At the core of our mission here at Code for America is the intent to work shoulder to shoulder with government partners to bring their ideas for improvements to life. To do this, we follow our values of listening first, then acting with intention. But how do we move between the two? It’s critical that we take the insights and research we gather in the discovery phase of a project and bring them with us as we shift towards actionable next steps where we deliver on our promise to make government work better for everyone.
We’re excited to be in this very step with a few states right now. Last year, we launched the Safety Net Innovation Lab—a six-year initiative to partner with 15 states to reach 13 million people and unlock $30 billion in benefits across food assistance, health care, and other basic needs. Since then, we’ve worked with the first cohort of five states to improve different moments across the benefits journey, from accessing safety net programs to renewing benefits.
Over the past year, Code for America teams have been engaged in on the ground and remote research to gain a holistic understanding of each states’ service delivery operations and identify the greatest opportunities for positive impact. During discovery sprints, we spoke with caseworkers, community based organizations, and safety net clients to learn about their enrollment experiences and uncover barriers to access. Over the course of discovery our service designers, researchers, and data scientists worked to define possible interventions, and tested these ideas through small pilots and simple prototypes.
Through this process, we were able to surface the most impactful solutions to improve the benefits delivery experience for both caseworkers and clients in each state. We’re excited to share how these states are taking these projects from discovery to delivery.
At the core of our mission here at Code for America is the intent to work shoulder to shoulder with government partners to bring their ideas for improvements to life.
California: Making it easier to apply for food assistance
Moving from a legacy application to a new portal is a challenge that can be disruptive for both government caseworkers and the clients they serve. That’s why we’re supporting California’s transition to BenefitsCal, their new online client portal where we’re bringing together three separate systems across 58 counties into one streamlined platform. We’re also helping to build staff capacity and skills to make client-centered improvements in a sustainable way. For example, we’re sharing our lessons on how best to ask about income on the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or CalFresh, application. This will help applicants more easily enroll and receive benefits, and reduce the amount of calls county workers receive on this topic.
Colorado: Improving SNAP interview rates with texts
Paper-based communications sent through traditional mail can be slow to arrive. This impacts clients’ ability to receive information about and respond to scheduled interview appointments. That’s why we work with states to deploy tools like texting, which can ensure clients receive timely notices about important benefits information, like interview appointments or paperwork due dates.
We’re partnering with Boulder County and Colorado’s Program Eligibility and Application Kit (PEAK), the state’s integrated benefits application and online benefits management system, and together, we’ve embarked on a texting pilot to strengthen client communications and improve SNAP interview completion rates. Ultimately, we will use this pilot as a case study to improve two-way texting and help clients complete critical steps in their benefits journey. We will also be working to help Colorado set up and gather client feedback to continue improving PEAK.
Connecticut: Helping SNAP clients renew through texts
In partnership with the Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS), we are sending more than 20,000 texts in a text message pilot program to help DSS communicate renewal reminders to SNAP clients in a more efficient and equitable way. These text reminders provide clear instructions that help SNAP recipients easily renew and maintain their benefits—and we know from previous experiments with texting that having this information readily available on a mobile phone makes an enormous difference in client renewal and retention rates. We also worked with the state to communicate details about the upcoming texting program to participants, so they knew to expect the incoming texts.
Our Texting Playbook has the best practices for using text messages to help SNAP, Medicaid, and other safety net clients renew their benefits. Download the full Playbook for policy guidance and steps to get started.
Louisiana: Improving client notifications
Paper notices, such as cover letters, enrollment instructions, and client forms, are a critical way states communicate with clients, but they often have complex and confusing language. We know these can be better—especially if states use plain language, follow user experience (UX) design best practices, and get feedback from community members about things that are hard to understand. With this knowledge, we’ve helped Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services improve several notices across SNAP, Kinship Care Subsidy Program (KCSP), and the Family Independence Temporary Assistance Program (FITAP).
Minnesota: Making Medicaid renewals easier with plain language
Losing benefits because of a missed renewal step can be devastating, which is why we work to make renewal notices as easy as possible to understand. We partnered with Minnesota to revamp the state’s Medicaid renewal notices using plain language, clear calls to action, and actionable next steps. Additionally, we added translations for the top three non-English languages spoken in the state—Swahili, Spanish, and Hmong. These updated renewal notices will reach 972,000 Minnesotans.
Throughout all these projects, we are empowering government for action—ensuring they can take their ideas for how to improve the client experience into the next stages of piloting and innovation. The new processes and practices spelled out here—while sometimes seemingly small steps—can make an enormous difference in the lives of people who rely on benefits to thrive. As the Safety Net Innovation Lab enters its second year, we’re excited to work shoulder to shoulder with our government partners to continuously improve and drive impactful change.
Are you a state government official interested in partnering with us to strengthen the safety net? Get in touch.