New York's myBenefits Lets Citizens Apply for Social Services

Daniel Chan, CIO of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, discusses myBenefits social services Web portal.

by / March 15, 2009
Daniel Chan, CIO, New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. Photo by Michael Okoniewski Photo by Michael Okoniewski

Last year, CIO Daniel Chan led the development and deployment of myBenefits, a Web portal that lets low-income families apply for food stamps and check eligibility for a range of social services. The project was completed in less than 17 weeks, leading Chan to be named New York State Public-Sector CIO of the Year at Government Technology's GTC East in Albany, N.Y.

How was myBenefits created so quickly?
We started the project to provide the tools to increase food stamp enrollment. We had a clear target to increase enrollment by 100,000 families by the end of 2009. We worked backward to determine how much time we had to build the tools and then do the outreach for enrollment. We determined we had about 20 weeks to get it done. So it was definitely a business-driven endeavor. We were fortunate to have strong support at the agency level, and strong interest at the governor's office. I call it a perfect project because we had high-level executive support, and the people who had to make it happen had the strategy and vision.

Why did you take the portal approach?
We found that it was typical for low-income families to take time off from work to visit a social service office to apply for benefits, so that's been a barrier. The idea was to provide a tool that lets citizens enter information online, and based on that, we have internal logic in the application that will identify the programs clients may be eligible for. Then, if they choose to, they can apply online.

How does it work?

We came up with an intelligent question set. We tried to make it a process people can complete in five minutes. Questions are constructed [so] a person with a fourth-grade reading level [can] comprehend and answer. We leveraged Web technology so you don't need a really sophisticated computer to access it; all you need is a browser. Once you enter myBenefits, you answer some questions and the application collects your data and automatically populates it into the back-end Welfare Management System. At that point, you are officially applying for benefits.

How are citizens responding to myBenefits?
It was launched at the end of May 2008. By late September, we were seeing about 20,000 visits every two months. We'll continue to advertise and market the service. We had 13 town hall meetings throughout the state. We wanted to start slowly to ensure people were comfortable with the new tool and process.

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