Code for America’s new 2023 Benefits Enrollment Field Guide, an interactive research tool, shares best practices to improve the usability and accessibility of online benefits applications.
Code for America describes the field guide as a “digital visualization tool” and said it was compiled from primary source data that seeks to increase online benefits application usability and accessibility across all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.
The nonprofit says the tool will help agency leaders, state advocates, researchers, reporters, and others understand what people experience as they try to enroll in benefits like food, cash, medical, and childcare assistance nationwide. Through the field guide, Code for America is able to capture varying approaches to digitizing benefits applications and tracks how states compare across different criteria, including mobile responsiveness, time to completion, and Spanish-language support, among other criteria.
Code for America first conducted a national assessment intended to evaluate the landscape of public benefits enrollment in 2019. Since then, the nonprofit has noted significant improvements in governments nationwide.
“Over the last four years, we have seen dramatic progress as more states are using digital tools to improve the accessibility of critical safety net benefits,” said Amanda Renteria, CEO of Code for America. “We celebrate this work to leverage human-centered technology for government services that can meet people where they are.”
Specifically, it found that online applications are significantly more widespread than four years ago. Nearly 77 percent of the safety net programs analyzed now have applications online, and, of those, two out of three can be filled out on a mobile phone.
Additionally, Code for America found that integrated benefits applications are becoming the norm, not the exception. More than 30 states now have a single integrated benefits application where people can apply for three or more benefits programs at the same time. This reduces the burden on applicants who are eligible for multiple programs.
However, despite positive improvements, the field guide did find that some states still make benefits enrollment unnecessarily difficult. About half of benefits programs’ websites analyzed can’t be easily accessed with a mobile phone, nearly 70 percent of benefits applications require burdensome account registrations, which often involve completing a multi-step process before people can view an application, and many applications still are not available in Spanish or other languages.