Challenges and Opportunities Strengthening the Social Safety Net

By KP Naidu, VP of Benetech Labs, posted on

As the year comes to a close, and US COVID-19 relief hangs in the balance, making sure people have access to critical social and human services is top of mind. While accessing services should be as easy as finding a coffee shop, the information in referral directories is often incorrect and out of date.

The Challenge:

 The pandemic has caused major shifts in the human services realm. Critical service providers (e.g., shelters, food banks, mental health programs) are having to operate at limited capacity, making constant changes to adhere to the ever-evolving COVID-19 safety protocols. While capacity is decreasing, demand for services is up, with many people touching the safety net for the first time:

“When COVID hit, I lost my well-paying job and the medical benefits which came with it. I dipped into my savings to pay the rent, medical insurance for myself and my wife and two children and all the other bills. Now I have very little savings left...The unemployment insurance and the extra money from the government is helping, but what do I do when that runs out? I’m 54 years old. No one wants to hire an older person. I’ve never had to ask for help before, but now I am desperate.” - CS, a tech worker in LA

Many community-based organizations are expanding the types of services that they offer to meet the new needs that COVID-19 has exposed. All these changes combined make it even more difficult for people to find accurate, up-to-date information about assistance available.

The Opportunity:

The pressure on the social safety net has pushed many municipalities and organizations to rethink the ways that they get community members in need connected to essential services. We’ve seen an uptick in interest in our Service Net Platform not only here in the Bay Area, but across California, and in new states including Missouri and North Carolina. With new features targeted specifically at supporting community-based organizations during this challenging time, Service Net is well-positioned to help the entire safety net ecosystem communicate about available services and respond to the needs in their community.

We are continuing to pursue new opportunities to improve this communication, and enable a higher level of community care. For example, providing visibility into the density of social and human services availability, identifying service-rich communities and service deserts.

There is no doubt that this year has been challenging. However, with more attention than ever on the gaps in the social safety net, we have the opportunity to transform the system to better help our neighbors in need.

Dig Deeper

  • The Safety Net as an Essential Service :The safety net was originally designed to be an insurance policy to help vulnerable citizens when they need help getting back on their feet. Over the decades it has become an essential service relied on by the nearly 42% of Americans who earn less than a living wage
  • A Day at the Food Pantry – The New York Times’ The Daily Podcast records one day outside a food pantry in Brooklyn