Norfolk, Virginia has already been using the service to remind people about Medicaid recertification.
The General Services Administration’s pilot to send customized text reminders to individuals at critical moments during the enrollment and renewal of federal benefit programs — such as upcoming application deadlines — has onboarded two states and two distinct cities and counties, GSA announced Thursday. State and local governments can also use the service to send messages to their own staff, GSA says.
Norfolk, Virginia and Montgomery County, Maryland, as well as the states of Wisconsin and Washington, will use the pilot — called Notify.gov — to send messages about federal programs administered on the local level, according to a GSA spokesperson.
GSA had been working with Norfolk’s Department of Human Services already as its first partner on a texting campaign around changes to eligibility rules for federal programs at the end of the public health emergency for the coronavirus pandemic, specifically about recertifying for Medicaid, according to performance.gov.
The first texts were sent out in November, said Emily Herrick, a research and engagement lead at the GSA Public Benefits Studio, which is running the pilot, during a performance.gov event Friday.
“Our mission is to make it easier for agencies to reach people who participate in their programs and increase access to the benefits and resources they are eligible for,” Amy Ashida, the director of the Public Benefits Studio, said in a statement. “Through these partnerships, we’ll be able to test and confirm the potential impact of Notify.gov.”
GSA will use the forthcoming pilot to improve the tool and later measure outcomes to see how many people opt-in to get texts and whether the texts improved the experience of beneficiaries. The pilot will also inform whether the text reminders increased the use of benefits programs and reduced churn, or when people are on benefits, lose their coverage and then have to reapply.
Part of the Biden administration’s work on customer experience, the pilot is part of a set of projects meant to improve how individuals experience government during key life moments.
Notify.gov is part of the inter-agency project focused on the “having a child and early childhood” life moment — a time when many low income families also are navigating government benefit programs. Other birth and early childhood projects include those meant to help people connect to government benefits and newborn supply kits that provide some basic supplies to families after births.
“It's not shipping a few products. This is systems change work,” Amira Boland, CX lead at the Office of Management and Budget, said of the life experience work during the Friday event. “It's going to be rethinking forms, guidance to states, how whole processes and programs are designed and implemented.”
“Government in the United States has been created over more than two centuries of appropriations committees, agencies’ statutory missions, budget line items, programs, even different IT shops, and we need to better meet people where they are and be responsive to how they navigate critical moments in their life,” she said.
Although texting could help improve experiences and access to benefits by bettering communication and moving the government away from paper-based outreach, GSA says benefits agencies often cite limited in-house capacity, high costs and legal questions as barriers to using texts.
GSA intends to fill that gap with this web-based interface for agency partners. Anyone interested in piloting the text service — which GSA touts as easy to use — can contact the agency, according to the blog. Per Notify.gov, the service doesn’t require technical integration or technical knowledge to make message templates.
“As we learn more about what state and local partners need to effectively send text messages, we are improving the way that our service works, making it easier for governments to start and expand their usage of text messaging so that we can reach more families where they're at in a way that's convenient and easy for them to understand,” said Herrick.