To help more people, require less of them.

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Social services applications are difficult.

Public servants around the country are tasked with designing programs around communities where needs far outpace resources. Results are inconsistent, with some areas distributing services at a rapid and effective rate, while others lag behind and further frustrate those in need.

Reducing barriers to entry is one of the most significant ways that we in social services spaces can ensure that resources are distributed equitably (and quickly) across communities. At Connective, we work to create intake systems that are as user friendly as possible to remove roadblocks for those seeking resources. The United States Treasury is also taking steps toward reducing barriers by releasing income proxy guidelines that include geography and national data sources.

Income documentation is one of the most-requested pieces of information on public benefits applications. For a single household, it can mean producing many documents — typically income documents are required for every household member 18 or older. A multi-generational household with a 19, 45, 50, and 80-year old may be required to submit multiple pay stubs or notarized forms for every member of the household.

We believe that the most efficient way to get funds out quickly to people in need is simple applications with low-barrier eligibility and document requirements. Here’s how we do this:

  • Using common applications to access multiple providers
  • Using eligibility and enrollment in other programs as a proxy
  • Using self attestation where possible
Connective, 2021.

Common applications require providing information just once rather than multiple times. Using alternate methods of income verification (such as proof of enrollment in other public benefits) drastically cuts red tape for families. Self-attestation speeds up the intake process substantially, especially in situations where speed is critical to the program’s impact, like renters facing eviction or direct cash assistance payments during a pandemic.

The United States Treasury has gone even further by laying out national intake guidelines for Emergency Rental Assistance Programs (ERAPs). In addition to encouraging self-attestation and using public benefit programs as a proxy for income, the Treasury has developed guidelines for using geography as a proxy for income.

Step 1: Determine a reasonable geographic area (ex.: census tracts or zip codes)
Step 2: Find data sources that offer population-level income data for the area
Step 3: Implement a technique for looking up addresses of applicants in that area
Step 4: Integrate fact-specific proxy with your application system to help determine applicant eligibility

Steps to develop a fact-specific proxy for income, United States Treasury, 2021. Illustration by Connective, 2021.

Social service intake systems are full of discouraging obstacles for those in most need of assistance. We as nonprofit organizations, philanthropists, and funders must push the boundaries of what information is truly necessary when determining eligibility requirements and ruthlessly identify gaps in access. Only then can we provide solutions for more equitable social service delivery.

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