Case Study
Digitizing Policy

Benefits Launch

Benefits Launch
Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University
Ariel Kennan, Elizabeth Bynum Sorrell
Benefits Launch
Project Partners
Benefits Data Trust
Sector of partners
Benefits Program
CTC: Child Tax Credit
EITC: Earned Income Tax Credit
SNAP: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
SSDI: Social Security Disability Insurance
SSI: Supplemental Security Income
TANF: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
UI: Unemployment Insurance
WIC: Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children
Level of government

Organization description & mission

Benefits Data Trust (BDT) is a nonprofit that works nationally to connect people with public benefits. They use a unique approach that blends direct assistance, policy and practice solutions, data, and technology to provide efficient and dignified access to assistance. Since 2005, they have assisted in more than 800,000 benefits enrollments (including over 90,000 in 2021 alone) and secured over $9 billion in benefits for eligible households. BDT currently provides enrollment assistance in seven states.

Approach to eligibility

To reduce the burden on people applying for multiple benefits at different agencies, BDT offers phone-based application assistance for up to 11 benefit programs. BDT’s trained contact center staff utilize a single digital service, Benefits Launch, to conduct an in-depth eligibility and benefit value estimate, complete questions, collect documents, and submit applications on behalf of callers in the formats required by the administering agencies. The average time to complete the screening and resulting applications is approximately 40 minutes.

To streamline the screening process, the tool uses deduping (consolidating repeat questions from across applications, so that an individual only needs to supply their zip code once, for example) and dynamic reduction of question sets (hiding questions for a benefits program once the screener has determined someone is ineligible for it). The tool also tracks close out reasons to understand why an applicant does not make it through a screening process or chooses not to screen for certain benefit programs. If a screening determines someone is likely eligible for benefits, BDT can submit the relevant applications on their behalf, either through batch processing or by manually completing the application. BDT's approach to eligibility questions is informed by thousands of interactions by its contact center with applicants, resulting in ongoing improvements to clarity, efficiency, and conversational connection.

In Philadelphia, BDT also offers Benefits Launch Express, a high-level eligibility screening and assistance finder for 29 programs that is estimated to take up to 10 minutes and is optimized for self-service or a short touch point that benefits navigators may have with someone seeking assistance. After the screening, Benefits Launch Express directs people to apply via the government agency or with assistance from BDT’s contact center or community organizations. The BDT team has worked to ensure questions can be answered quickly, such as by asking whether something applies to anyone in their household, rather than asking for details about each person. BDT seeks to hone the number of programs someone is potentially eligible for and which ones they apply for. All individuals are notified that eligibility is ultimately determined by the administering agencies.

Rules Structure & Technology

BDT’s Benefits Launch is built around a rules engine that guides dynamic functions such as eligibility, benefit values, questions to be answered, and required documents. Following the initial development of Benefits Launch, BDT custom built an independent rules engine using Ruby and integrated it with Benefits Launch Express using an Application Programming Interface (API). The API is being used for new use cases, such as integration with a human services referral platform to increase the number of benefit related referrals.

How They Write Rules

In order to write the rules, the BDT policy subject matter experts review the federal, state, and local regulations and application forms. Where possible they also seek confirmation from administering agencies. As there is not a coded or data formatted set of rules provided by any level of government, they work to “reverse engineer” the regulations and applications to infer the eligibility rules. The Benefits Process team then writes linear statements in a spreadsheet that is handed off to a software developer to develop into code in the rules engine. With the rules all in one place, the Benefits Process and Quality Assurance teams can review and test the rules directly through the rules engine to ensure they meet standards. The Benefits Process team also tracks potential policy changes and helps make updates to BDT’s engine of eligibility rules. BDT is working on a re-platform for their screener, and aims to create a more standardized, transparent, and configurable platform in the future.

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