BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – Since 2019, The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, or DCFS, has worked with Code for America to make sure local families struggling with financial insecurity are frequently updated with information about helpful programs and tools.

How have they accomplished this? Primarily, through text messages.

Code for America says DCFS played a major role in sending out text messages that helped “over 4,000 Louisianans to file tax returns using GetCTC, claiming over $4 million in tax credits” throughout 2022.

The successful partnership between the two entities was highlighted Tuesday in Washington D.C. during Code for America’s annual summit. The nonprofit used the occasion to honor DCFS as the inaugural recipient of its Government Changemaker Award.

The award was created to highlight a person or organization known for using digital technology to bridge the gap between government provisions and people in communities who need such provisions.

How Louisiana DCFS earned the award

Code for America feels that since 2019, DCFS has been successful in using technology to make government programs easier for people in Louisiana to access.

That year, the two groups partnered to launch LA’Message pilot, a one-way text messaging service that sent texts to benefit recipients during important moments points of the enrollment and renewal process.

DCFS Secretary Terri Ricks said, “Partnering with Code for America in the LA’Message pilot provided indisputable evidence that texting reminders can make the difference between a struggling household keeping their benefits or falling further behind.”

She added, “We’ve since expanded our efforts to include texting for all SNAP, DSNAP and TANF recipients. There’s no doubt the work this partnership has inspired has meant a more efficient process for our staff and greater access to information and opportunities for those we serve.”

DCFS says that since receiving approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service to send text messages directly to all SNAP clients, it’s used the RAVE Alert platform to send nearly 80 million text messages since 2020. This means messages have reached as many as 675,452 recipients at one time. Many of these messages may have been lifesaving as they often included vital information during the COVID-19 pandemic and updates during hurricanes about food assistance, disaster-related assistance, rental assistance as well as other resources. 

DCFS’s future plans for digital technology, accessibility

DCFS’s use of digital technology in accessibility has not come to a standstill. Officials say they want to continue expanding efforts in this regard.

DCFS and Code for America are working on three projects designed to improve recipients’ experiences: a document uploader, an expanded texting campaign, and a digital assistant. Last May, Louisiana was among one of the first states chosen to participate in Code for America’s Safety Net Innovation Lab. DCFS is using the Lab to upgrade its online benefits application portal and the SNAP benefits application process.

Assistant Secretary for Family Support Ashley Sias said she expects positive outcomes.

“Not only are we giving the residents we serve a better user experience, but our caseworkers will be able to process cases more efficiently, lightening the load on them by freeing up time and reducing churn,” Sias said. “Louisiana is on its way to becoming more poverty informed, and this pilot allows us to meet people where they are.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards praised DCFS for its efforts, saying, “This award highlights our commitment as a state to ensure every Louisianan has access to the programs and services they need.”

He added, “Removing barriers to help families is vital, and I congratulate Sec. Ricks and her team for the tremendous work they have done in making this information available and accessible so that families have what they need right at their fingertips.”

DCFS is the state agency responsible for keeping children safe, helping individuals and families become self-sufficient and providing refuge during disasters. Click here to learn more.