Message from our CEO
2021 was a year of transition—for Code for America, and for the country.
From the start, we knew that 2021 would challenge us all—a new year, a changing administration, a teetering economy, and an ongoing pandemic. We also knew our work would be critical for millions of families challenged by health care disparities, historic inequities, economic uncertainty, and outdated government systems. For far too many families, we were the connecting force to help people access government systems providing food, cash, and justice in 2020. So we knew 2021 was our chance to create the understanding, know-how, and proof points for long-term transformation of government systems that serve our most marginalized communities.
I’ve worked in and around government for a long time, so we went into this year clear-eyed on what it would take to meet the moment. The challenge of converting ambitious policy to real delivery of benefits. The difficulty of overcoming intense skepticism in order to earn trust and build effective outreach plans. The careful navigation of legacy systems change and integration to build new methods for service delivery. The culmination of these challenges meant we needed barrier-reducing policy, trusted key partners, empowering messages, and a commitment to human-centered technology that could help people and communities who have been left out for too long.
What our team accomplished in 2021 was nothing short of incredible. In this four-minute video about just one of our amazing stories of impact this year, you can get a sense of the potential of our work. It captures what we proved was possible, but more importantly, it captures our mission: making sure that government effectively and equitably serves everyone.
You can read stories like this across all of our programs in the report below.
Thank you for believing in us, our work, and the possibility of transformative change.
With gratitude and persistent hope,
Chief Executive Officer
CEO Amanda Renteria discusses Code for America’s work to help families access the Child Tax Credit in December 2021
Cumulative impact across Code for America’s four program areas: social safety net, tax benefits, criminal justice, and the Network
Social Safety Net
In 2021, we helped millions access food and other benefits easily and with dignity, while laying the groundwork for expanding our social safety net work nationally.
We helped over 2.8 million people access food benefits and received over 1.5 million SNAP applications.
One year from March 2020, we shared our findings on how the pandemic had affected all of our lives. And we helped show what’s possible when government uses human-centered technology to solve problems by piloting a flexible interview process in Los Angeles County, CA to close the gap between those who need food assistance and those receiving benefits. Learn about our work in LA County.
We created the National Safety Net Scorecard Framework.
In partnership with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Scorecard Framework helped us evaluate the current landscape of benefit delivery and measure progress towards a human-centered safety net. Learn about the Scorecard Framework.
We worked shoulder to shoulder with the state of Minnesota and launched MNbenefits.mn.gov.
The easy-to-use, all-in-one application is available to residents across 80+ counties and 11 Tribal nations applying for nine different benefits programs, and reduces application time from 110 minutes to less than 20 minutes. Read more about our work in Minnesota.
We helped the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania transform the delivery of public benefits and adapt to better meet client needs.
As part of our training and capacity building approach, our project with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services focused on improving the state’s online benefits application experience. Learn about our work in Pennsylvania.
We launched a new initiative to transform America’s social safety net.
In partnership with states across the country, our goal is for government services to be equitable, easy-to-use, and built for the digital age. Learn about the initiative.
In 2021, we connected more people to flexible cash in ways that are free, easy to use, and human-centered—and we did this at a moment of incredible economic uncertainty.
We helped deliver a total of $766 million in flexible cash and helped file 211,000 accepted tax returns.
GetYourRefund delivered an estimated $327 million in flexible cash and accepted 96,000 returns with the support of 5,439 active tax prep volunteers and 85 active tax prep partners. GetCTC delivered an estimated $440 million in Child Tax Credit and stimulus payments claimed by 115,000 families—all in our 10-week pilot launch.
We built GetCTC.org, launched in collaboration with the White House and the US Department of Treasury, to connect more families to the Child Tax Credit and stimulus payments.
The portal was the first of its kind: free to use, accessible on desktops and mobile devices, and available in both English and Spanish. It dramatically reduced client barriers by not requiring any tax documents to file. Read about the GetCTC.org launch.
