California Department of Social Services

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has been a leader in tackling the challenges of better access to benefits and services for many years. But they had one major hurdle left in truly streamlining support for Californians in need: cutting through the burdens of required verification.

So, they came to Alluma to dive into the realities and opportunities of the current verification landscape, and asked us to develop an informed, clear, and tangible plan of action.

Our Goal: Develop a roadmap for streamlining multi-program verifications (particularly for CalFresh and CalWORKs) to make the process faster, more accurate, and more efficient for administrators and make accessing benefits easier for families.

The Challenge
  • Many health and human services programs in California have similar verification requirements. However, the verification process is complex, involving multiple systems and disparate data sources.
  • Often, electronic verification data is not timely or up-to-date, creating delays for clients, program staff, and the people these programs aim to serve.
  • Incomplete or inconsistent information can result in eligible people not receiving much-needed food, housing, or other critical services.
  • Operational inefficiencies, including burdensome manual processes, and duplication of effort also leads to higher administrative costs.

Our Solution
The analysis — based on detailed technical and policy research, interviews with experts, focus groups, and site visits — utilized a human-centered design approach to understand the current verification landscape in California. Our research was grounded in multiple perspectives and focused on the experiences and impacts of all stakeholders, to really understand the barriers for both staff and people served.

The project included:

  • An analysis of the current environment of eligibility verifications;
  • An alternatives analysis of electronic verification systems being used in California and other states;
  • Extensive stakeholder engagement activities and an insights report; and
  • Recommendations for consideration in the short, medium, and long term.

What We Found
We knew improving this complex system was going to be about much more than just a technology or technical fix. The policy and operational aspects would be critical pieces to success. So rather than a single solution, our roadmap provided a complementary set of options for CDSS to implement over short, medium, and long-term phases, incorporating policy, operations, and technology improvements over time.

Our Recommendations
  • Create a client-centered statewide vision of the desired experience and outcomes, and use it to guide all decision-making;
  • Promote policy alignment and standardization across programs to allow for data-sharing;
  • Improve access to, filtering, and logic of existing data sources so current and relevant data is provided to eligibility staff for processing;
  • Enhance existing systems, e.g., undertake a user-centered design initiative to improve the online consumer portal and document management module of the new Statewide Automated Welfare System (SAWS);
  • Create a centralized state verification hub to securely facilitate data-sharing; and
  • Use metrics, tools, and trainings to advance performance and evidence-based decision-making.

CDSS used several of our recommendations to guide their approach to the planning, design, and procurement of the verification system, including:
  • Increasing agency-wide discussions to develop an integrated vision, so multiple programs and Departments are collaborating on the potential benefits of a verification hub;
  • Beginning a formal process to inventory and align policies between Medi-Cal, CalWORKs, and CalFresh; and
  • Engaging stakeholders in advance of procurement, to ensure the RFP requirements reflects consumer and staff needs.

Partner Quote
“The Alluma team has a unique mix of technology expertise and policy experience, and that’s reflected in the smart analysis and recommendations they made. Though we initially focused on the central technology hub alone for streamlining verification, Alluma’s people-centered research and deep analysis uncovered many other critical success factors. This was very useful; it highlighted other operational and policy changes we could implement in the short term, while working towards the long-term vision for a central technology hub. We also wanted to hear from a wide range of stakeholders, and they went above and beyond to deeply engage a broad and diverse group.” - CalFresh and Nutrition Branch, California Department of Social Services

State Verification Hub

An illustration of the recommended state hub. In this hybrid model, the hub would offer both real-time and batch capabilities for both data providers (sources of data) and data users (systems or individual authorized users with the ability to make queries and receive results). Note that a single entity could potentially be both a data provider and a data user. Authorized data users could access the hub directly by signing onto a web portal and/or indirectly by signing onto a system that has been integrated with the state hub (e.g., CalSAWS).