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Code for America is teaming with DC and Maryland to improve government benefit access

For the second cohort of its Safety Net Innovation Lab, the organization will team up with Maryland and DC governments to improve access to SNAP and WIC benefits.

CfA technologists at the Safety Net Innovation Lab in Minnesota. (Courtesy Code for America)

Today, Code for America (CfA) announced that it’s bringing its Safety Net Innovation Lab to DC and Maryland to help local residents with access to benefit programs.

CfA launched the Safety Net Innovation Lab last year on the back of a $100 million fund from The Audacious and Blue Meridian Partners. The organization has since worked with five states to improve access to assistance programs. The goal is to work with 15 states over seven years and help approximately 13 million people unlock benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) — with the help of tech.

For this cohort, CfA is expanding the program into New York, New Mexico, Maryland and DC. In partnership with those state and district governments, the Innovation Lab develops multi-year efforts to make applying for and receiving benefits easier while also sharing challenges and solutions.

“We convene monthly touch points with states, to allow them to share best practices and learn from each other about challenges they’re facing and share solutions,” said Aurelle Amram, who is CfA’s senior director for strategic partnerships, to “As states move through this partnership, we’ll work through with them on a handoff approach to ensure that states can sustain some of the solutions we’ve developed.”

Already, Amram said, CfA has helped states such as Connecticut send residents a text message reminder to renew their SNAP benefits. The texts are getting sent to 20,000 people in the state, which she noted is a faster and more direct approach than a paper letter reminder.

Locally, CfA will be working with DC’s and Maryland’s respective Departments of Human Services to redesign and streamline the online benefits app for food, cash assistance and healthcare. The goal is to make the program easier to use and faster to apply for multiple benefits programs. Right now, Amram said, DC and Maryland have multiple benefits applications for programs like SNAP, critical safety debt and Medicaid; the Innovation Lab hopes to enable applying for all benefits in 20 minutes via mobile apps. The lab also wants to make the apps readable in multiple languages and at a third-grade reading level.

“The websites sometimes haven’t yet adopted all of the best practices that we know can make a benefits application easy to use and accessible to anyone, especially during times of crisis,” Amram said.

The partnerships will kick off in Maryland and DC later this year. Into 2024, she said that CfA will finalize some of the on-the-ground efforts to make sure the tech solutions are relevant to folks in the DMV and Maryland. Later into the calendar year, she hopes that they can also scale up the solutions.

Amram said the partnership’s goal is to improve the experience of interacting with government agencies, especially the Department of Human Services.

“At the end of the partnership, we hope that when someone applies for critical safety net benefits through the Department of Human Services in both Maryland and DC, they have a positive and dignified experience and feel confident that they’re getting the benefits they’re entitled to,” Amram said.

Companies: Code for America

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