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Code for America Partners With New States on Safety Net Work

Code for America has announced the second cohort of state partnerships that will work with the organization's Safety Net Innovation Lab to rebuild and innovate in social safety net benefit delivery.

Illustration shows two hands in black sleeves reaching towards each other, one holding question marks and the other holding lightbulbs.
Code for America (CfA) has announced its second cohort of partnerships to improve safety net benefit delivery: New York, New Mexico, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

The government partners will work with the Safety Net Innovation Lab to improve the equity and accessibility of public-sector safety net benefits through technology. The goal is to create scalable solutions and offer peer learning between state partners.

As explained by Aurelle Amram, senior director of strategic partnerships for CfA’s Social Safety Net portfolio, the Innovation Lab is an expansion of CfA’s work to reimagine safety net benefit delivery across the country, achieved both through collaboration with states and by convening a cohort for learning and identifying best practices.

The broader goal is for the Innovation Lab, which was created in 2022 through philanthropic funding, to work with 15 states over seven years to help unlock $30 billion in benefits by improving accessibility.

In this cohort, the District of Columbia and Maryland will both be working on integrated benefits solutions to improve the online benefits application process. New Mexico and New York will be working on solutions to improve customer experience by leveraging data and feedback.

In Maryland, the goal is to equitably improve access to public benefits, including the efficiency and understanding of the application process, said La Sherra Ayala, executive director for the Family Investment Administration within Maryland Department of Human Services (DHS).

In addition to easing the frustrations and barriers that exist for users, Ayala believes streamlining the benefit applications processes will help to eliminate frustration for those that work to serve constituents in these matters, as well.

Amram says this is key to both CfA and Maryland’s approach: designing for all users of a system.

And as DHS Secretary Rafael López added, reducing this frustration enables states to direct staff talent and resources to "higher-order issues" to better serve constituents.

López noted this partnership is about changing the narrative around government services to show that government customers can expect the same accountability and agility of government that they would of other businesses.

A big piece of this puzzle, López explained, is that Maryland families have needs that often span different benefit programs, and integrating various benefits applications into one system for accessing services to address those needs can help to provide a seamless experience.

“Families don’t live in administrations or divisions or departments, they live in families,” he said. “And so how do we make sure they get what they need when they need it?”

The partnership with CfA allows Maryland to rapidly prototype ideas and test them in the Innovation Lab, while leveraging knowledge from other states in the cohort, as well as the knowledge of CfA.

Amram said that the knowledge sharing will be made possible through monthly touchpoints and an annual in-person convening.

In addition, when ideas are shared within these meetings, CfA will work to facilitate adoption of effective solutions in other states — as well as promoting best practices nationally so resources are available to any state that is looking to change their safety net benefit systems.

This new cohort builds upon a foundation that was already in place, with the first cohort announced in May 2022. That inaugural group included California, Colorado, Connecticut, Minnesota and Louisiana. Organizers expect that lessons learned during the first cohort will help inform solutions in the second.

For example, Amram underlined the importance of prioritizing human-centered design for the integrated benefits application in Minnesota. Doing so involved ensuring the application process could be completed in 20 minutes or less, that it could be completed using a mobile device, and that it is available in multiple languages. Once this platform was created, it was handed off to Minnesota to maintain and scale it in the long term. This, she said, is the kind of approach that CfA will bring to the partnership with Maryland.

In addition, the work of the previous cohort helps speed development of similar solutions in the second cohort, Amram said.

“We already have templates, tools and designs that have been tested with folks in other states like Minnesota,” she explained. “And while we know that the experience of Marylanders is unique, we also know that folks have a common challenge interacting with safety net benefits across the country. And so we can just move that much faster and help other states do similar work as well at the same time.”
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.