New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

“Automatic Benefits” to Support Low-Income New Yorkers

Reduction of Paperwork and Waste Targeted to Increase Number of Benefits Recipients and
Generate over a Billion Dollars for New York City’s Economy

New York, NY—  More than a half  million New Yorkers would have improved access to government benefits under legislation to be introduced today by Council Member Ben Kallos, Chair of the Governmental Operations Committee. According to the legislation, benefits would be provided automatically and renewed based on information the government already has from applications and forms to increase efficiency and reduce bureaucracy. Among the proposed reforms include a requirement that whenever a city agency receives an application for one benefit, the agency would must work with the person to determine eligibility for additional benefits.
Approximately 550,000 of the 2.3 million New Yorkers who qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are not getting it, according to the
Human Resources Administration. More than half are over 60 years old, according to LiveOnNY. Daunting paperwork and not knowing about eligibility, or how or where to apply, present major barriers for seniors according to the Food Research and Action Center. According to the Mayor’s office, SNAP brought in $5.4 billion in economic activity to the city in 2014 — meaning that an additional 550,000 enrolled could bring in more than $1 billion. 
“No one should go hungry, lose their home, or go without healthcare in one of the wealthiest cities in the world, especially when government benefits have been created to help those in need,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “We must work to eliminate the bureaucracy, paperwork and waste that prevent our poorest from accessing and keeping the benefits they need to be lifted from poverty.”  In 2011, Community District 8 on the Upper East Side, represented by Council Member Ben Kallos, was first in the city for SNAP under-enrollment— with
91% of eligible seniors not enrolled.
Kallos’ legislation would initially require government to provide people applying for or renewing benefits with automatic notice that they are likely to qualify for additional benefits, along with an application or renewal, which would be pre-filled with information from their prior application, along with instructions. Application assistance would be made available through 311, online, or in person at city agencies and accepted electronically wherever possible.
An accompanying resolution calls for passage of enabling federal and state laws that would trigger provisions in the bill to provide for similar notices and pre-filled applications based on tax and other filings, a universal application for all benefits, automatic renewal based on tax and other filings, and — eventually —automatically provided benefits based on tax filings alone. Individuals would be able to choose to receive notices electronically and decline any benefits.
The 2012 implementation of automatic enrollment in Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or Medicaid through Express Lane Eligibility based on eligibility for SNAP decreased the number of uninsured Medicaid-eligible children in Louisiana from 5.3 percent to 2.9 percent, according to the
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Enrollment costs declined from $116.48 per application to around $15.45 per application. Overall, application costs dropped from $1.3 million to $318,100, while renewal costs dropped to zero from $11.9 million as all renewals were administered based entirely on data matches.
Additional examples of programs similar to automatic benefits in government include:
  • Social security beneficiaries turning 65 are automatically enrolled in Medicare, in most cases.
  • Social Security Disability Insurance recipients are automatically enrolled in Medicare parts A and B after 2 years.
  • Categorical eligibility offers benefits such as SNAP, WIC, and TANF, to families already receiving other benefits, though an additional financial eligibility determination is not necessary, an application is still required.
  • Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) provides a single application for student aid, work-study, and loans for higher education.

“In the 21st century, no city can be smart, and fair, if it fails to make creative use of its information platform.  Here is an initiative that is builds an intelligent and just New York City.  It will be infectious, spreading across other agencies and their challenges. Congratulations to Council Member Kallos, and to the entire City Council,” said The Honorable Kenneth Prewitt, Director, U.S. Census (1998-2000) and Columbia University professor.
“Piles of paperwork and mountains of bureaucracy should not stand between hungry New Yorkers and federally-funded nutrition benefits,” said Joel Berg, executive director of the 
New York City Coalition Against Hunger and a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he authored "Doing What Works to End U.S. Hunger," in March of 2010. “We applaud Council Member Kallos for his common sense plan to use modern technology to reduce these barriers.”
"Ensuring that the right benefits get to the right people without red tape has the potential to improve lives, cut costs, enhance human dignity, and increase trust between government and citizens," said Beth Simone Noveck, former Director of the White House Open Government Initiative and Co-Founder of the Governance Lab
(GovLab) at New York University (NYU). "The automatic benefits legislation proposes a non-partisan vision for government that serves the public without wasteful bureaucracy. Knowing how to administer automatic benefits will demand rigorous and independent academic research using open data about city services, something I am committed to see gets done. But I am convinced that we can make this a reality. Thank you to Council Member Ben Kallos for introducing legislation that could help to improve public services and more effectively manage public resources consistent with our nation's broader commitment to open and innovative government."
"Imagine if signing up for Facebook were as difficult as signing up for social services!  They would never have gotten off the ground.  This far sighted legislation aims to tackle one of the big obstacles to the effectiveness of government programs, namely that we make it so hard for people to establish eligibility. Code for America has been working on SNAP enrollment in California, and has come across all of the issues addressed by this bill. I hope this legislation is not only adopted in New York but is copied around the country!" said Tim O’Reilly, CEO of
O’Reilly Media.
“All too often, confusing and unnecessary bureaucracy stops New Yorkers from receiving the safety net benefits that they are entitled to and urgently need,” said Denise M. Miranda Esq., Managing Director of the Safety Net Project at the Urban Justice Center. “Our government can and must do better. This bill will help more New Yorkers feed their families, keep their housing, and retire with dignity.”
“Streamlined, comprehensive benefits access is a critical step on the path to financial stability.  Leveraging technology and aligning city agencies to better serve eligible New Yorkers is an important move forward for our city,” said Sheena Wright, CEO of
United Way of New York City.
“Older New Yorkers substantially underutilize public benefits. All too often, bureaucratic obstacles and lack of understanding of complex eligibility criteria prevents older adults from accessing benefits. With one out of five NYC seniors living in poverty and thousands more struggling financially just above the poverty line, any public benefits they can receive will help them remain in their homes and communities,” said Bobbie Sackman, Director of Public Policy, LiveOn NY. “LiveOn NY commends Councilman Ben Kallos for introducing this legislation as it would increase access to benefits for seniors and all New Yorkers. This is the right direction to move in.”
 “Through our Benefits Plus online guidebook and training programs, the Community Service Society works hard to demystify the process for signing up for SNAP and other benefits intended to help those struggling to make ends meet,” said David R. Jones, President and CEO of
Community Service Society (CSS). “It’s time we made it easier for those who are eligible for benefits to access them without having to jump through hoops. City Council Member Kallos has put forth legislation that would simplify the process while also increasing efficiencies, reducing costs and making government more effective.”

