Online identity verification for Michigan’s public assistance programs improves efficiency, speeds access to benefits

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC— In a first-of-its-kind study, RTI International conducted a statewide, in-depth assessment of a pilot of online identity verification for applicants for public assistance – like food assistance, medical assistance, and temporary assistance for needy families. The study found that the pilot reduced application backlogs, and families in need received assistance a day faster.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services receives between 165,000 and 280,000 applications for public assistance each month, more than half of which are submitted online. Under a cooperative agreement with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Michigan incorporated knowledge-based verification and multifactor authentication solutions into its online application system to make applying for assistance more secure and efficient for eligible applicants and the state.

“The trend of moving government services online holds the potential to bring greater convenience and efficiency for both citizens and government,” said Alan O’Connor, a study author and senior economist at RTI International. “But with transactions as sensitive and personal as applying for public assistance, there is keen awareness of issues of privacy, security, identity theft, and fraud.”

The pilot showed that using approaches like generating quizzes with answers that only applicants should know the answer to and pairing passwords with access codes sent via text message streamlines application processing and increases assurance in the validity of the applications submitted online.

The evaluation found that the pilot led to an 8 percent reduction in application backlogs for the Food Assistance Program and reduced average application processing times by about a day for four of the five largest public assistance programs: Food Assistance Program, Medical Assistance, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and Child Development and Care. By one measure, reducing application backlogs was equivalent to adding 95 eligibility specialists to help process applications.

“As more services move online, there is an increased risk for security issues, identity theft, and fraud,” O’Connor said. “Michigan was able to more efficiently verify the identities and eligibility status of applicants, which in turn sped up the distribution of benefits to people in need.”

RTI also surveyed more than 20,000 applicants and learned that they had favorable opinions about identity verification and multifactor authentication technologies used in the pilot.

These improvements in program efficiency did not come at the expense of program integrity; no increases in fraud were detected. 

To read the complete study, visit our publication page.

Highlights

  • RTI International conducted a statewide, in-depth assessment of a pilot of online identity verification for applicants for public assistance – like food assistance, medical assistance, and temporary assistance for needy families
  • The study found that the pilot reduced application backlogs, and families in need received assistance a day faster
  • The evaluation found that the pilot led to an 8 percent reduction in application backlogs for the Food Assistance Program and reduced average application processing times by about a day for four of the five largest public assistance programs