SAN FRANCISCO, April 6, 2023 – Code for America – the leading civic tech nonprofit that works with community leaders and governments to build equitable, accessible digital tools and services – today released the 2023 Benefits Enrollment Field Guide, a digital visualization tool compiled from primary source data that seeks to increase online benefits application usability and accessibility across all 50 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico.
The Field Guide captures varying approaches to digitizing benefits applications and tracks how states compare across different criteria, including mobile responsiveness, time to completion, Spanish-language support, and more. The interactive tool will help agency leaders, state advocates, researchers, reporters, and others understand what people experience as they try to enroll in benefits like food, cash, medical, and child care assistance nationwide.
“Over the last four years, we have seen dramatic progress as more states are using digital tools to improve the accessibility of critical safety net benefits,” said Amanda Renteria, CEO of Code for America. “We celebrate this work to leverage human-centered technology for government services that can meet people where they are.”
In 2019, Code for America conducted a first-of-its-kind national assessment to evaluate the landscape of public benefits enrollment. Since then, states have implemented new digital approaches to service delivery, including online applications, client portals, and self-service features, both as part of emergency pandemic response and long-standing efforts to make it easier to access benefits.
The updated assessment uncovered key findings about the state of safety net benefits applications, including:
- Online applications are significantly more widespread than four years ago. Nearly 77% of the safety net programs analyzed now have applications online, and, of those, 2 out of 3 can be filled out on a mobile phone.
- Improved customer experience is not a red state or blue state issue. From Mississippi to Massachusetts and Kentucky to New Mexico, states are adding features that make applications far easier to fill out and submit.
- Integrated benefits applications are becoming the norm, not the exception. More than 30 states now have a single integrated benefits application where people can apply for three or more benefits programs at the same time. This reduces the burden on applicants who are eligible for multiple programs.
- States sometimes still make benefits enrollment unnecessarily difficult. About half of benefits programs’ websites analyzed can’t be easily accessed with a mobile phone, nearly 70% of benefits applications require burdensome account registrations, which often involve completing a multi-step process before people can view an application, and many applications still are not available in Spanish or other languages.
The process of enrolling in and maintaining safety net benefits is time-consuming and confusing for millions of people in America who rely on public benefits for critical food and housing assistance, medical care, and other safety net services. For states, paper processes and outdated technology can create unnecessary workloads, leading to caseworker burnout, churn, and processing delays. The combined result is billions of dollars in public benefits left on the table each year.
Code for America is committed to working shoulder to shoulder with government partners to reimagine and redesign the social safety net. In 2022, the nonprofit launched the Safety Net Innovation Lab, a multi-year initiative to unlock $30 billion in benefits across 15 states. Those interested in partnering with Code for America can find out more here.
About Code for America
Code for America, a nonprofit founded in 2009, believes that government can work for the people, and by the people, in the digital age. We work with government at all levels across the country to make the delivery of public services equitable with technology. We work with community organizations and governments to build digital tools, change policies, and improve programs. Our goal: a resilient government that effectively and equitably serves everyone. Learn more at codeforamerica.org.