Connecting state and local government leaders
The Digital Benefits Network’s open dataset details the identity proofing requirements of 158 applications for benefits programs.
State agencies have a new resource for exploring the identity authentication and proofing measures used across 158 state applications for federal benefits programs.
Users can access and download datasets that identify the login and identity verification requirements states use across six federally funded safety net programs: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medicaid, Child Care Assistance, Unemployment Insurance and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
The resource was launched May 19 by the Digital Benefits Network, a project of the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation, which works to improve benefits programs with data and technology. The new data tool presents a comprehensive view of states’ digital authentication and identity proofing practices. It offers state benefits administrators a new way to “understand who is doing similar things [and] who is doing something different that they might want to learn from,” said Elizabeth Bynum Sorrell, a DBN researcher at the Beeck Center.
These insights could help agencies research how to make access to their benefits applications more equitable and user friendly, said Beeck Center fellow Ariel Kennan, who leads DBN. Then agencies can start asking, “What are the tradeoffs on where and how and what methods are used? What is the right combination?”
While those answers will differ for every state, the DBN resource establishes a baseline. For instance, DBN found that just 59—or 37%—of applications across all six benefits programs require or prompt some type of active identity proofing, meaning users must complete certain steps to verify their identities before they can proceed with the application, according to the site. Despite the small percentage, those requirements can have profound effects, Bynum Sorrell and Kennan wrote in an email.
For example, unemployment insurance programs are more likely to use biometric authentication, such as asking the user to upload a selfie to be compared with a government-issued ID using facial recognition software, according to DBN. This practice helped agencies tackle the boom in verification needs due to pandemic-era unemployment claims, Kennan said.
But not everyone may have access to smartphones or an internet connection required to complete those tasks, Bynum Sorrell said. Plus, biometric identity proofing may raise equity and bias concerns for certain populations due to inaccurate facial matching. It may also pose data privacy and security issues in the event of a data breach.
One way to remove those barriers is to make identity proofing an optional step, DBN said. This means users can elect to skip or postpone the verification, a feature that 17 applications currently include, according to DBN. With flexible identity proofing, individuals can still submit their application rather than having to abandon the process.
“Allowing applicants to opt out of identity proofing during an online application or continue with an online application if an identity proofing attempt is unsuccessful may remove barriers to access,” Bynum Sorrell and Kennan said. Agencies can still offer applicants online identity proofing, which can “potentially speed up the process of receiving benefits or access additional features online,” they added.
The new DBN data presents a landscape of the identity proofing space, so that agencies can “start having [meaningful] conversations about what should be happening,” Bynum Sorrell said.