The General Services Administration’s (GSA) Technology Transformation Services (TTS) customer experience hub is exploring a text notification system to reach participants with critical program information like application deadlines and interview reminders.

TTS’ newly established Public Benefits Studio wants to collaborate with other government agencies, non-profits, and vendor teams working to improve access to and delivery of programs on their pilot digital notifications service, dubbed U.S. Notify.

“As our first bet, the Studio is exploring opportunities to close this gap in adoption of plain-language, multi-channel notifications,” the Feb. 7 blog said.

“We’re starting by piloting a digital notifications service, which we are currently calling U.S. Notify, designed to allow benefits program staff to start sending customized text messages to program participants at minimal cost,” they wrote.

The idea for TTS’ new Public Benefits Studio sparked from the Federal government’s recent push to improve the public’s experience of critical government services. According to the agency, most people who are interacting with one benefits program – like healthcare, food assistance, or unemployment insurance – are also interacting with many others.

TTS recently created the Public Benefits Studio to focus on fostering a more cohesive, coordinated experience for the public across programs.

“To do this, our team is seeking to collaborate with benefits agencies to develop shared technology tools and best practices that can be used by multiple benefits programs simultaneously,” they wrote in the blog.

The Studio’s first project will tackle text and multi-channel notifications.

The team of techies noted that there are many reasons why it’s advantageous for benefits agencies to offer multiple modes of communication to reach participants with critical program information:

  • Improving the quality and successful delivery of notifications to program participants greatly reduces the incidence of “churn” – people being unenrolled and then re-enrolling to programs within a few months – and can help increase cross-program eligibility awareness and enrollment;
  • Given that 97 percent of U.S. adults with an income of less than $30,000 have a cellphone, the likelihood of successful delivery and follow-through greatly increases by offering text and email options in addition to postal mail; and
  • Multi-channel notifications are named specifically as an opportunity to minimize burden on the public in OMB Memo M-22-10, Improving Access to Public Benefits Programs Through the Paperwork Reduction Act.

“Despite this, email and text notifications are currently underused by public benefits agencies,” the Studio said. “Barriers to adoption often include the high operational cost of procurement and limited in-house technical capacity necessary to use existing tools, as well as ambiguity around what constitutes legal consent to text or email participants. Even among agencies that are using text or email notifications, there’s inconsistency in the clarity and quality of the messages.”

U.S. Notify, they said, has an easy, web-based interface that requires no technical expertise to use and can be set up in as little as 10 minutes.

The program builds upon the success of open-source tools and service models from other government agencies – like the Veterans Affairs’ VANotify.

The Studio is actively looking to collaborate with benefit agencies on this pilot program as early as spring 2023.

“Notifications are just the start. The Studio plans to explore other opportunity areas in the future,” they wrote.

Read More About
More Topics
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.