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SCALING SOCIAL SERVICES WITH MACHINE LEARNING, BEHAVIORAL SCIENCE, AND PROGRAMMABLE SMS
CHRISTINA FRANTZ | JUNE 7, 2019
“I was on the food program and they cut me off…I was really struggling without it.”
This is the experience of a 53-year-old woman from Maryland, who lives on an annual income of $8,880. To make ends meet, she was utilizing benefits from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) to purchase groceries. SNAP, also known as Food Stamps, provides food-purchasing assistance for low- and no-income people living in the United States. One day, her benefits were turned off unexpectedly, and . er struggle was further compounded by a physical injury and the medical bills that came with it.
Holes in the social safety net
Nearly 40 million people in the United States live in poverty, face hunger and feel the impact of rising healthcare costs. When people can’t cover their basic needs, they’re burdened with adverse outcomes. Children struggle in school, working-age adults fail to sustain employment, and older adults, like the woman from Maryland, suffer from poor health.
There are government social programs available to provide people in need with securing food, affordable housing, and medical coverage, yet millions of those eligible never receive the assistance they need because they don’t know it exists or understand how to access it. Take SNAP as an example: over 7 million people who are eligible for benefits aren’t receiving them, leaving $10.8 billion in available assistance on the table each year.
Why does so much money go untapped annually? It’s due to an overwhelming and complex web of referrals and paperwork.
Unlocking billions in benefits
Enter Benefits Data Trust (BDT), a national nonprofit that helps people enroll in benefits, like SNAP. Since 2005, BDT has submitted over 800,000 applications, securing over $7 billion in benefits and services for people who need it most. With the help of BDT, the woman in Maryland was able to identify $3,690 worth of benefits she was eligible for, increasing her annual income by 42 percent! Now she isn’t simply surviving – she’s thriving.
BDT is changing people’s ability to meet fundamental needs—to eat, to heat their homes, to access childcare, and fill their prescriptions. This sparks mobility and a path to prosperity for individuals, families, and communities.
So how does BDT make a complex system easy? BDT uses data science and behavioral economics to precisely target people who are likely eligible for assistance, but not enrolled in benefits. Then, through mailed letters, as well as phone- and text-based communications powered by Twilio, BDT informs the recipient that they are likely eligible for benefits and urges them to call BDT’s Benefits Center for help applying over the phone. When people call in, a Benefits Specialist then walks them through the process, and a machine learning model BDT developed helps agents identify callers that may need additional support completing applications.
In 2018, BDT was awarded a grant from Twilio’s Impact Fund. With these funds, BDT was able to expand its SMS engagement to serve more beneficiaries with greater efficiency and convenience, improving people’s quality of life and reducing long-term healthcare costs. Last year, BDT helped nearly 60,000 people successfully access $145 million in benefits to help pay for food, healthcare, housing, childcare, and prescriptions.
BDT is also expanding their reach through partnerships with other leading nonprofits. In 2019 BDT partnered with United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey and Campaign for Working Families to pilot Benefits Launch, which offered people the ability to screen for eligibility for up to 19 public benefits on their smartphones while they waited to have their 2018 taxes filed in Philadelphia. Benefits Launch provides users with the next steps for completing the application process and BDT used Twilio to send text nudges to help resolve any challenges and support people through enrollment.
Delivering dignity at scale
BDT’s long-term vision is to integrate all existing channels of communication into a seamless omni-channel outreach and engagement platform. Put simply, their goal is to provide dignity to the most in need amongst us at scale.
To learn more about how BDT is successfully engaging their community through innovative communications, check out their in-depth talk at Twilio’s 2018 Signal event.
Republished from Twilio. Read the original blog post.