Giving Compass' Take:

• MDRC shares its take on proactively removing the bureaucratic blindfold that so frequently inhibits the most marginalized families' ability to access COVID-19 benefits.

• Why is it important to ease access to COVID-19 benefits for those who need it most, many of whom already face complex challenges on a day-to-day basis? What can you do to push for policy to help families access COVID-19 benefits?

• Find resources to guide your giving towards communities with limited access to relief benefits.

Why don’t government social services programs better serve families struggling through crises like the COVID-19 pandemic? One reason is that these systems are designed for compliance over access. Many of those who are in need and qualify are deterred by high administrative burdens, including excessive steps and paperwork.

Drawing on insights from behavioral science, state and local agencies that administer these programs can proactively implement three strategies to better support families:

1. Proactive notification: "You might be eligible — click here to start your application."

Today, many individuals are new to social safety net programs and may not understand what they're eligible for. Telling people up front that they qualify for certain benefits focuses them on applying rather than spending time sorting through eligibility criteria.

2. Proactive eligibility: "You are eligible — click here to get your benefit."

In this approach, the agency starts a process for a client, who must respond to claim the benefit. As an example from another CABS study, 10 Ohio community colleges sent emails and letters highlighting potential summer students' eligibility for federal and state grants and informing them of the amounts available to them. To receive the funding, students simply had to enroll in summer courses. Proactively sharing the information — as opposed to waiting for students to inquire about summer funding options — improved grant take-up and course registration.

3. Proactive benefit: "You are going to get the benefit — no further action needed."

This approach requires government agencies to use available data to proactively award benefits to qualified individuals, eliminating unnecessary forms and hassles. The federal CARES Act stimulus payment and automatic distribution of pandemic food assistance are recent examples proving that the federal government can do this.

Read the full article about helping families access COVID-19 benefits at MDRC.