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Code for America Launches Safety Net Innovation Lab

Supported by $100 million of charitable investments, plans for the lab will see the country’s preeminent civic tech organization working with 15 state government partners over the next seven years.

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Code for America (CfA) has launched a new program aimed at supporting safety net work by partnering directly with state governments. The program — dubbed the Safety Net Innovation Lab — will see 15 states work with the civic tech group for two to three years at a time, with specific efforts such as peer-to-peer learning, designing digital tools and, ultimately, scaling products for expansion.

The Safety Net Innovation Lab — which the group announced this week while noting individual partnerships may begin as soon as May — is backed by a new $64 million investment through The Audacious Project, the philanthropic arm of the TED Conferences media group. Combined with a previous $36 million commitment from Blue Meridian Partners, CfA has $100 million of funding commitments for this program, and that money will be dispersed over the next seven years.

The group has not yet announced which states it will be working with, but CfA officials noted that they have selected the first cohort of states. The announcement of that list will come in May. That month, CfA is also planning a request for information to gauge interest among other states for its second cohort. The staggered cohort structure is to foster close peer-to-peer learning among smaller groups of the participating states, officials said.

In a statement announcing the Safety Net Innovation Lab, CfA described its goal for the program as “partnering with 15 states to reach 13 million people and unlock $30 billion in benefits in the areas of food assistance, health care and other basic needs.” This will mean the creation of all new work, as well as the inclusion of existing work the group has done with states in those safety net areas.

A nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, CfA has long been in the vanguard of the civic tech movement in the United States, dating back to the group’s creation in 2009. In recent years it has worked directly with state government agencies, doing so within a diverse set of states. CfA has teamed with Utah to clear eligible convictions after laws there changed. It has helped make design improvements to public forms in Minnesota. And it has supported food assistance in California for years.

The Safety Net Innovation Lab will be led by a pair of CfA senior staffers, Vice President of Social Safety Net Tracey Patterson and Senior Program Director of Safety Net Alexis Fernández Garcia.

“Our community and government partners inspire us daily,” Patterson said. “We look forward to working with them under the auspices of this new lab to find new ways to meet their constituents' needs as we rebuild our safety net.”

CfA’s annual summit event is set to begin May 17 with a hybrid model that will see it taking place both online and in Arlington, Va. More information about the Safety Net Innovation Lab is slated to be shared at the event.
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine