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Code for America: Cell Phones as a Safety Net Lifeline

Code for America, February 24, 2020: Cell Phones as a Safety Net Lifeline

The LA’MESSAGE pilot unambiguously proved that text message reminders are an exceptional solution to persistent challenges in Louisiana:

  • Reminders improve outcomes, nearly doubling key metrics in some cases.
  • Reminders supplement communication gaps from undelivered paper mail, indecipherable notices, clunky online portals and overburdened call centers.
  • Reminders create feedback loops with real data from real users that can serve as an early warning when the benefits program is not working correctly.
  • Reminders reach clients of all backgrounds cheaply and efficiently, costing pennies to send while maintaining extremely high delivery rates.

The broader impact is larger than the final numbers suggest. A 2014 study by the Food and Nutrition Service estimated the administrative costs to state agencies associated with churn to be $80 per SNAP client. It’s impossible to quantify the frustration, confusion and anxiety that clients face when they unexpectedly lose their benefits due to an administrative barrier, but we can conservatively estimate multiple hours saved per client who is able to avoid losing their benefit and beginning a new application entirely. Finally, besides avoiding these human costs of churn, the LA’MESSAGE pilot demonstrated that innovative states can successfully meet clients’ modern communication expectations.

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Redlining and Neighborhood Health

Before the pandemic devastated minority communities, banks and government officials starved them of capital.

Lower-income and minority neighborhoods that were intentionally cut off from lending and investment decades ago today suffer not only from reduced wealth and greater poverty, but from lower life expectancy and higher prevalence of chronic diseases that are risk factors for poor outcomes from COVID-19, a new study shows.

The new study, from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) with researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health and the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab, compared 1930’s maps of government-sanctioned lending discrimination zones with current census and public health data.

Table of Content

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Redlining, the HOLC Maps and Segregation
  • Segregation, Public Health and COVID-19
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion and Policy Recommendations
  • Citations
  • Appendix

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