OAKLAND — GetCalFresh, the process by which to apply online for food stamps in California, is going statewide after a nearly two-year partnership, state and technology officials announced on Friday during the last day of the eighth annual Code for America Summit.
California’s method by which residents apply for food assistance still has room to improve, according to Kim McCoy Wade, chief of the CalFresh Branch of the Department of Social Services (DSS); and Caitlin Docker, senior program manager for GetCalFresh at Code for America (CfA). But the process, they and Jens Egerland, senior managing director at Accenture, agreed, is greatly improved from once comprising around 200 questions divided among more than 55 “unique screens” online.
“Tomorrow is going to be a big day for people receiving CalFresh food stamps," Egerland said, praising the partnership between CfA and DSS as “the key to the success of this.
“They’re going to be accessing and making new functionality available as part of the GetCalFresh app. This is what we’re all striving for.”
• GetCalFresh’s statewide launch is aimed at benefiting an estimated 500,000 elderly and people with disabilities who are “newly able” to apply for CalFresh, the partners said in a news release, adding in a statement: “This is a direct result of the state’s decision to expand eligibility for CalFresh to include Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients as of June 1.” McCoy Wade called it the biggest expansion of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program “in the nation’s history,” as the system welcomes approximately 800,000 elderly and disabled combined.
“Some people had said technology is not for this customer, and we disagree. But this is so much more than technology. It’s about constantly improving, and they’re never done,” McCoy Wade said.
• The effect of the technology, built by CfA, has been fundamental. After deploying initially in San Francisco and then to other counties, GetCalFresh has reduced the time to get benefits by 75 percent and driven up application rates. But nearly 30 percent of applicants have told CalFresh that missing interviews set by the state caused them to be denied — making this the partners’ next hurdle to clear. Docker said the agency now asks online in real time during the application process whether residents have interviewed, and helps get those conversations scheduled and outstanding documents uploaded. The problem isn’t solved yet, but denials due to missed interviews have fallen 5 percent statewide, and DSS is working with counties to learn more.
• Other changes are imminent. The state is transitioning from three eligibility systems to one this month, McCoy Wade said, calling it “an incredible moment, technology-wise.” And, in an effort to drive equity, GetCalFresh will be available in “traditional Chinese” in July.
• The bar for smart use of technology keeps moving, CfA founder and Executive Director Jennifer Pahlka said, specifically referencing CalFresh during a speech Thursday opening the Summit’s second day.
The CfA-DSS collaboration, she said, “is a great example of closing a communication gap in the program and continually streamlining the application process and making the benefit more and more accessible to the people who really need it. And we’ve done this through an iterative process of listening to users.”