What’s New in Civic Tech: More States Launch COVID Apps

Plus, Code for America expands its focus on taxes with a new leadership hire, a new Pew Charitable Trusts analysis examines how much broadband speed is needed for American households, and more.

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States across the country continue to launch apps that are aimed at alerting residents via their smartphones when they’ve come into contact with others who are positive for COVID-19.

The latest state to do so was Washington, which launched its statewide COVID-19 exposure app, WA Notify, Nov. 30. With the launch of this app, Washington joins a growing list that includes Michigan, Colorado, Delaware and others. All of these apps are relatively simple, and they function much the same way: they are anonymous, no-cost and voluntary, asking users to submit positive test results into apps, subsequently sending alerts to anyone who may have been in their proximity. The number of states now offering this to residents has topped a dozen, with more states — specifically Oregon and California — poised to join the list soon.

In addition to more states launching these apps, download rates are also increasing in many states. Pennsylvania, for example, is on the second month of having one of these apps, and local news outlets are reporting that it has now been downloaded more than 600,000 times, with a continuing pace of somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 downloads per day.

The rate of downloads for these apps is important, because efficiency directly corresponds to how many people are using the app. The higher the usage rate, the more effective contact tracing becomes in helping residents determine when they should push to get tested or retreat into full quarantine.

Code for America Expands Tax Focus With New Hire

Code for America (CfA) has hired David Newville — a veteran of equitable tax policy work — to serve as its senior program director for tax benefits, a new position created as the national nonprofit civic tech group continues to expand its work with taxes.

In a press release, CfA described the hire as “a significant expansion of its advocacy efforts.” Newell is based in Washington, D.C., and he will now lead engagement efforts with the incoming Biden administration, the U.S. Congress, as well as state and local governments. The goal of the work for Newell — as it has been for CfA’s other recent tax work — is to increase equitable access to tax benefits, with a focus on families on the margins. 

Newell joins ongoing work related to tax benefits with CfA. As the group also noted in its release, it has now helped more than 5 million people across the country access government services, and among those people are folks gaining access to the Earned Income Tax Credit program. In a practical sense, this has been done by the creation of a free and easy-to-use mobile app — dubbed GetYourRefund
— that families with low income levels can use to get stimulus checks and tax refunds.

Newell has more than a decade of experience in creation and advocacy of policies aimed at equity. Most recently, he served as vice president of policy and research for Prosperity Now, which is a national organization that works to help build stability, wealth and prosperity for all people in the United States. 

Pew Charitable Trusts Examines How Much Broadband Speed Americans Need

The Pew Charitable Trusts broadband research team has released a new analysis that asks one overarching question: How much broadband speed do American households need?

This has been a pressing year for broadband, a year in which a pandemic has forced American citizens to conduct business, attend class and receive medical care via the high-speed Internet connection in their homes — if they have it. One of the central points of this analysis is an interview with Technology Policy Institute senior fellow John Horrigan. Horrigan served as research director for a Federal Communications Commission team that developed the National Broadband Plan, which is a 2010 road map for U.S. economic prosperity centered around broadband access and speeds.

In the new interview with Pew Charitable Trusts, Horrigan discusses why broadband speed matters, what speeds currently look like nationwide and why some areas of the country have slower speeds than other areas of the country.

The Horrigan interview is the first in a series of similar interviews aimed at answering questions in the broadband space. Forthcoming interviews will discuss the homework gap as well as the ways that local governments are working to address the digital divide. Pew Charitable Trusts will also speak with Horrigan again about why certain technology types — 5G, fiber, satellite — matter.

Beeck Center Seeks Input from Public Interest Tech Professionals

Finally, the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University wants to hear from public interest tech professionals about the ways the center can expand career resources for emerging professionals in the field.

The center is soliciting this input via its new U.S. Public Interest Technology Workforce Survey. The last day to fill out the survey is Friday, Dec. 4, so fill it out now while there’s still time. The survey takes roughly 10 minutes to complete.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine