Enhancing Access to Federal Benefits Through State Pilot Projects

The Michigan State Capitol in Lansing

The Michigan State Capitol in Lansing Shutterstock

 

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The Integrated Benefits Initiative, a partnership between Code for America, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Nava Public Benefit Corporation, is spearheading the effort.

Pilot projects are underway in five states to help people more easily access public benefits, including nutritional assistance and Medicaid, part of a partnership between Code for America, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Nava Public Benefit Corporation announced Tuesday.

The projects, taking place in Michigan, Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana and Vermont, were launched in conjunction with the Integrated Benefits Initiative, led by the three organizations. Enhancing the application of federal benefits via state-level projects made sense, the initiative said, because benefits are administered by state agencies.

“Public benefits eligibility and enrollment is a complex web of federal, state, and local policy—but it is ultimately states that deliver benefits,” according to a news release. “States are also tasked with defining the process approaches for providing services and the technology infrastructure that backs them up.”

The five pilot states were selected “to reflect the geographical, political and demographic diversity of the United States.” Each is already involved in a large-scale effort to modernize its eligibility systems. Pilot projects in Michigan, Colorado, Alaska and Louisiana are led by Code for America, while Nava PBC will spearhead the pilot in Vermont. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities serves an advisory role for all five.

(Code for America via Medium)

Projects vary from state to state. In Michigan, Code for America partnered with the Michigan Department of Health and Social Services and Civilla, a design studio based in Detroit, to develop a “lower-barrier way for clients to submit applications for both Medicaid and SNAP” using an online intake process “that can be completed from a mobile device in 10 minutes.” The partnership is also spearheading two-way text communication that allows caseworkers to alert clients to missing verification documents. Clients can then take photos of the documents and submit them instantly via text.

“The experiment aims to show that SMS communication between caseworkers and clients can further decrease the number of days to eligibility determination,” according to a description of the project.

In Alaska, project workers partnered with the state Division of Public Assistance to develop two tools aimed at improving access to services among the general population. The first is intended to “augment visibility and understanding of case status, supporting the state to take strides toward a digital lobby experience and reduce reliance on in-person service.” The second, a digital assister, will support application processes in remote and rural communities, where both staffing and connectivity may be limited.

The Colorado pilot project aims to help clients and caseworkers maintain benefits “through better, more collaborative reporting of case updates or changes.” Initiatives include the development of a change-reporting tool and developing guidelines and protocols for a new client experience team in the Governor’s Office of Information Technology.

In Louisiana, researchers are attempting to understand “why, how and where clients struggle to enroll in all of the benefits programs they might need.” The research phase will include the exploration of “product opportunities” that streamline the client experience.

In Vermont, Nava PBC hopes to simplify “the experience of verification for both participants and caseworkers,” starting with the implementation of a document upload tool that allows clients to quickly provide paperwork to caseworkers, who can easily access the information when they need. Those efforts aim to simplify the process for participants, reduce processing time for caseworkers and speed up the overall processing time.

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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