes to less than 20 minutes. As of September 2020, the new application (MNbenefits.org) is live in pilot counties, and we are preparing to scale the service statewide in 2021.
Automatic Record Clearance
Stopping a record from becoming a life sentence
Clear My Record is our initiative to leverage technology and design to advance automatic record clearance and help government clear all eligible criminal records in the US.
The success of our California pilots set the standard for automatic record clearance and paved the way for greater impact nationally. This year we have deepened our coalition efforts as part of the Clean Slate Initiative to more effectively scale. Despite court closures and legislative delays due to the pandemic, the team successfully passed new state laws, implemented automatic clearance processes, and researched new ways of empowering those directly impacted by the justice system.
In September, the coalition celebrated a huge win in Michigan when the governor signed into law a package of clean slate policies that will pave the way for hundreds of thousands of people to have their criminal records cleared automatically. We expect to influence the design of Clean Slate policies in 10+ states through the end of 2021.
With the help of our Clear My Record technology, district attorneys across California have identified approximately 144,000 marijuana convictions to be reduced or dismissed from people’s records, representing two-thirds of all eligible marijuana convictions in the state.
Local Brigades, Community Fellowships, Volunteer Mobilization, and National Convenings
Building a civic tech community engaged with local leaders to solve problems
Our Network consists of 25,000+ Brigade volunteers, 90 chapters nationwide, and 12 Community Fellows in four cities. The pandemic has underscored the importance of local, resident-led organizing. Our 25,000 volunteer-strong Brigade Network partnered with community organizations and local leaders to create over 100 active rapid response projects across the US, ranging from high-tech hospital modeling projects to low-tech mutual aid efforts.
A few highlights this year were:
- The creation of a core team that helped spur 100+ Rapid Response projects, and elevated these projects for replication and redeployment.
- A partnership with Mapbox, World Central Kitchen, and FEMA to crowdsource official school data on the availability of free or reduced-priced meals to families around the country.
- A partnership with Vote.org in which Brigade volunteers updated information on Vote.org’s website that provided voting information to people across the country, helping over 3.2 million people access accurate voting information.
- Project canvasses for Local Transparency, Accountability, and the Fight for Racial Justice for the creation of projects to address racial justice across the country.
In addition, our Community Fellowships launched in October, with 12 new Fellows representing Adams County, Colorado; Fort Collins, Colorado; Santa Barbara County, California; and Oakland, California. This year, for the very first time in our organization’s history, all fellows have direct project-related lived experience. Their work ranges from creating a single digital application for all income-qualified programs to reducing recidivism by improving quality of life programs to increasing outreach and simplifying access for homeless services and programs.
Finally, our flagship Code for America Summit that was set to be in our nation’s Capitol was canceled due to COVID-19. While we were sad not to bring the community together in person, we’ve found new opportunities to create community and knowledge sharing opportunities—virtually throughout the year. We plan to launch our very first virtual Summit on May 12–13, 2021.
A National Civic Tech Conversation
The lessons we’ve learned over the last decade have become more valuable since the COVID-19 crisis hit as how-to guides, research templates, and knowledge pieces that can advance human-centered design and scale impact and outcomes.
We welcome you to share these publications widely and look forward to your involvement in future events.
We’re incredibly proud of all of the strides we made in 2020, which would not have been possible without your support.