An online tool from tax preparation company Intuit that can easily determine whether an application is eligible for food stamps or other benefits is now freely available through a federal agency to states, local governments or nonprofit organizations.
Councilman Ben Kallos has been pushing for legislation that would require the city to use income tax filings to determine eligibility for public benefits.
Last year, Intuit made the Benefit Assist tool available to help users of TurboTax determine whether they were eligible for an array of programs, including SNAP, Medicaid, Medicare and many others.
That was around the time Kallos introduced his automatic benefits legislation and began working with the Governance Lab at N.Y.U., Stewards of Change and the Robin Hood Foundation to address legal concerns about the proposal.
"They were in the private sector doing what I think good government should be doing on its own," he said. "So when I saw the software, I reached out to Intuit and said, 'I love this, I love it so much, I want you to give it away for free' ... and they said yes."
Kallos also had been working with the federal government on human services benefits, as the Centers for Medicaid and Medicaid Services within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for providing reimbursements to state governments for building benefit management systems.
"At the end of the day, states all over the country are paying millions of dollars ... to the same handful of vendors for the exact same software," he said. "I asked the Center for Medicaid whether they'd be willing to host the open-source software released by Intuit, and make it available to the states so that if they wanted to save a couple of million dollars or a $100 million, they can just start off with this software and build on top of it, and if they don't like the vendor they're working with, they can hire a new one, and use this source code as the basis."