As Prepared For Delivery:

Thank you, Ida [Rademacher], for the kind introduction.

I’d like to thank the Aspen Institute for co-hosting this summit alongside the Office of Management and Budget, and for being great partners in our safety net benefits delivery work.

And thank you to the Families and Workers Fund, who helped organize such a robust coalition of foundations to support benefits delivery at the state level.

It’s wonderful to be here alongside so many leaders who are championing the work of financial resilience. I’m also thrilled to be here with several colleagues from the Biden-Harris Administration.

This topic—financial resilience—is personal to me. When I was a little kid, I lived in a middle-class town.  In a middle-class house.  But then my parents got divorced, and my father left for a time. We relied on food stamps to eat, and Section 8 vouchers to pay the rent. At school, I remember being the only kid in the cafeteria line who used 10-cent vouchers from the Free Lunch Program.

I remember waiting with my mother at the welfare office as she was trying to get her benefits.  Waiting hours in line and asking my mom how much longer it was going to be and her telling me: 5 minutes. And then finally, I said she had already said 5 minutes. And she looked at me and said she was doing the best she could.

Even though I wasn’t older than 6 years old, I remember that vividly. She had a lot of stress from being a single mother with two young children. Our safety net added to her stress with a lot of hoops to jump through, instead of making it easier.

And that’s why I’m so committed to this work. And why it matters so much.

Now, I’m happy to report that the safety net worked. Within just a few years, my mother found a job. A few years later, she was earning a middle-class salary. And by the time I was 11, she was able to buy her own house. Eventually, she saw her children off to college and beyond.

I’m here today because people believed in opportunity for all Americans.  They created a safety net that lets people get back on their feet.

But the truth is that our safety net often really makes it really hard—unnecessarily hard—to access benefits.

Help can be hard to come by: buried among complicated bureaucratic processes and arduous applications.

A quarter of people facing financial shocks who are eligible for federal support get no benefits at all. In fact, more than $60 billion in benefits go unclaimed each year.[1]

That is unacceptable.

The faster that people can get their benefits, the easier they can weather a financial storm and get off benefits. Slow benefits payment systems have significant costs for low- and middle-income households—to the tune of $100 billion in the 2010s.[2]

Fortunately, as this group knows better than anyone, we have the power to make things easier for those going through tough times.

This President is committed to making government work for people— not making people work for their benefits from government.

One year ago, we gathered with you all to discuss how we can cut red tape and make it easier for families to access critical safety net benefits. We also held conversations with more than 30 working groups to learn about the issues you face in benefits delivery.

With great partners to support our efforts, and with a strong directive from the President, we have made a lot of progress. 

First, we’re making benefits delivery core to our work. It isn’t a side project or a nice-to-have.

In late 2021, President Biden signed an executive order on customer experience. So that Americans can more easily claim retirement benefits, renew passports, apply for farm loans, and more.

President Biden established the Life Experience framework through this executive order. This framework ensures that the design of solutions that are people-centered, coordinated across agencies, iterative, and transparent.

Our work on Facing a Financial Shock is part of this framework.

For example, states are handling a tremendous number of Medicaid renewals following the expiration of the public health emergency.

So, the U.S. Digital Service stepped in. They’ve deployed a rapid response team for Medicaid.

They’re working with states to improve Medicaid coverage renewals for millions of Americans.

As a result, we’re projected to renew over 5 million additional people in 2024. And we’re saving over 2 million hours of state caseworker processing time.

This is a tremendous achievement. And there’s much more where that came from.

You’ll hear more from the Life Experience team at today’s summit, and I know you’ll benefit from their expertise.

Second, we need to turn over every rock—use every tool in our toolkit to reduce red tape.

For example, the Department of Health and Human Services finalized a rule to strengthen the Child Care and Development Block Grant program. This program supports over 1 million children and their families each month with child care assistance.

The rule makes it easier for families to access subsidies by encouraging states to streamline eligibility and enrollment processes. It also encourages states to reduce red tape that can disrupt parent employment, training, and education.

We’ve also made it easier for millions of families to access benefits like Medicaid, child care programs, and SNAP.

And third, we continue to innovate. Because the very idea of customer experience in benefits delivery demands a creative and continually innovative approach—one that is responsive to new technologies.

As we get ready for Tax Day next week, I have to shout out the IRS’s new Direct File pilot. This free, easy-to-use filing software is now available in 12 states. Plus, Direct File can really help the millions of Americans who don’t realize the tax credits they’re eligible for. So, this innovative tool can potentially lower folks’ tax liability and help them get bigger refunds.[3]

As another example: the Department of Agriculture issued guidance on data sharing to streamline enrollment in the WIC program. Instead of having to apply for separate benefits, like SNAP, Medicaid, and then WIC, state agencies can automatically enroll individuals in WIC.

As another example, we will soon launch income verification pilots in multiple states. These pilots will test out new ways of accessing and sharing data across benefits programs, like SNAP and Medicaid. And we’re learning how to address one of the biggest pain points for applicants and state leaders today.

Because we know that better policy and operations can save time and burden for state and local entities.

And we can make our services more customer-centered, more accessible, more equitable, and ultimately more effective.

That is work we are doing—but we also know there is work you and your states can be doing.  Federal law often provides flexibilities that can enable you to deliver benefits more quickly and reliably, with less red tape for you and your staff. 

For example, you can let people keep SNAP benefits for longer without recertifying. You can provide continuous eligibility for children in Medicaid up to age 6.  You can automatically certify eligibility by exchanging data between SNAP and Medicaid. You can approach assets in ways that don’t discourage wealth-building or require excessive documentation.

All of these ideas have a few things in common: They can make it easier for people in need to keep benefits.

They can reduce burdens on your hard-working staff. 

They can make it easier to fight fraud and error—yes, easier to fight fraud and error.

They can enable you to focus energy on the true problems in the system. Better to focus our efforts there, rather than ask people who are eligible for benefits to document it over and over again.

And finally, these are all changes in your power, if you choose to take them on.  Robert Gordon, one of my deputies who worked in a state not long ago, will talk later today about these pathways for you.

We need you all as partners. That way, we can ensure that people get the help they need, when they need it.

I spend every day of my life grateful for a nation, and a government, that had faith in my mother and in me. That invested in our humanity and gave me a fair shot to pursue my potential.

Everyone deserves that same fair shot. We owe it to Americans today and for generations to come. This work could not be more important.

Thank you for your commitment to serving the American people.


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