Improving City Assistance to New Yorkers in Need through Notifications and Pre-Filled Applications to be Studied Under Bill Passed by the New York City Council
Hunger, Housing, Health, and Child Care Benefits Among 40 Human Service Benefits That City Will Study to Improve Participation
New York, NY - On Tuesday, December 19 the New York City Council passed legislation to study the cost and city’s technical ability to provide pre-filled applications for assistance programs and proactive notice to potential applicants in an effort to sign up more residents who already qualify, but do not participate.
Assistance for low-income New Yorkers who are in need of hunger, housing, health, childcare, or 40 other assistance programs through notifications and pre-filled applications will be studied by the city, under Introduction 855-B authored by Council Member Ben Kallos and passed by the Council.
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 city. 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, according to LiveOnNY.
“No one should go hungry, lose their home, or go without healthcare in one of the wealthiest cities in the world, especially when assistance programs have been created to help those in need,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “I hope that the city’s study will save tax payer dollars by taking advantage of the legal research, grants, and software that we’ve already secured for the city. Next year, we’ll have the information we need to eliminate the bureaucracy, paperwork, and unnecessary hurdles that prevent our poorest from accessing and keeping the assistance they need to be lifted from poverty.”
Over the past four years, Council Member Ben Kallos worked with experts in the Federal government, academia, non-profits and the private sector to author the legislation, research the regulatory framework to legally provide benefits automatically, secure millions in funding to research outcomes, and even helped make the software necessary freely available to the public.
In July of 2015, as covered by the New York Times, “automatic benefits” legislation originally requiring the city to use information it already had to pre-fill applications and notify residents of eligibility for human service benefits.
In December of 2015, a memorandum “Automatic Benefits: Using Government Data to Deliver Better Citizen Services for Less,” was authored by the Governance Lab at New York University, Stewards of Change, Robin Hood Foundation and Council Member Kallos to summarize legal and regulatory frameworks for moving forward.
In early 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) of $4.5 million for application to the Innovation Center’s Accountable Health Communities (AHC) Model to study the health impacts and reduction in healthcare costs of providing “automatic benefits.” Council Member Kallos brought this $4.5 million grant to the city and every public health institution in his district. This lead to an April 2017 announcement that New York Presbyterian Hospital – represented by Council Member Kallos – won an award as one of 32 organizations selected nationwide for Assistance and Alignment Tracks of the Accountable Health Communities Model.
In October of 2016, Intuit released “Benefit Assist” as free and open source software with a demonstration and source code hosted by Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on GitHub in collaboration with Council Member Kallos to provide necessary technology infrastructure to build upon for providing human service benefits using tax information.
In early 2017 the legislation was amended as Introduction 855-A and heard in the General Welfare Committee, requiring city agencies to notify residents applying for or receiving any human services benefits about all the human service benefits for which they qualify automatically with applications or renewals pre-filled using information from existing applications to reduce bureaucracy and improve access.
The final version of this legislation amended in December 2017 at the request of the Mayor Bill de Blasio's office, Introduction 855-B, will require a feasibility study for the innovative proposal for completion by December 2018, as a first step toward “automatic benefits.”
"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 Professor at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering and Director of the Governance Lab (GovLab).
“In these increasingly challenging times, it is even more important that enrolling in available benefits is as efficient and comprehensive as possible especially for the most vulnerable people in our communities,” said Daniel Stein, President of Stewards of Change Institute and Co-Principal Investigator National Interoperability Collaborative.
“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 all government entities to follow when collecting citizen data so that this information is used to efficiently and equitably serve them.”
“Piles of paperwork and mountains of bureaucracy should not stand between hungry New Yorkers and federally-funded nutrition aid and other anti-poverty benefits,” said Joel Berg, CEO Hunger Free America and a Senior Fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute where he authored Fighting Poverty with Hope in December of 2016.
“It is deeply disappointing that unnecessary bureaucracy prevents large numbers of low-income New Yorkers from receiving essential safety net benefits for which they are entitled to and urgently need,” said Scott Wagner, Esq. Managing Director of the Safety Net Project at the Urban Justice Center. “This legislation will eliminate superfluous barriers for older adults and economic stressed families and individuals to access food, avoid homelessness, and live with dignity.”
“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 Allison Nickerson, Executive Director, LiveOn NY.
“Congratulations to Councilmember Ben Kallos for his leadership untiring efforts to get the City to use modern technology to help needy New Yorkers obtain government benefits. Starting when I was NY Comptroller, I have been urging the use of technology for this end for decades. I hope the City completes its study and get on with the work of implementation promptly,” said Elizabeth Holtzmanformer District Attorney, Comptroller and Congress Member.
“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.”
“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 Isaacs Neighborhood Center.
“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,” said Professor Jonathan Askin, Founder and Director of Brooklyn Law Incubator & Policy Clinicand Innovation Catalyst at the Brooklyn Law Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship (CUBE) “Council Member Kallos and the City Council are taking another important step to automate and streamline government process to ensure that our City’s most vulnerable residents may avail themselves to the full range of services and resources to which they are entitled. NYC should and could lead the nation and the world in harnessing technology and digital processes to protect our most vulnerable constituencies. With this Bill, Council Member Kallos and the City Council are bringing us closer to realizing that vision.”
“Ensuring that New Yorkers receive the services 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 residents in need slip through the cracks. Council Member Kallos's bill goes far to fix that, while improving overall city government effectiveness. That's a win-win for the Big Apple and a model other cities should adopt.”
“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. “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."