Assemblymember Berman Introduces Bill to Modernize Public Benefit Programs

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

SACRAMENTO – Today, Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto) introduced legislation to modernize communication between public benefit recipients and county human services agencies. Specifically, Assembly Bill 1957 would give people the option to receive information about the status of their applications, updates about their benefits, and reminders about upcoming appointments electronically.

“Modern technology provides the opportunity to make people’s lives easier and to ensure our government runs more efficiently,” said Assemblymember Berman. “AB 1957 captures this opportunity by improving communication for families on public assistance.”

More than four million Californians – over half of whom are children – rely on CalFresh benefits for food. Similarly, over one million Californians receive financial assistance from the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids program (CalWORKs) for housing, toiletries, and other necessities.

By communicating electronically, county human services agencies have not only increased efficiency, they have also improved outcomes for families in need. In particular, Santa Clara County and others have significantly reduced the number of families who lose benefits and must reapply by providing email, voice, and text options as alternatives to traditional mail.

“AB 1957 is a great opportunity to provide guidance for counties to adopt modern communication processes that will increase programmatic efficiency and client access,” said Sarah Palmer DeFrank with the California Association of Food Banks. “We look forward to working with Assemblymember Berman and his staff this legislative season.”   

Importantly, this bill includes a number of provisions to protect the privacy and rights of those who choose to correspond electronically. Among other things, the bill requires electronic communication and data storage to comply with state security standards and county human services agencies to keep a record of all electronic correspondence.

"As government program delivery is modernized, we want to make sure that privacy and due process rights for applicants are also modernized,” said Jessica Bartholow with Western Center on Law and Poverty, a co-sponsor of the bill. "We are very appreciative of Assemblymember Berman's leadership in bringing this topic to the Legislature and hopeful for the bill's success."

AB 1957 will ensure that county human services agencies communicate efficiently with the people they serve while also protecting the privacy and rights of CalFresh and CalWORKs applicants and recipients.

 

Contact: Kaitlin Curry, (916) 319-2024