Case Study

Using Reminders To Increase Benefit Applications in NYC

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, is the United States’ federally-funded food assistance program for low- income individuals and families. Approximately one in seven Americans participate in SNAP, making SNAP one of the most important government programs in the United States. In 2016, 44.2 million people relied on SNAP benefits to supplement their food consumption.

Unfortunately, there are over 13 million individuals who are eligible for SNAP but are not receiving benefits. To help these people get the necessary aid they are entitled to, we worked with Robin Hood Foundation, a high-impact poverty-fighting organization in New York, and Benefits Data Trust (BDT), an organization that focuses on assisting individuals through the SNAP application process.

Behavioral Diagnosis and Key Insights

We conducted a behavioral analysis to understand the SNAP application process. We listened to initial application phone calls, conducted a behavioral diagnosis of BDT’s outreach mailers, talked to industry experts, and analyzed every form and touchpoint that SNAP recipients receive from the Human Resources Administration (Department of Social Services) when applying to SNAP in New York City. We gathered two key insights:

  1. The application process is complex and time consuming, leading to a massive drop-off. According to some experts, more than half of the applications started are not finished.Most people drop out not because they do not want the benefits but because they fail to remember to submit documents or schedule an interview.There are few support systems in place for people who forget to schedule an interview or submit their documents.In order to understand which documents they need to mail in and by what deadline, these low-income families are expected to read through 30-page packets. In addition, the process is extremely time consuming. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that the average applicant spends over six hours just to complete the application process.
  2. The re-certification process is also SNAP recipients are expected to recertify their eligibility every six to twelve months. SNAP recipients have to provide relevant income documentation and complete a recertification interview. In many cases, if the recipient is more than 30 days late in completing these steps, they lose their SNAP benefits and have to complete a new application all over again.


To help SNAP applicants complete their applications, we worked with BDT and Robin Hood to create an SMS reminder program for those SNAP recipients going through the recertification process. The text messages helped applicants remember key deadlines, gather important documents, and easily access the New York City’s Human Resource Administration (HRA) hotline.

The reminder intervention was administered to thousands of SNAP recipients. The results of this experiment are still pending, and they will be released by BDT and New York City’s Human Resource Administration once available.

Robin Hood and BDT are also working on a SMS reminder program for those going through the application process for the first time.

One HALF of  SNAP applications started are not completed.