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How do we strengthen the social safety net?

Many households that face financial challenges are eligible to access a patchwork of programs designed to provide them with a safety net. These programs include food assistance (CalFresh), health care (Medi-Cal), assistance for children (Child Tax Credit), housing (vouchers), or cash assistance (Unemployment Insurance, calWORKS, and the Earned Income Tax Credit). But each of these programs is overseen by different state and federal departments, leading to siloed implementation that can be difficult to coordinate across programs. This fragmented system of administration leads to programs falling short of their potential reach, leaving millions of households unserved. Complicated application processes and frequent recertification likewise keep significant numbers of eligible Californians from accessing aid.

To overcome these hurdles, the Possibility Lab has partnered with California 100, the California Department of Social Services, The People Lab, and the California Policy Lab and identified the need for two key innovations. Our goals are to: 

  1. Operationalize the nation’s first linked administrative dataset between safety-net enrollments and tax filings. This will make it possible to proactively target the California families most at risk of missing out on benefits by allowing government agencies to share individual-level data for the purposes of cross-enrollment; and
  1. Provide assistance from trusted messengers who will contact eligible households and provide them text-based, phone-based, and navigator-model tax-filing assistance, in addition to online service, to help them file a tax return. 


We know these various social supports have the power to lift families out of poverty, with both immediate and longer-term impacts related to economic stability, health, and education. However, over 2.2 million California families enrolled in safety net programs are at risk of missing out on thousands of dollars of relief, simply because they have not filed taxes. By identifying Californians at highest risk for not receiving benefits, building trust around and simplifying the tax filing process, and streamlining the application process itself, we hope to help lift struggling Californians out of poverty.

This project was made possible with funding from California 100.