"Councilmember Ben Kallos’ proposal is long overdue.  More than 20 years ago, as City Comptroller, I urged more user friendly and computerized methods of enrolling and re-enrolling in various federal and City programs.  I was met with a stone wall.  Rather than making it hard to access the benefits that people are entitled to, we need to harness modern technology to make it simple and easy.  Thanks to Ben Kallos we are finally on our way to doing this," said former Congresswoman, Comptroller and DA Elizabeth Holtzman.

“Seniors should have easier access to the benefits they have often worked their whole lives to secure. Every day at the Isaacs Center Senior Center we work on behalf of seniors who are trying to navigate a complex and frustrating entitlements landscape. I am proud to support Council Member Kallos' efforts to automate the benefits process; this critical effort will reduce stress and confusion, and help to ensure the comfort and dignity of New Yorkers as they age,” said Gregory J Morris, President and Executive Director, Stanley M Isaacs Neighborhood Center.
“Councilman Kallos refuses to accept the status quo with regard to the bureaucracy that frequently undermines access to critical safety net benefits, such as SNAP,” states Carolyn Silver, Chief Program Officer of Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, which provides services to families, youth and seniors in the Council Member’s district.  “This legislation will eliminate unnecessary barriers for older adults and others in need by simplifying the process, using technology to facilitate access to  applications and requiring government agencies to communicate more effectively with each other.”
"This forward thinking and landmark proposal will not only streamline the benefits process for eligible and needy New Yorkers, but will also be a catalyst for making other city services more efficient to the benefit of all New Yorkers", said Andrew Rasiej, Founder of
Civic Hall. "In the 21st century we need more legislation like this for other cities and states to follow so when the government collects data about citizens it uses that information to efficiently serve them and not just government."
“It’s a long held legal principle, that rights without remedies is tantamount to no rights at all. Council member Kallos’ draft legislation would take our rights into the Digital Age, and create a meaningful process to guarantee low income New Yorkers their rights to benefits to which they’re entitled but do not receive because of archaic analog bureaucratic processes. Technology, digitalization, and data collection has been used to advance individual wealth. It’s refreshing to see a deployment of digital technology to improve government services for the broader public good and to help the most vulnerable among us,” said Professor Jonathan Askin, Founder and Director of
Brooklyn Law Incubator & Policy Clinic and Innovation Catalyst at the Brooklyn Law Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship (CUBE).
"Ensuring that New Yorkers receive the service and benefits they deserve is a goal everyone should share," said Seamus Kraft, Executive Director of
The OpenGov Foundation"But the endemic government tangle of red tape, bureaucracy and bad technology lets citizens in need slip through the cracks.  With this bill, Council Member Kallos is harnessing innovation to not only help New Yorkers in need, but to improve overall city government effectiveness.  That's a win-win for the Big Apple."
“It's still really hard for people to see the safety net. Enormous amounts of money are poured into government, non-profit, and even entrepreneurial for-profit projects -- yet somehow we end up with more fragmentation and confusion that fails people and communities,” said Greg Bloom, Chief Organizing Officer of
Open Referral. “It doesn't need to be this way. The technology isn't even the hard part; rather, we need the kind of moral conviction and political courage demonstrated by this proposal.”

"This legislation will unleash the power of technology to make government services easily accessible, improving the lives of New Yorkers," said Matt Bishop, Technical Project Manager at WebINTENSIVE Software. “Imagine a city where navigating government services is like selecting benefits from a buffet, instead of struggling to understand dozens of pages of bureaucracy. Council Member Kallos has been a technology leader in government and a pleasure to work with."

“Councilman Kallos is an idea factory who apparently takes literally the Preamble to the Constitution about a ‘more perfect union,’” said Former Public Advocate Mark Green. The idea was initially, proposed by former Public Advocate Mark Green, in “Change for New York: 100 Ideas for a Better City,” in his 2009 campaign for Public Advocate, with Kallos as his Policy Director.

This is the next logical step for government from Access NYC, launched in 2006, a website that allows New Yorkers to screen for eligibility for over 30 City and State benefit programs. Residents can learn how to apply, print out application forms, and determine agency locations where they can go to directly apply for services.


Get involved to make your voice heard.

Get monthly updates with the information you need to make a difference.