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New research quantifies the value of food stamp application improvements

Millions of adults eligible for food stamps are not receiving benefits; offering the option to schedule a call increased SNAP applications by 18% in Los Angeles

Chicago, IL — June 18, 2019mRelief, a non-profit working to increase access to SNAP benefits (food stamps), in collaboration with data science firm Civis Analytics, today released new research quantifying how a more flexible benefits application process increases enrollment. The study was conducted in Los Angeles, where applications involve up to seven different documents, in addition to a phone call with the local SNAP office (CalFresh). The mRelief-Civis research found that simply providing an option to schedule a call would increase the rate of completed applications by 18 percentage points.

“We saw drop-off between the initial eligibility screener and completed CalFresh applications and in LA County, there is still an opportunity to reach hundreds of thousands of people who are seeking these benefits,” said Rose Afriyie, Executive Director and Co-Founder of mRelief. “We knew process improvements would help decrease the drop-off, but we wanted to ensure that we were making the right process improvements.”

mRelief wanted to test two potential improvements to the process in LA County: the ability to schedule a call with the CalFresh office and reminders for individuals who fail to schedule or complete calls. The team ran a randomized control trial (considered the gold standard of scientific research), whereby from January to April 2019, potential applicants were offered either one of the test features primarily on their mobile phone (call scheduling or call scheduling + text reminders), or no additional features (control group).

From there, Civis ran a statistical model to determine the impact of each test feature, while accounting for respondent characteristics such as household size and language spoken. They found:

  • Offering the option to schedule a call increased LA County SNAP applications by 18%.
  • Text message reminders provide a small boost, but not one that is significantly above and beyond the impact of scheduling.

“The process was amazing… when I applied years ago, you had to go to the [CalFresh] office and sit there all day,” said Kevin, an mRelief user who took advantage of the call scheduling feature to receive benefits. “This process was really cool. They called me back the same day for my interview… It was really fast and uncomplicated. I got approved the same day.”

“Food stamps not only saves lives (literally), it’s well-documented that the program immediately benefits local economies by pumping money into rural supermarkets and small businesses,” said Scarlett Swerdlow, Director of Applied Data Science, Nonprofits, at Civis Analytics. “We need to make the process as easy as possible. Programs that are this important deserve the same rigorous UI/UX testing that’s common in the private sector.”

As a Knight News Challenge winner, mRelief received support for data collection for the trial from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Civis provided the data analysis pro-bono.

“Technology offers new opportunities for government to better reach, engage and serve residents,” said Lilian Coral, Knight Foundation director for national strategy and technology innovation. “In this case, mRelief’s latest research reveals how municipalities could leverage mobile and SMS technology to build more bridges between qualified residents and important social services.”

The research is available for download here.

About mRelief
mRelief’s mission is to restore dignity by transforming access to social services. To this end, mRelief has built an easy-to-use platform on web, text and voice for Americans to sign up for SNAP. The nonprofit has unlocked more than $91 Million in SNAP across the US. mRelief is live in 44 states through a partnership with the USDA at data.gov.

Sign up for SNAP. Start with 10 questions in 3 minutes at www.mrelief.com

About Civis Analytics
Civis Analytics helps leading public and private sector organizations use data to gain a competitive advantage in how they identify, attract, and engage people. With a blend of proprietary data, technology and advisory services, and an interdisciplinary team of data scientists, developers, and survey science experts, Civis helps organizations stop guessing and start using statistical proof to guide decisions. Learn more about Civis at www.civisanalytics.com.

Contacts
mRelief
Zareena Meyn
press@mrelief.com

Civis Analytics
Amanda Moss
AMoss@civisanalytics.com