We showed what’s possible when government uses technology in human-centered, meaningful ways.
GetCTC was the first tool built to truly simplify tax filing for families with low incomes, providing a service that the overwhelming majority of families could finish without assistance in 10-15 minutes on a mobile phone. Read about how we center the needs of clients.
We led a national movement to reach nonfilers, engaging over 200 outreach and navigation partners with toolkits and training sessions.
Though it ran for only 10 weeks, GetCTC helped more than 115,000 families who had never filed before access benefits during a critical period. In the last 28 days of operations, GetCTC was averaging over 2,700 accepted returns per day. Read more about our outreach strategy.
We built and launched the Hub, our own case management system.
It allowed us to continue to scale virtual Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) services at no cost to VITA sites, and supported our transition to directly filing returns ourselves for GetCTC.
2021 was the culmination of several years of work to launch the automatic record clearance movement into the mainstream and define Clear My Record’s value to the criminal justice and automatic record clearance ecosystem.
Clear My Record built and influenced technology that will impact approximately 1 million people.
We developed technology that allowed the Utah courts to implement the Clean Slate Act and provided technical support to pass laws in Connecticut and Delaware. By partnering with government to build and shape technology, we’re showing it’s possible to automatically clear millions of records across the country. Learn more about our work with Utah.
Delaware and Connecticut became the latest states to pass Clean Slate legislation that will automatically clear hundreds of thousands of criminal records.
We collaborated with the Clean Slate Initiative and advocates in Delaware and Connecticut to help make this legislation possible. Learn more about our automatic record clearance work.
We helped shape the federal Fresh Start Act.
Introduced by bipartisan coalition, the bill would allocate $50 million in federal funds to states to fully implement automatic record clearance, including with support from organizations like Code for America.
We spoke to people across the country living with a criminal record.
Listen to our audio series to hear them describe in their own words the impact of their record on their employment prospects, housing, and mental health.
Our mission to inspire change shows up in our Network of thousands of people who are dedicated to using technology for the people, in service of a more just and equitable world. Our Network spans every region of the country, opening doors to scale our vision to hundreds of local communities.
Brigades and our Network continued to deliver support to their communities in year two of a global pandemic.
In 2021, 3,890 volunteers contributed 142,160 volunteer hours, helping 4.5 million people.
We hosted two community-focused events in 2021: National Day of Civic Hacking in September and Brigade Congress in October.
For National Day of Civic Hacking, we tested collective action around reimagining the 911 emergency response system, partnering with the Transform 911 Health Lab at the University of Chicago and coordinating local Code for America Brigades and volunteers. Just one day of collective people power brought together over 1,000 volunteers who reviewed 384 jurisdictions and developed 17 case studies, nine prototype projects and one data analysis project.
In October, Code for Tulsa virtually hosted our annual Brigade Congress on the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, bringing together members of our national Brigade Network to learn about Tulsa’s past, present, and future through the voices of local community activists and leaders.
The Community Fellowship program led four projects in 2021.
- Providing shelter during inclement weather to people experiencing homelessness in Adams County, CO
- Connecting residents with low incomes in Fort Collins, CO with low-cost gigabit internet and other income-qualified city programs
- Pairing people experiencing homelessness in Oakland, CA with on-demand resources based on their geo-location
- Furnishing the justice-impacted community with resources to reduce recidivism and improve quality of life in Santa Barbara, CA
In Adams County, Fellows developed an app that enabled the county to take their emergency weather motel shelter program into the field to distribute digital vouchers directly to those in need, preventing 7,471 nights of unsheltered homelessness. The remaining three projects were extended for an additional six to nine months for further development. Read more about the Community Fellowship project in Adams County.
We reset our vision for the Network to focus on making impact through direct partnership with community based organizations, organizing collective action, and scaling the principles and values of Code for America.
