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Code for America's Integrated Benefits Initiative Expands to Five States

The national civic tech group is partnering with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and with Nava Public Benefit Corporation to extend the scope of its ongoing work.

Code for America (CfA) is expanding its Integrated Benefits Initiative to five states, extending the reach of work that facilitates access for eligible residents to a range of public services such as food assistance and Medicaid.

To make this possible, CfA is partnering with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and with Nava Public Benefit Corporation, the national civic tech group announced this week.

The states involved are Michigan, Colorado, Alaska, Louisiana and Vermont, and CfA officials said they were picked to reflect national diversity based on geography, politics and demographics. Diversity, however, wasn’t the only criteria, said Laura Ramos, senior director for integrated benefits at CfA.

“We selected these states for their ability to identify an area where our pilot can make a difference and their willingness to try something new,” she explained.

The exact nature of what’s being done varies by state.

CfA has been working with Michigan on this project dating back to late 2017. The group notes that in both Michigan and Vermont, the goal is fostering quicker access to safety net benefits by eliminating barriers and integrating application interfaces. This allows applicants to more quickly identify their eligibility.

In Alaska, the goal is to improve access, visibility and benefit delivery in remote communities, ultimately creating a simpler and more effective process. In Colorado and Louisiana, work is primarily aimed at reducing costs, be it through lessening the processing burden on caseworkers or by reducing the number of touchpoints.

The roles of the partnering groups break down like this: CfA will be leading the pilots taking place in Michigan, Colorado, Alaska and Louisiana, while Nava Public Benefits Corporation will take point in Vermont. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, meanwhile, will be providing advice on policy and operations for all of the programs. The center will also help align the work with the needs of individual participating states.

More than a year of field research has been done to prepare for these projects, and that research is extensive.

“We have conducted field research in conjunction with site visits to 10 states,” Ramos said. “Each site visit has entailed at least two full days of on-the-ground research ranging from interviews, user-testing and facilitated workshops to gain a deeper understanding of state priorities, road maps and challenges while also observing service delivery in action by shadowing workers in field offices.”

Looking ahead, the state pilots are slated to continue through the first half of 2019, with the projects ultimately providing both state and federal agencies with new blueprints for how to make their benefits programs better serve citizens.

“Our aim is to prove that building a more human-centered safety net is what this country deserves,” Ramos said. “And we’ll help as many people as we can along the way.”

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.