For many low-income children, school is where they get their meals. It is not just about education, but because it’s where they receive nutrition– free and reduced-price meals five days a week. Last month, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act which created a Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) emergency response program allowing families whose children qualify for those meals at school to receive funds on an EBT card to use at grocery stores. Each state administers these benefits differently and all needed to move quickly to get this support to families relying on it.
The Beeck Center launched our Social Safety Net Benefits project this year to study systems and tools being developed to make it easier for people to apply for benefits like food assistance, housing support, and healthcare. Our mission—to surface actionable recommendations for leveraging data, digital, and innovation-enabled solutions for eligibility screening and enrollment in federally-funded social safety net benefits—is now more important than ever as civic tech teams and government agencies race to meet the overwhelming demand.
The Beeck Center’s Data + Digital Lead Cori Zarek also co-founded U.S. Digital Response (USDR) to provide pro bono data and tech support to governments as they respond to COVID-19. USDR has offered to help states implement P-EBT alongside existing EBT processes with data engineering support to manage the systems on the back end and a front-end web application built by Code for America, another organizational co-founder of USDR. The USDR coordination is being led by Beeck Fellow Sara Soka who co-leads the safety net research project.
Since it launched in mid-March, USDR has recruited nearly 5,000 volunteers from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. who bring skills in data science, engineering, design, operations, research, policy making, and more. USDR has talked to dozens of government teams to learn about their needs and matched volunteers to 150 projects including:
- connecting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance applications with existing unemployment insurance systems
- facilitating small business loans
- automating hospital data collection
The USDR P-EBT project is actively rolling out in states this week starting with California. Beeck Fellows Robin Carnahan, Tyler Kleykamp, and staffer Taylor Campbell are supporting additional USDR projects, and student analyst Alberto Rodriguez Álvarez has worked with colleagues in his home country of Mexico to adapt a version of the effort called Brigada Digital.