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As Holidays Approach, Beam Aims for Better Benefit Payments

One of the benefits platform’s newest hires — a Granicus veteran — talks about how the company is trying to improve government disbursements. Web design and agency partnerships are among the important tools.

Fresh EBT
Early results show Fresh EBT helps food stamp recipients stretch their benefits further and eat healthier.
Hilary Crook’s college experience included more than hard study, top grades and a law degree. She was often unsure about where to look for scholarships, about how to navigate the “super clunky” process of gaining seemingly free money to help cover her costs.

Now, in her first months as vice president of sales for benefits platform Beam, the government technology veteran can recall that experience. She works to reduce the red tape separating people from food, rental and child-care assistance, along with other forms of financial aid, including emergency grants for college students.

As more work becomes untethered from the physical world, Beam — like other gov tech companies — is aiming to upgrade public services, bringing paper-based bureaucracies into the 21st century.

And as the holidays approach — a time for charity and assistance — the company, which last year raised $6.4 million in a Series A funding round, is anticipating an active 2024, matching disbursements with people who need them without requiring the use of old technology.

“Who has a printer these days?” Crook asked.

The idea driving Beam is to free disbursement recipients from the burden of filling out by pen and paper multiple forms and documents and instead make that process digital and mobile.

That, in turn, can cut costs for public agencies and hassle for recipients, meaning more people get the money to which they are entitled — and which may help them from, say, making a choice between turning on the heat or going to the grocery store.

“We are getting away from outdated processes,” Crook told Government Technology. “If it’s outdated, it becomes dehumanizing.”

The stakes are hardly small.

For instance, in 2018, Missouri removed 70,000 people from Medicaid, with 60 percent of that group losing health coverage because they failed to reply to a renewal form sent via mail, according to one report. About 40 percent of people eligible to take part in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program did not take part because “they were deterred by the paperwork involved.”

Another report found that states were sitting on $5.2 billion in benefits thanks in large part to the 1996 welfare reform law.

States themselves have improved their technology and are offering benefit application and management via online channels. Even financial companies are in the game as government payments continue to move away from cash and checks.

Yet for Crook and her colleagues at Beam, there is so much more work that remains.

“It’s about not wasting funds, not only getting the funds quicker,” she said.

Crook’s previous experience includes sales leadership jobs with Thomson Reuters, where she focused on legal tech products. While she said she enjoyed practicing criminal and family law as an attorney, her $800-a-month student debt payment from law school led her to the higher-paying sales work.

After her mom’s death she operated a nonprofit that awarded scholarships to nontraditional students — an operation that relied largely on time-consuming Excel spreadsheets, she said. She eventually “realized something was missing,” then changed careers while making sure to stay in tech, an area she had long loved.

She worked for such gov tech providers as Siteimprove, Granicus and For the Record, holding senior sales positions, according to her LinkedIn. Crook said she also realized that in gov tech, “there is a greater purpose to what we are doing.”

She also learned about the importance of connections with public agencies, how so much in government happens at the local level, and the importance of keeping things “simple.”

Indeed, when it comes to Beam and its disbursement technology, keeping it simple also means imitating the best of e-commerce — specifically, “human-centered design,” according to Sophie Chow, the vendor’s vice president of design.

That concept is still evolving in gov tech but the idea of cutting clutter and making the transaction process as seamless and simple as possible holds sway at Beam as it looks past the holiday season and tries to grow its business in 2024.

“The best design is really invisible,” Chow told Government Technology.

Design, in fact, can play a major role in what Beam is trying to do, she said: “Restoring digital to the American social safety net. It’s an area very ripe for disruption.”

As Christmas approaches, Crook was working to set up more partnerships with government and other agencies.

One day, for example, she was working with an educational nonprofit to get funds to people in need of emergency assistance so they don’t have to delay or quit school. People who cannot afford rent, or to fix a car that takes them to their jobs, aren’t likely to be able to pay for tuition or books.

“I want to be able to say I reached a lot more people with a lot more funds,” she said.
Thad Rueter writes about the business of government technology. He covered local and state governments for newspapers in the Chicago area and Florida, as well as e-commerce, digital payments and related topics for various publications. He lives in Wisconsin.