Building the Roadmap for a Human-Centered Safety Net

Updates from the first cohort of state partners in our Safety Net Innovation Lab

Last spring, we announced a historic investment in Code for America to launch our new Safety Net Innovation Lab (the Lab). Over the next six  years, the Lab will partner with 15 states across the country to advance human-centered benefits delivery and help 13 million people access food assistance, health care, and other basic needs. It’s an enormous step toward achieving our vision of a truly human-centered safety net

The Lab’s reach across a diversity of states  provides a unique opportunity for knowledge sharing, standardizing best practices, and building a movement around a modern, responsive, efficient, and equitable safety net that ensures people’s basic needs are met.  Now, as we enter the fall, we’re ramping up our work in our first five-state cohort and are excited to share the progress we’re making as we reimagine the safety net together. 

Updates from Cohort 1

Our first cohort is currently in the “Insight and Impact” phase, where we’re identifying the most promising opportunity to deliver the biggest impact. 


Our work in California is focused on ​​increasing equitable access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) through government adoption of best practices in digital service delivery. Thus far, our work has centered around the transition to a new, statewide online client portal, BenefitsCal, which delivers multiple benefits to people who need them. We’ve been formalizing best practices and lessons learned from operating GetCalFresh, our simple, mobile-friendly digital SNAP assister, and are working to build government capacity to implement these practices at scale within BenefitsCal. We are also improving outreach to support marginalized populations, such as non-English speakers or those with limited geographic access to live application assistance. 


In Colorado, we aim to improve the digital integrated application experience and create more equitable access to multiple benefits programs. We’re working to reimagine PEAK, the state’s online integrated benefits application, to improve accessibility and the user experience, and to build capacity within government for data-driven continuous improvement. We’re also simplifying and streamlining the digital benefits experience across the existing web application and multiple mobile apps. 


In Connecticut we’re working to reduce SNAP churn, which happens when eligible clients’ benefits are discontinued, but they rejoin the program soon afterward. SNAP clients must submit periodic reports about their income and household status in order to keep receiving benefits, but these reporting requirements are often difficult to understand and comply with—which means that many people lose food benefits without understanding why. We’re working to minimize reporting burden and improve client communications about reporting, including developing a targeted texting strategy that could also reduce churn ahead of the end of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, improving the existing web application, and redesigning the state’s client-facing social services website. 


We’re prioritizing Minnesota’s urgent need to process Medicaid renewals, as well as identifying digital pathways for people to renew their benefit eligibility across healthcare, food assistance, and cash benefit programs more seamlessly. Right now, we’re focused on automating renewals for elderly, blind, and disabled Medicaid participants in a way that reduces burdens equitably. We’re also redesigning the cover page of the Medicaid renewals form to increase renewal actions. Finally, we’re building pathways (or improving existing ones) for digital renewals processes with an eye toward communication methods—including text and email, digital forms, and digital methods to submit verifications. 


Finally, in Louisiana, we’re working to improve the benefits journey for SNAP and other integrated benefits, from both the client and caseworker perspective. We’re currently focused on understanding the benefits journey, including business processes and use of the state’s online integrated benefits application. We want to improve the client and caseworker experience with an emphasis on reducing the time it takes to apply for benefits, and the time it takes to complete and eligibility determination. 

In early 2023, this cohort will move from the Insight and Impact phase to the Design and Deliver phase, where we will work with each state to find solutions and iterate, build, and scale them over a period of 12 to 18 months to ensure the intended client outcomes. 

In addition to our partnerships with individual states, a huge part of the Lab’s work is to support a peer learning model—where states can connect, build technical skills, share common challenges and ideate solutions, and learn from each other. This month, we’re kicking off monthly sessions of virtual cohort gatherings and launching a shared resource repository and a listserv to encourage ongoing connection between meeting touchpoints. We’re excited to share more about what comes out of this cross-state collaboration as we progress in our work with our first cohort of Safety Net Innovation Lab states. 

The Request for Information period for our second cohort has closed, but that doesn’t mean we’re closing our doors to new state engagements! State governments across the country have an open invitation to fill out our partnership form and let us know how we can help you reimagine safety net services—and that invitation extends to federal government employees, other civic tech organizations, and advocates in the benefits space. In the meantime, keep an eye on our blog for more updates from the Innovation Lab, and the announcement of our second cohort of states in 2023.

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