Giving Compass' Take:

• Propel created a mobile app called FreshEBT that aids low-income Americans by helping them make electronic benefit transfers to get the most out of their food stamp benefits. 

• More tech innovation is arriving into the social sector and helping create more access to goods and services to people that need it. What other ways can tech innovation provide more for vulnerable populations? 

• Read about how AI for social good can help nonprofits. 


“One of my ambitions is to help our users put more food on the table,” says Jimmy Chen, the founder of Propel. His company makes a mobile app called FreshEBT that helps people among the U.S.’s 43 million recipients of the electronic benefit transfer (EBT) service to stretch their food-stamp benefits as far as possible.

“We serve low-income Americans who are too poor for most financial services,” says Chen. “They don’t qualify for payday loans because to get a payday loan, you have to have a payday. And 60% of our users don’t have jobs.”

FreshEBT was born during Chen’s fellowship at Blue Ridge Labs @ Robin Hood. The Robin Hood foundation is New York’s largest poverty-fighting organization. An incubator within Robin Hood, Blue Ridge Labs, has quietly been making high-impact tech products for low-income New Yorkers since 2014.

Like most New Yorkers, people with low incomes are busy. Many juggle multiple jobs, and sometimes school, with family responsibilities. They often trade off time and convenience against cost. As one commenter on Hacker News put it,

If you can use technology to give someone below the poverty line more time or information, it may not change their life for the better, but it can allow space for things that could make a difference.

The lab has already spawned projects like Good Call, a hotline that connects New Yorkers who have just been arrested to a free lawyer. Yenko warns low-income college students when they are at risk of losing their aid package and helps them to create an action plan. JustFix helps New Yorkers get repairs on their homes by providing access to housing rights experts.

Read the full article about poverty fighting start-ups by Ciara Byrne at Fast Company.