Success story

Using Text Messages to Support Benefits Renewals in Connecticut

We partnered with the state to make it easier for families to find and maintain the benefits they’re eligible for

Impact

  • We helped deliver $4.8 million in SNAP benefits by texting clients.
  • We delivered text messages to 43,000+ households over a three-month pilot with the state.
  • Text messages significantly increased awareness of the state’s mobile-friendly client portal for social services.

The challenge

People eligible for government benefits programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are required to periodically renew their benefits to maintain eligibility. When they miss a renewal their benefits are temporarily discontinued and they have to reapply for the program(s). This process is known as “churn” and not only has a destabilizing effect on clients’ lives, but requires extra administrative work from both clients and government caseworkers. There are various reasons a client might miss a renewal, but perhaps the most common is that they didn’t realize it was time to renew their benefits and missed the window.  

In 2022, as part of our Safety Net Innovation Lab, we partnered with Connecticut to launch their texting practice and support families with timely, actionable information to access and maintain their benefits. We worked with the Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS) to build trust with their clients through this new communication channel.

Our approach

As with all of our work, we started with a discovery process to surface key pain points in the benefits renewal process for both clients and DSS caseworkers, and conducted in-depth qualitative research interviews with both groups. Throughout that research, we heard a few common themes: 

  • Awareness is key to trustworthiness. People have experience with receiving many robocalls and spam texts, and they need to have confidence that the message they’re receiving from government isn’t a scam. We’d need to give clients advanced notice of the new program through already trusted communication channels and share specific details about what to look for, such as the number the texts would come from. 
  • Frontline workers should be included in the creation of new systems. Bringing caseworkers into the design process from the beginning gives them the information they need to answer questions from their clients, and helps ensure the system truly meets the needs of both clients and staff.
  • Monitor clients’ reactions to text messages. Continuing research with clients after texts are sent can reveal where they are confused and hesitant, and can set clear next steps for a new communication system. This feedback could also reveal where other barriers were occurring in the application and renewal process, and support further refinements in the wording and timing of text messages. 

In order to build awareness around the new texting program, we first relied on the state’s existing, trusted communications streams. This was in direct response to client feedback, with clients telling us that they would be wary of a text allegedly coming from the state if they’d received no advanced notice.

We worked with DSS to send paper notices about the new texting system inside SNAP renewal packets, launch a multi-channel media campaign online and in field offices, and distribute informational materials to field office staff who might receive phone calls from clients about the program. (Thankfully, our proactive communications largely kept this from happening, and also kept clients from falling for scam texts that were sent around the time of our launch.) 

We also conducted research to get feedback from clients about the content and timing of the messages. We included the client’s full name and last four digits of their client ID to bolster trust, followed by a reminder message. Clients told us that they wanted the wording to be as simple, clear, and actionable as possible. 

While we originally intended to start this as a smaller pilot, sending 10,000 texts per month, the launch coincided with the ending of the COVID-19 public health emergency which had allocated more money for food benefits programs—meaning the monthly SNAP benefit for most clients was about to fall by an average of $90 per month. We rapidly scaled the pilot in order to reach out to all SNAP clients across the state before the official end of the public health emergency.  

Outcomes

In the initial three-month texting pilot, we helped DSS deliver more than 200,000 texts to SNAP clients across the state. And though the initial scope of this project was focused on reducing SNAP churn, the research we did with clients allowed us to further scale texting efforts across Medicaid and cash benefits programs as well. We developed journey maps for clients of the different programs that identified the right moments for the state to send text messages, and provided recommendations around wording, recipient groups, and the right metrics to track.

We’re extremely proud of our partnership with Connecticut and how we were able to use human-centered design principles to meet clients where they are, help reduce lapses in critical benefits coverage, and reduce workload and administrative strain on government caseworkers. 

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