Our Policy & Advocacy team is comprised of two data specialists, which sets us up perfectly to understand and effectively advocate for changes to systems that directly impact hungry Californians. We have been lending our expertise as part of an alliance of advocates advising the state on an upcoming change to how human services program data is managed. We have written a White Paper based on our research to share data-driven recommendations with leadership at the California Department of Social Services.
We love this stuff, but it can get pretty wonky, so we’re here to help break it down for you!
California has three separate data systems to support the health and human services programs that serve more than 13 million Californians. Called “Statewide Automated Welfare Systems” (SAWS), these data systems are used primarily at the county level to handle enrollment and eligibility for several programs, including CalFresh (food stamps, also known as SNAP).
Having three distinct systems has resulted in inconsistent data, inefficient data access, and wide variability in the ability of counties to analyze the data they have. This has a direct impact on the experience of people applying for health and human services benefits like CalFresh. These challenges play a role in California’s terrible CalFresh participation rate – we rank 4th worst in the nation, and dead last among seniors. (Only 21% of eligible seniors currently get CalFresh!)
The Solution: From Three Systems to One by 2023
In 2012, the Federal Nutrition Service mandated that California start to move toward a single SAWS system by the end of 2020. In response, the state has begun the complex process of migrating these three SAWS into one centralized system, referred to as “CalSAWS.” The goal is to transition all 58 counties into the new CalSAWS system by 2023.
This undertaking, which will cost more than a billion dollars, offers an unprecedented opportunity to examine the strengths and limitations of the current SAWS to optimize the new system to best serve California’s most vulnerable individuals and households.
Food Bank Advocates at the Table
Starting in 2018, our Policy & Advocacy team has worked closely with other advocates to advise the state agencies responsible for this transition. We are fighting for a CalSAWS system that makes life easier for people applying for or already participating in human services programs, as well as for the workers who help them access the programs they need. Our goal is to ensure that CalSAWS supports an efficient and user-friendly CalFresh program that can continuously improve on program participation and consumer experience over time.
In practice, this can mean that a working person seeking CalFresh could now be able to call into a contact center that could call her back when there was a long wait time, rather than having to wait on the line for her required interview. We know that the enrollment process can be burdensome, and people get discouraged at many stages throughout the process. Our hope is that an integrated CalSAWS system will take down some of those barriers to participation by putting the human experience at the center of the development.
Research to Drive Improvement
To support this goal, we developed a white paper outlining the essential components for a strong CalSAWS data system. The paper hones in on three key areas we want California Department of Social Services to prioritize in this process:
- Support county and state program staff in identifying opportunities for increased efficiencies for both clients and eligibility workers,
- Allow sufficient time and resources for analysis of the effectiveness and uniformity of implementation of policies and procedures,
- Identify inequities in outcomes across populations since CalFresh access has historically been particularly burdensome for seniors, non-English Speakers, and the working poor.
To read more our detailed recommendations for improving data systems that support CalFresh program improvement, download the white paper.
If you’re interested in learning more about the work of our Policy & Advocacy team, sign up for our mailing list to get Advocacy Alerts so you can help us spread our message at critical moments. You can also stay engaged and get instant updates by following us on Twitter at @SFMFoodBank and @SFMFB_Advocacy
Photo: Jeremiah Carter
Acknowledgements: Research support from Claudia Page, Consultant