Fixing the Public Assistance User Experience

Chad Fennellalmost 2 years ago


  • Justin Hollis
  • Antoinette Smith
  • Sarah Carlson
  • Sharon Kennedy-Vickers
  • Acooa Ellis
  • Chad Fennell


Acooa Ellis, Director of Social Justice at Catholic Charities of St Paul and Minneapolis outlined just a few of the substantial barriers for securing and retaining social assistance. She stressed the importance of communicating the impact of a changing financial status to individuals as they struggle to navigate a complex web of social services. A simple change of one dollar more earned per year could throw a family into disarray as they lose access to vital resources, what Acooa described as a benefit "cliff."

The systems are so difficult to understand that many actually forgo services altogether.

"...despite the benefits, many low-income families do not participate in the public work support programs. In Minnesota in 2005, 58% of eligible households were not enrolled in Food Support, 22% of eligible persons were not enrolled in MinnesotaCare or Medical Assistance, 76% of eligible children were not enrolled in Child Care Assistance, 70% of eligible households were not enrolled in Energy Assistance, 15% of eligible children were not enrolled in the School Meal Program and 18% of eligible households did not claim the Earned Income Tax Credit or Working Family Credit."


Our project has the following goals:
  • Understand what it means to be a user of social assistance programs and propose at least one persona representing this user.
  • Create UI mock-ups for an informational application that simplifies the process of understanding benefit eligibility.
  • Identify and document core barriers to change for affected government agencies.
  • Consider ways in which to consolidate multiple agency systems into a single system that
    • provides a seamless user experience
    • multiplies the effectiveness of individual organizations through cross-marketing of services, cost sharing, and shared liability
    • continuously improves
    • can be extended and used in other states and cities

TheĀ User

UI Mockups:

Informational application answers a few critical questions that hold significance across multiple service agencies. These questions allow users to quickly understand in real time which aspects of their own financial picture impact their potential eligibility for various services. Identifying these key financial data points would be critical to this app's utility. Potential data might include:
  • Monthly Income
  • Number of Departments
  • Zipcode of Residence
  • Household Size

An alternative UI would take advantage of SMS messaging to suggest potential benefits to users:


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