GSA launches pilot partnerships to help people get benefits through text messaging
Post filed in: Technology
Through a new GSA team, four state and local government agencies will be able to start sending customized text messages about application deadlines, interview reminders, fraud reduction, and other critical service updates to people who opt in as well as their own agency staff. This will help improve customer experience and service delivery to program beneficiaries at minimal cost to taxpayers.
Specifically, GSA’s Technology Transformation Services’ Public Benefits Studio will work with partners in Virginia (the City of Norfolk), Maryland (Montgomery County), the state of Wisconsin and the state of Washington to improve the public’s ability to get federally-funded benefits through a pilot text messaging platform called Notify.gov.
Simplifying the experience
“We are thrilled to collaborate with these state and local governments. They share our vision to simplify the public’s experience with public benefits programs,” said Amy Ashida, the director of the Public Benefits Studio. “Through these partnerships, we’ll be able to test and confirm the potential impact of Notify.gov. Our mission is to make it easier for agencies to reach people who participate in their programs and increase access to the benefits and resources they are eligible for.”
The Studio is dedicated to a human-centered approach, in line with President Biden’s Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government, which celebrated its second anniversary on Dec. 13.
Notify.gov is supporting the “Having a child and early childhood” project, one of five Life Experience projects aimed at improving government service delivery during a big life event or transition. Along with being a new parent, many families - especially low-income families - have the additional burden of navigating a large number of state and federal benefits programs. With input from families, this collaboration will explore how text messaging could improve family experiences with government through better communication, reduced administrative burden, and increased access to benefits.
The value of texting
Many government agencies still rely on paper mail as their primary communication with the public. But mail can get lost or delayed, and many people do not keep the same address. A missed deadline or required interview could mean a loss of health insurance only realized when at the doctor’s office, or that they cannot pay for groceries when already at the register.
Research shows that 97% of U.S. adults with an annual income of less than $30,000 have a cellphone, and Notify.gov builds on previous pilots by various organizations that show success in communicating with the public through more than just mail. In fact, some government pilots saw a 20% to 50% increase in case maintenance and cross-program enrollment when programs used texts, emails, and phone calls, in addition to regular mail.
The barriers to texting most often cited by benefits agencies include the high operational cost of obtaining the service, limited in-house technical capacity, and uncertainty regarding what constitutes legal consent. The Studio reduces these barriers by providing an easy-to-use service paired with expert guidance along the way.
Notify.gov’s web-based interface allows onboarded agency partners to go from initial account setup to sending individually customized messages in as little as 10 minutes, without any technical integration required. Plus, the Studio offers best practice guides and templates to help partners ensure message quality, build trust with message recipients, and measure the impact of campaigns. During this pilot phase, the Studio is working closely with partners to refine the tool and user experience.
Notify.gov beyond benefits
While starting with benefits programs, the Studio expects Notify.gov could ultimately serve a wide breadth of government services if pilots prove successful. With its potential to serve many different use cases, Notify.gov could change the way government programs reach the communities they serve.