Interagency team making it easier for new families to seek out federal benefits

Interagency teams are also focused on helping the public withstand financial shocks, recover from a disaster, transition from military to civilian life, and nav...

Interagency teams are coming up with new ways to make it easier for the public to sign up for federal benefits and services.

More than half a dozen agencies, for example, are working together on ways to enroll eligible families of young children into federal programs.

That’s just one of five “life experiences” that are a focus of the Biden administration’s work on improved public-facing government services.

Interagency teams are also focused on helping the public withstand financial shocks, recover from a disaster, transition from military to civilian life, and navigate retirement.

Amira Boland, the federal customer experience lead at the Office of Management and Budget, said these life experiences “are shared by millions of Americans every year, and they represent a cross-section of the kinds of services our government provides.”

Boland said on Dec. 15 at a webinar that the deputy secretaries at agencies behind these life-experience teams recently signed a charter, expressing their commitment to this “long-haul work.”

“It’s not shipping a few products. This is systems change work, and it’s not going to be fancy new apps, it’s going to be rethinking forms, guidance to states, how whole processes and programs are designed and implemented,” Boland said.

OMB is leading the General Services Administration and the Departments of Labor, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Education, and Health & Human Services to improve the federal government’s outreach to families with young children.

Maya Uppaluru Mechenbier, the portfolio lead for this life experience at the U.S. Digital Service, said the project is meant to address a maternal health crisis and support families.

Over 80% of women over 40 have given birth at least once in their lifetime. But Mechenbier said that “today, this experience is a significant struggle for too many families.”

To address this challenge, HHS is partnering with the nonprofit Baby2Baby on a pilot to provide newborn supply kits to families in need.

The kits include the basic supplies — including diapers, wipes and other health and hygiene items for both mothers and babies. They also include bite-sized information on how families can enroll in federal government programs.

Caryn Marks, project lead of the newborn supply kit project within the HHS Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, said the department launched the pilot based on feedback from hundreds of people across 34 states, tribes and territories.

“We heard over and again that parents needed the right information at the right time about the different supports the best practices, and even the government benefits that are available to them,” Marks said.

HHS and Baby2Baby so far have distributed 3,000 newborn supply kits in high-need areas in Arkansas, Louisiana and New Mexico.

The department chose these states because of their high rates of maternal and infant mortality, as well as high rates of postpartum depression and other factors tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly 97% of pilot participants who responded to a survey said they were satisfied or “extremely satisfied” with the newborn kit.

A quarter of survey respondents said the information they received in their newborn kits led to them applying for government benefit programs to seek more information about them.

Marks said the project is restoring public trust in government institutions.

Pilot participants who took the survey only gave HHS a 29% favorability score rating, based on receiving their newborn kits, but their scores for the agency more than doubled — to 64% — after receiving the kits.

“We know trust has eroded over time, in both government and institutions, and we want to really try to formulate the pathway to rebuild that trust,” Marks said.

HHS, she added, is looking at ways to expand the pilot to include more partners and locations, and is exploring ways to bring a version of the newborn supply kit to additional families through the Veterans Health Administration.

“We’re taking the evaluation results and really looking at what are the right items, what were most used in the kits, where do we need to modify that? And what is the right timing for receipt of the kit?” Marks said.

Meanwhile, another cross-agency team is testing out text messages as a more effective way to reach out to families about federal benefits.

GSA’s Technology Transformation Services is piloting, a digital notification service that would allow agencies to send customized text messages to their customers.

GSA, as part of its pilot, is teaming with the city of Norfolk, Virginia’s Department of Human Services to send Medicaid renewal reminders via text message to thousands of families.

Phoebe Brauer, a member of the team from the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, said text messages are becoming the preferred way for the public to receive important updates.

“Sometimes families are getting too much information all at once or the information isn’t reaching families at all,” Brauer said. “Mail can be unreliable, and it can feel impossible to reach someone over the phone.”

GSA’s Office of Evaluation Sciences is working with the city of Norfolk to design an impact evaluation that will measure if introducing text messaging improves the experience of families during the Medicaid renewal process.

The team is accepting pilot partners on a rolling basis, with plans on bringing on more partners in spring 2024. also has ongoing pilots with Montgomery County, Maryland, the state of Wisconsin and the state of Washington to improve the public’s ability to get federally funded benefits.

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