Connecting state and local government leaders
The MyCity portal will act as a centralized data repository that streamlines services application and delivery for New York City residents and enables greater information sharing across government agencies.
New York City recently launched the MyCity portal to help residents better access services and benefits.
Through the portal, users can check their eligibility and apply for services and benefits, and they have the option of creating an account to securely save their information and submitted documents for future applications. For government agencies, MyCity will act as a centralized data repository that enables greater information sharing across government agencies, according to a press release announcing MyCity’s March 29 launch.
Available in 10 of the most common languages used by city dwellers, the portal connects to only one service so far: a childcare assistance voucher to help cover the cost of childcare at a qualified provider.
“We’ve identified challenges with populations who are in need of health and human services-related benefits,” said Ruby Choi, deputy commissioner for strategic initiatives at the city’s Office of Technology and Innovation (OTI). “They don’t have time to go in person to apply for the benefit or the time to fill out a multipage application form that’s oftentimes not in plain language.”
The MyCity approach consolidates a paper application that the city’s Education Department and Administration for Children’s Services uses for the vouchers into a single online form that is expected to serve tens of thousands of New Yorkers annually and dramatically reduce the confusing and time-consuming elements of the paper application, according to city officials.
“When you click on the childcare service [on the portal], you’re given the option to do a screener, which is basically a series of questions to determine whether or not you would be eligible for this benefit,” Choi said. “If you know you’re already eligible, you can apply directly. And depending on the age of your child and your family circumstance, the application will route to the appropriate agency and program group who will evaluate the application” and provide updates through the portal and email notifications.
In addition to improving accessibility, Choi said she expects the portal to expedite the application and approval process. It takes seconds to file an application digitally, whereas mailing in the paper form could take up to 14 days plus the time is takes for agency review and any back-and-forth with the submitter to ensure that information is accurate.
With the portal, applicants can clearly see what data and supporting documents they must share, and reviewing agencies can quickly see what’s missing and find the contact information to reach out about getting it. “This helps them track the workflow a little better,” Choi said of city workers. “They hope to see this improve their workload and their bandwidth.”
Agencies are working with community-based organizations to help residents get comfortable with using digital applications, but paper forms will still be available for those who prefer them, she added.
About 5,000 parents, families or caregivers submit applications for childcare vouchers each month, so she expects that the portal will have a significant impact on applicants’ experience. Right now, though, the focus is on “making sure that the system is stable, performance is good,” Choi said, adding that the office is tracking usage.
OTI’s internal applications team worked with Salesforce and several minority- and woman-owned businesses to build the first phase of MyCity. Many custom-built applications that city agencies use can integrate with the platform, Choi added, and as more services are added, OTI will evaluate what tools will make MyCity as flexible as possible.
More services will become available later this year. One will focus on helping New Yorkers get access to job training and employment, and another will target businesses—helping them with permitting, licensing and fee payments, for instance, digitally.
Another way the city plans to use the portal is to notify benefits recipients of their potential eligibility for other services.
“Getting out of COVID, we [knew we] have to find better ways to do this work from a digital, electronic perspective,” Choi said. “We were looking at opportunities for services that could be digitized, paper processes that can be made electronic,” she said. The city was also looking for opportunities to streamline delivery of services that involve multiple agencies, “so a person doesn’t have to go to multiple government offices in order to obtain services,” she added.
OTI’s Strategic Plan 2022 laid out the framework for MyCity, calling for the creation of a user-centric platform “to enable a single, service-driven, mobile-friendly internet portal for all City services and benefits” and integrate with existing public-facing websites.
“The goal here with MyCity is really to set a new standard for the way we deliver government services, leveraging technology and putting the public that interacts with us at the center in terms of the way we think about design, the way we think about the process of interacting with the city,” Choi said.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.