The COVID-19 pandemic placed incredible pressure on public assistance programs at a time when states like Louisiana were already trying to conduct more effective outreach to benefits applicants and recipients. These efforts were complicated by a surge in applications and the need to close government offices.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and Code for America designed a pilot program for conducting outreach to public assistance beneficiaries through text messages. The team texted reminders to monitor and renew benefits to a group of approximately 1,000 SNAP recipients. This project created a foundation for future text-based outreach initiatives on a wider scale.
After the pandemic increased demand for public assistance programs, Louisiana recognized a need to conduct rapid outreach to a broader population. DCFS used the terms of an existing contract to expand their messaging capabilities to all Louisiana residents who were in contact with the agency. Additionally, the agency coordinated with the state's 211 social services telephone number to text application information to Louisiana residents who seek information about SNAP. The state now relies on a paid team of SNAP applicants and recipients to collect and incorporate user feedback.
Project Outcomes and Impact
The texting program now serves more than 400,000 households across Louisiana. The agency sends out reminders and information pertaining to both SNAP and TANF benefits. Since the program launched, thousands of residents have followed up on the messages by either requesting help or visiting the agency's website for more information.
Louisiana's texting program offers a model for rapidly expanding prototyped designs from limited pilot programs to larger populations in the face of emergencies. Louisiana DCFS also eliminated the need for third parties to collect feedback by integrating a cohort of beneficiaries directly into the agency's design process and operations.