Our new vision recognizes our unique strengths in the civic technology ecosystem as the only organization for civic technologists to explore their potential without prohibitive barriers to entry. Our new vision identifies ways to scale Code for America’s philosophy and methodology by learning, iterating, and piloting new approaches through our distributed Network. More to come in 2022!
2021 was a banner year in the broader ecosystem of governments, community-based organizations, and individuals dedicated to delivering on the principles and practices of human-centered government—our vision for how government can and should serve the public in the digital age.
With a new presidential administration came a focus on equity, and the recognition that government has a history of institutional injustice and disparities, particularly by race and ethnicity. A new cadre of federal public servants brought renewed energy to carrying out their policy agenda—and they’re considering the technology, data, and implementation aspects of those policies.
And, as we all experienced the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a continued need for efficient, effective digital service delivery to ensure government can support individuals and families when they need help most.
At Code for America, we took significant efforts to mobilize the civic tech ecosystem and move government toward an equitable, accountable, and adaptable future.
2021 was our first all-virtual Code for America Summit, with the theme “designing an equitable government together.”
Former Mayor of Stockton, Michael Tubbs, in conversation with Code for America CEO, Amanda Renteria, during Code for America Summit 2021
More than 1,500 registrants from 48 states, 30% of whom were public servants, participated in this three-day event across a series of mainstage and track keynotes focused around Design+Delivery, Tech+Policy, Operations+Management, Civic Innovation+Data, plus breakout sessions and workshops. Our attendees included a lot of new faces—78% were first-time participants.
Featured speakers included USDA Deputy Under Secretary Stacey Dean, Co-Founder of US Digital Corps Chris Kuang, Clean Slate Initiative Executive Director Sheena Meade, and Special Advisor to the Governor of California and former Mayor of Stockton Michael Tubbs, with appearances by GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.
We made a conscious effort to join and lead several partnerships.
We joined new and burgeoning coalitions, partnerships, and initiatives such as the For The People exchange, United States of Technologists, Technologists for the Public Good, and Broadband Equity for All, and continued our membership in The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. We also completed the pilot phase of the Opportunity Accelerator, a new partnership of government improvement organizations focused on community-based work advancing racial equity and economic mobility.
We directly influenced decision-makers.
In 2021, we:
- Advised senior leadership from the White House and federal, state, and local agencies and departments
- Submitted public responses to federal Requests for Information on equity topics from the Office of Management and Budget and United States Department of Agriculture
- Advised on technical topics informing the content of the State and Local Digital Service Act of 2021
- Testified directly in front of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Rules and Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations
We answered hundreds of questions from governments around the country on immediately relevant topics such as:
- Community outreach and engagement
- Digital communication methods
- Centering people with lived experience
- Procuring technology solutions in an agile, iterative, data-driven way
- Hiring tech talent
- Digitizing paper processes
- Managing cost
We became the first civic technology nonprofit to voluntarily recognize a union, welcoming Code for America Workers United.
By staying true to our values and ensuring that everyone in our organization is intentionally included and represented, we hope to serve as a model for other public interest technology organizations and workers.
2021 was also a year of evolution for the Code for America brand. We wanted to go deeper than refreshing our visual identity—so we worked to rearticulate the core values that drive our work toward a resilient government that effectively and equitably serves everyone. We have made significant progress in diversifying Code for America—but we know from our 2020 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion report we still have room to grow.
Our work is only possible thanks to the generosity of individuals and organizations who have contributed to our vision for human-centered government. Every dollar invested in Code for America unlocks $250 in benefits for individuals and families with low or moderate incomes. Here are some highlights from just a few donors who supported our work in 2021.
