A new federal pilot program aims to use text messaging to send critical service updates about federal benefits to people, according to the Government Services Administration (GSA).
The digital notification service, currently known as notify.gov (formerly known as U.S. Notify), sends text messages about application deadlines, interview reminders, fraud reduction and other critical service updates to those who opt-in for the service, according to the GSA, which manages basic functions of other federal agencies. Notify.gov is designed to help state and local agencies that administer federal programs simplify processes for customers, increase communication and awareness about available programs and lessen the administrative burden, GSA said.
The service is so far being launched as a beta test in Norfolk, Virginia, Montgomery County in Maryland, as well as the states of Wisconsin and Washington.
The program is run through GSA’s Technology Transformation Services’ Public Benefits Studio, which is made up of a team of technologists that have specialized experience with government programs including Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Amy Ashida, Public Benefits Studio director, said in a statement that the service could help simplify public benefit programs.
“Through these partnerships, we’ll be able to test and confirm the potential impact of Notfiy.gov,” Ashida said. “Our mission is to make it easier for agencies to reach people who participate in their programs and increase access to the benefits and resources they are eligible for.”
Reliance on snail mail
Many government agencies still use the postal service as their primary means of communicating with the public, the GSA said.
“But mail can get lost or delayed, and many people do not keep the same address,” the agency said. “A missed deadline or required interview could mean a loss of health insurance only realized when at the doctor’s office, or that they cannot pay for groceries when already at the register.”
Text message correspondence has emerged as a popular and effective form of communicating, the GSA said. The pilot program was built on similar programs in Canada and the U.K. that saw a 20% to 50% increase in case maintenance and cross-program enrollment when texts, emails and phone calls in addition to regular mail, it added.
Other government agencies with similar text messaging programs include Veterans Affairs, which launched VANotify in 2021.
Warnings about text messaging scams
Meanwhile, a number of government agencies have issued warnings about how to prevent various scams involving text messages. These include the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which issued a consumer alert earlier this year about the rising threat of so-called “robotext” scams — or text messages from senders trying to get you to engage with them by, for example, using fear and anxiety to prompt you to take action.
To protect yourself against such scams, the FCC advises that you not respond to suspicious texts even if the message requests that you “text STOP” to end messages, and to not click on any links. For a list of other proactive steps you can take, visit the FCC alert page.