Robin Hood has one objective: Alleviate poverty in New York City. The organization partners with more than 200 nonprofits and identifies ways to help the poor. One of Robin Hood’s key initiatives is increasing participation in two government programs, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). To achieve that goal, Robin Hood turned to Civis to ask three questions:
Who is eligible?
Where do they live?
How can we reach them?
Robin Hood had access to EITC and SNAP enrollment numbers by region and demographic segment, but not individual-level data. They also had little insight into the larger eligible population. Publicly-available information on participation trends only exist at the state and national level, and eligibility criteria can be complicated to understand at first glance. While survey research is one way to learn more about a population, contacting this hard-to-reach population is incredibly difficult and expensive.
Robin Hood enlisted the team here at Civis to help solve this problem. Using anonymized microdata from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, Civis estimated the number of tax filing units and SNAP households in specific geographic areas. To further improve the accuracy of these predictions, the Civis team also fit models on top of the direct estimates from the Census, reducing variability in the predictions and incorporating additional information about the communities.
Civis’s model filled gaps in the data to find neighborhoods in NYC that had the highest participation gap and non-participation density (defined as the proportion of the total population or tax filing universe that were eligible non-participants).
Taking it one step further, the model identified non-participation patterns by key demographics, including the differences between those who do and don’t participate.
Robin Hood launched its Start By Asking campaign, which uses data to answer questions about the 800,000 New Yorkers who aren’t using benefits for which they’re eligible. Through leveraging Civis technology, Robin Hood was able to focus on the neighborhoods in which the participation gap is highest. So far, they have reached 10,000 people eligible for more than $15 million in benefits.