Blue Meridian Partners
Blue Meridian Partners’s investment in Code for America is supporting our multi-year initiative to transform America’s social safety net and advance the equitable delivery of government services. This is the first major nationwide plan by a civic tech organization to reimagine our safety net to be people-centered and accessible to all–especially those who have been marginalized and excluded. We will work with state agencies and community organizations to improve the delivery of essential safety net benefits—such as food assistance and medical care—that promote the health, wellbeing, and economic mobility of children, adults, and seniors.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Code for America’s tax benefits work is generously supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Their support helped us build and manage GetYourRefund and GetCTC, which connect individuals and families to the benefits they deserve. GetCTC.org launched in August 2021 and has connected over 115,000 families to more than $440 million in Child Tax Credit and stimulus payments. Recognizing that many benefits are tied to tax filing, the foundation also supports our outreach efforts to reach non-filers. We are grateful for their support!
The Walmart Foundation was a founding investor in Code for America’s Integrated Benefits work, and has been a core supporter of the Safety Net portfolio for the past five years. In 2021, their investment helped us create and publish a National Safety Net Scorecard Framework in partnership with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. For this project, we synthesized the available existing metrics that are used to assess safety net benefits nationally, and built an ideal Scorecard Framework that offers a roadmap for assessing safety net delivery in a more meaningful, equitable, and effective way. The Walmart Foundation is also a major supporter of our national safety net expansion efforts, and we truly appreciate their generosity.
United Way Bay Area
United Way Bay Area has supported and partnered with us to help Bay Area residents with low incomes file taxes and access much needed benefits. With their support in 2021, our GetYourRefund service distributed $9.8 million in tax benefits, and our targeted outreach methods resulted in over 10,000 Bay Area clients starting the GetYourRefund intake process for full service Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. United Way Bay Area’s partnership and investment has also allowed us to gain important learnings on how to reach individuals and families with low incomes, helping us further hone our strategies to ensure everyone can access the benefits they deserve.
We are grateful for the contributions of our individual donors who stepped up during our three fundraising campaigns in 2021. Thanks to several individuals, all contributions to Code for America made during these campaigns were matched. During our Summit Challenge in May, DJ Patil matched donations, and Ross Dakin was our match donor for our fall fundraising campaign. The end of year fundraising campaign was matched by Bill Janeway and Fred and Wendy Goldberg. We are grateful for their generosity and for inspiring our donor base to support our mission.
Code for America leadership
Amanda Renteria, Chief Executive Officer
Arlene Corbin Lewis, Chief Communications and Marketing Officer
Emily K. Tracy, Chief Revenue Officer
Leslie Campbell, Chief of People, Equity, and Operations
Lou Moore, Chief Technology Officer
Ryan Ko, Chief of Staff
Amanda Renteria, Chief Executive Officer
Jennifer Pahlka, Founder
Jim Shelton, Board Observer
John Lilly, Board Chair
Katie Biber, Board Secretary
Shona Brown, Board Treasurer
Tim O’Reilly, Board Member
Wendy De La Rosa, Board Member
What the future holds
It’s an exciting time to be a leader in the civic tech ecosystem.
As technology has become more integrated into our daily lives, and with the stunning upheaval caused by the pandemic, the idea that government should work well in the digital age has garnered more and more support.
What was once a cluster of digital corps is now a robust ecosystem of organizations, individuals, and government partners with:
- More interest in and recognition of the importance of civic and government tech.
- More investment in civic and government tech.
- More coalitions around common goals.
- More pathways in than ever before for diverse talent and those with lived experience.
- More connections and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion than ever—but there is still much more work to do.
We’re entering a landscape in 2022 where new policy windows are open and more systems change is possible—and we’ve garnered enough proof points and influence to be a meaningful force in driving it.
We believe that human-centered government—that learns and designs from lived experiences and knows how to get implementation right—can fundamentally transform the relationship between people and their government. It can help restore faith in our institutions and deliver more equitable outcomes for millions of people in America.
The civic tech community is in position to build a path forward that will have impact for generations. Code for America has been championing the principles of human-centered government for years. We are proud to be a leader in creating the foundation for that change and are ready to continue the work.