App notifies San Francisco food-stamp recipients when benefits about to end

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Wondering if your food stamp benefits are about to run out? There’s an app for that, at least in San Francisco.

About 1,000 food-stamp recipients in San Francisco have signed up to receive text message alerts to their cell phones notifying them that they must update their paperwork to continue to receive benefits, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Food-stamp recipients are required to update their paper work twice a year, the paper notes, those who fail to update their information on time can have their benefits cut off.

“This happens about 1,000 times a month,” Trent Rhorer executive director of the San Francisco Human Services Agency told the Chronicle. “In the meantime, they’d lose their benefits for a few weeks. It’s a hassle.”

In order to help keep food-stamp recipients up to date with their paperwork, this year a team of four fellows with the nonprofit technology for government group, Code for America, created an app for the San Francisco Human Service Agency that sends text messages to food-stamp recipients when they are about to lose their benefits. The messages also include information they need to stay enrolled.

Traditionally update notices go to food-stamp recipients via snail mail 10 days prior to the end of benefits — sometimes arriving late and/or being over looked by the intended addressee, the Chronicle notes.

The Code for America app is called “Promptly.”

“Many CalFresh (Food Stamps) recipients in San Francisco discover that they’ve been disenrolled from benefits while trying to pay for their groceries. It’s a stressful and embarrassing moment. What’s worse, some of these same people have to reapply for services from scratch. Promptly stops this from happening by sending a text message to recipients before they’re disenrolled,” Code for America describes the app.

“Although Promptly was first used to keep people enrolled in CalFresh, the app is also a flexible tool to help schedule, monitor, and send text message notifications for any reason,” the nonprofit adds.

According to the Chronicle, the city is looking to expand the app’s reach to other benefit programs and told the paper that the day before Thanksgiving, 50 people received text-message updates notifying them that their benefits were about to run out.

“They saved 50 people from embarrassment at the grocery store buying their Thanksgiving dinners,” Shannon Spanhake, San Francisco’s deputy innovation officer told The Chronicle.

Still, with about 51,000 San Franciscans currently receiving food stamps, the use of the app is not yet widespread.

Promptly is not the only app available to food-stamp recipients to help make the process more smooth. In a November blog post, Code for America highlighted another app that can assist food stamp recipients find stores that accept their benefits called SnapFresh.

“SnapFresh is a text-message and mobile web app that helps people find places nearby that accept food stamps, now known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. The app is available in Spanish, Chinese, and English, both via SMS and a simple web app,” Code for America explains.

The app allows users to input an address to see a list of nearby stores that accept food stamps.

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