Some federal lawmakers have been ramping up their attacks on public benefit programs, most recently at a House Ways and Means hearing today on the need to reform the programs to get people “real help.” Fortunately, at the same hearing, lawmakers heard that a number of states are already doing this — streamlining and better coordinating the programs and services that support low-wage work.
Illinois Health and Human Services Secretary Michele Saddler outlined the state’s transformation of several key programs — like SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, and child care — to help low-income families keep and maintain jobs.
With the support of Work Support Strategies, a foundation-funded initiative, Illinois is simplifying and aligning policies across programs and investing in new technology to make it easier for families to apply and easier for the state to verify their information. (CBPP leads the technical assistance for Work Support Strategies.)
The goal is simple yet powerful: people seeking assistance need only tell their story once to get the supports they need. As Saddler explains:
When I began, our benefit delivery system was broken. Families had to apply multiple times to get the assistance their family desperately needed. They had to take hours or even days off of work to sit in a local office to get help, potentially losing the very work we encourage. Our focus has been on finding and creating efficiencies in this system, seeking a better environment for customers and staff. A more efficient and accessible system leads to greater stability for families and ultimately saves the government future costs of benefits and administration.
Colorado, Idaho, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and South Carolina also participate in Work Support Strategies. Together, they are showing that states that differ politically, geographically, and demographically can find common ground in maximizing efficiency and improving access to critical work supports.
That should be no surprise. After all, every state has faced challenges stemming from the Great Recession, including increased need, budget cuts, and staff reductions, so every state stands to benefit from making its work supports more efficient and its low-income residents more successful. Let’s hope Congress hears the news.