A mother in Louisiana is struggling to pay her bills and decides to apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, better known as food stamps. She starts to fill out the state’s 26-page, 8,350-word application. Page one instructs her to distinguish between SNAP and two other programs, the Family Independence Temporary Assistance Program and the Kinship Care Subsidy Program, providing a schematic on what to fill out depending on which she wants to apply for. Page three lets her know that she needs to collect paperwork or data in up to 13 different categories—pharmacy printouts from the past three months, four pay stubs, baptismal certificates, proof of who lives in the home. Page six includes details on drug court and “alternatives to abortion”; page seven outlines the penalties if she misuses her benefits by, for example, spending them on a cruise ship or at a psychic. Page 15 asks her to detail her income from 24 different sources; page 16 asks about 14 different housing expenses; page 19 asks about 10 types of assets members of her family might own. The process is invasive, time-consuming, and confusing. She might never finish the application. If she does, she could be rejected for doing the paperwork wrong.  

For the past decade, the San Francisco–based civic-technology nonprofit Code for America has endeavored to use digital tools to make these kinds of applications easier. It has studied applicants’ experiences and advised states on how to simplify their systems. It has built tools to clear a person’s criminal record, connect them with a volunteer tax preparer, and sign them up for valuable tax credits. Now, with $100 million in new donations, CFA is planning to double in size and scope, and “unlock” $30 billion in benefits for millions of families in 15 states.

This expansion is just one part of a much larger effort to unwind the administrative burdens that annoy and impoverish countless families and erode trust in the country’s institutions. A number of states are redoing their benefit applications using accessible-design principles, bills to slash red tape and simplify benefits administration are pending in Congress, and President Joe Biden is using executive orders to cut down on the “time tax” the government puts on low-income families. “There has been a lot more attention to this issue,” Pamela Herd, a sociologist at Georgetown University, told me. Biden’s executive orders, …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Best of


An Army of Coders Takes on the Time Tax

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