The social safety net can and should work well for everyone. When delivered effectively, a people-centered safety net can transform lives in meaningful, measurable ways.
The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis have highlighted the urgent need for a safety net that serves people well, and with dignity. When millions of people suddenly found themselves in need of government services to meet basic needs, it revealed our nation’s precarious inequality. A resilient and effective safety net provides an equitable path forward. Our trust in the social safety net is a measure of our confidence in society.
But how do we know if government programs like SNAP, Medicaid, and TANF are successful at this goal of effectively, accurately, and equitably serving those who need help most?
In every state, across every social safety net program, raw data is collected and evaluated to determine how well these systems are serving people. The current measurements that are reported, however, are flawed and inadequate in fully assessing these systems. The measures simply do not tell us whether programs deliver services effectively to the people who need them.
But what if we established new, human-centered ways to measure success? What if public servants had the right tools and incentives to provide human-centered services? What if we decided that we are what we measure?
We can reframe what quality service looks like for benefits administration by changing what we measure, placing the needs and experiences of people who need these benefits at the center of the effort to assess performance and delivery.
Eleanor Davis, content and research
Gretchen Raynak, design
Hayden Walker, illustration
Fritz Jooste, web development
Ruthie Reisner and Emma Coleman, editing
Diana Jensen and Ty Cox, research
Jen Wagner and Dottie Rosenbaum, strategic advisors
This project was supported by our generous partners and donors, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Walmart Foundation, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.