Our social safety net is a constellation of services and programs, but it’s often an obstacle course where, the more help you need, the harder it gets. In a nationwide initiative to build an equitable, human-centered safety net fit for the digital age, Nava partnered with Code for America and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Our mission: to radically improve government services for people who find themselves living at or below the poverty line.
After visiting ten states to understand the experiences of people who rely on and manage the social safety net every day, the initiative launched five small-scale pilot sites around the country. Nava partnered with the State of Vermont to make it easier for people to access state-administered benefits like free or low-cost health care and assistance paying for food, fuel, and daily expenses. Recognizing that accessing public assistance programs can be difficult for the people who need them and for the people who manage them, we’re focusing our work with Vermont on improving experiences for both beneficiaries and State staff.
During our initial research, we learned that Vermonters faced another hurdle after completing the complicated application process: documents to prove their eligibility. The State of Vermont wanted to address the burden of document submission and minimize the expense of time and money people incurred at this step.
In a few short months, Nava worked with the State of Vermont to launch two test programs that have made measurable improvements. Before, people had to mail or deliver documents in-person during business hours, spending money on postage or transportation to do so. Now, they can submit documents on their own time, from wherever they are, using the device they have, whether it’s mobile, tablet, or desktop. As a result, 30 percent of people submitted outside of business hours and 50 percent used a mobile device to submit.
In total, our test programs reduced the amount of time from application submission to benefits processing by 40 percent. Before, the majority of applicants waited days for their documents to arrive through the mail and longer for them to be processed; only 11 percent were able to submit within one day. During the test programs, 55 percent of applicants were able to submit their documents in one day.
An example of a page on the website where Vermonters can upload and submit documents needed for eligibility.
Our data is backed up by positive feedback from users. As one certified assister—someone who helps people understand, apply, and enroll in public assistance services—shared:
“For one of my clients who was dis-enrolled from Medicaid, I scanned and uploaded his income verification [using the new documentation uploader]. Within three hours, I was able to call him and tell him his Medicaid was active. It was amazing.”
In the first months of the test programs, hundreds of people were able to quickly submit verification documents. And, the State of Vermont is on track to provide this service to every Vermonter applying for any human services program by the end of 2019. In the meantime, we worked with the State to expand use cases that the uploader could support, including helping people with urgent medical needs submit documents to get health care coverage within hours.
This improvement has proven critical. Hospital staff shared one anecdote about a deaf father of four who urgently needed cancer screening but was unable to schedule the expensive tests until he had coverage. “In his case, [using the uploader] was huge. Everybody was standing with bated breath waiting for his Medicaid to be active so we could get him scheduled,” said a hospital staffer.
Getting what you need from government should always be this easy.
We’re grateful to our partners in the State of Vermont for fully embracing a human-centered approach and supporting the eventual open sourcing of this work so it can be adopted and implemented in other states.