Nava and Benefits Data Trust partner to explore how AI can support public benefits navigators

Nava, Benefits Data Trust, and strategic advisors from government, academia, and civil society are exploring how generative AI can support benefits navigators to quickly enroll people in government benefits programs so they have more time to spend with the families they serve.

We enter 2024 with powerful AI-backed tools that can do everything from plan a trip, render lifelike videos, and even generate artwork. But, what if we were able to apply this technology to a more meaningful end: improving the quality of peoples’ lives? With $3 million in funding support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and, Nava Public Benefit Corporation, Benefits Data Trust, and strategic advisors from government, academia, and civil society are setting out to discover how, and if, generative and predictive AI and automation can make it easier for benefits navigators, including caseworkers, call center specialists, community health workers, and other community partners to help families navigate and enroll in government benefits programs. 

Through researching, prototyping, and piloting a new AI-based tool with social safety net data customizations using large language models (LLMs), we aim to reduce call center wait times and training burdens, make it easier for community organizations to understand program rules and applications, and free up benefits navigators to spend quality time with each family while also serving more people in need.

We are excited to be working with strategic advisors from the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA), Center for Public Sector AI (CPSAI), Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), United States Digital Service (USDS), Georgetown Better Government Lab, and more. We plan to share what we learn, and contribute to policy discussions on the ethical use of AI in creating a more connected and comprehensive social safety net. 

By focusing on building a tool for benefits navigators and other people who help vulnerable populations navigate government safety net programs, this is an opportunity to better understand how, and if, AI technologies can be responsibly incorporated into programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, Head Start, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and free or subsidized child care. We are starting with benefits navigators so that we can study the accuracy and effectiveness of the AI-based tool before expanding to beneficiaries. 

“We’re excited about this challenge and understand that ethical and effective use of AI must involve constant learning and testing centered around people’s actual needs,” said Nava CEO and Co-founder Rohan Bhobe. "Technology advancements in AI, Machine Learning, and Large Language Models over the last 18 months hold great promise for supporting government services that are simple, effective, and accessible to all, but only if correctly applied in a public sector context. Nava is committed to ensuring that new technologies confidently add positive value for users and the government, rather than being a source of unintentional harm."

This pilot will focus on benefits navigators who support families with young children ages 0-5, building on the efforts of the early childhood Life Experience project to help families become more aware of existing programs, as well as other state and local outreach efforts to improve program access. This pilot responds to the intentions of President Biden’s Executive Order on Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence to ensure that AI is implemented ethically in government.

“BDT is committed to eliminating the barriers that keep eligible people from the financial support and life-saving resources of America’s public benefit programs—and we believe it is possible,” said Benefits Data Trust CEO Trooper Sanders. “We are always seeking partners in our mission, and we are excited about this collaboration with Nava to carefully design, implement and test a way in which AI can be brought to bear on this problem. Such a powerful technology must be approached with caution, yet the scale of its potential to improve access to government assistance is too great to leave unexplored.”

Nava’s experience spans nearly a decade, and our founders played a leading role in the response to’s troubled launch. Since then we’ve been trusted to bring modern technology best practices to public benefit programs serving millions of people across the country. 

Since 2005, the nonprofit Benefits Data Trust has helped more than 1 million people apply to benefit programs and secured more than $10 billion in food, healthcare, housing, and other critical assistance for people across the country.

BDT partners with government agencies to create smarter, more streamlined ways for people to access essential benefits, using data, technology, and policy and practice change.

Funded in part by $3 million in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and, the project is one of the first for Nava Labs, which seeks to go beyond traditional research and development undertakings by producing deep, provocative learnings that positively impact government service delivery and policy.

PublishedFebruary 20, 2024


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