What If the Social Safety Net System Actually Worked?

By Robert Phillips and Rey Faustino

Imagine losing your job. Contracting COVID-19. Struggling to pay your rent and feed your children. All of us face crises and challenges in our lives. These challenges can last for months or years and can happen suddenly and without warning. Many of us will face some kind of crisis or financial shock in our lives and will need help. Yet when they need it most, many people don’t know where to start or turn to for support.

Our safety net system is meant to provide support in these moments in our lives, helping with housing assistance, unemployment benefits, health coverage, and more. But the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis has laid bare the many cracks we already knew existed in our systems. Plagued by social and racial inequities and barriers to access, our social safety net is failing tens of millions of people and families when we need it the most. Accessing life-saving resources continues to be harder than it needs to be for the 46 million Americans who were already living below the federal poverty line when the pandemic started. And now they are joined by another 40-50 million people who find themselves out of work and facing an eviction crisis by no fault of their own.

That’s why Alluma and One Degree — two social technology nonprofits — are purposefully joining forces to reimagine how our safety net system supports people in America. We have a vision for a safety net system that really works to achieve its true promise of empowering people to live better lives. Together, we will become the leading nonprofit provider of technology solutions that meet the needs of community-based organizations, public sector health and human services agencies, and others focused on closing the gaps for tens of millions of Americans.

We’re looking forward to working together, scaling our solutions to help our community members help themselves, and leading the way to build a better safety net.

Through merging our two organizations, we are creating a platform that helps people to find, qualify for, and enroll in services and programs they need when they need them. By uniting One Degree’s community resource and referral services and Alluma’s digitally-based self-service application and platform, we will create a way for people who need help to find what they need, understand if they qualify, then get the help they need, all in one place.

For years, our respective organizations have been engaged in efforts to improve access to the safety net system’s programs and resources. And we’ve seen first-hand the potential for how a more streamlined system can help people achieve greater success and improve their lives. Take for example, One Degree member Tierra, a single mother who was referred to us by a nurse practitioner at a shelter on Skid Row in Los Angeles. Before she found One Degree, Tierra tried to find housing for herself and her daughter by knocking on doors up and down Skid Row. After downloading the One Degree app, Tierra was able to search for resources using filters that matched her needs. Soon after, she found affordable housing as well as summer and winter programs for her daughter. With One Degree integrated with Alluma, Tierra could use the same entry point to find, determine eligibility, and enroll in health care, child care subsidies, WIC supports, housing subsidies, and more, by entering her information just one time to process multiple applications and get the services she needs to improve her family’s life.

Our relationship is not new. Alluma and One Degree began working in partnership in 2017 to make it easier to access Medi-Cal and CalFresh. When we first met each other, we were excited to compare notes, particularly since it’s rare to find two men of color leading organizations focused on integrating technology into the work of social change. And after collaborating for the last few years and successfully launching the eligibility screening tool in California, we knew we had to explore a deeper partnership to see if we might be able to do much more for the people we serve.

The result was both of us seeing what the other saw, the power of what our mutual vision would achieve together, and the rest as they say is history. Now we are merging, taking the best of both of our organizations to co-create a new organization with social and racial equity as its bedrock. While there are many in the sector who seek to profit off of people in need for the benefit of shareholders, we are proud to be a nonprofit social enterprise, which means we use private sector strategies to answer a social question that puts the needs of people and community first. We’ve intentionally chosen a path where helping people achieve stability and economic mobility is our bottom line.

We’re thrilled to announce the Alluma-One Degree merger because of the vision it represents and the urgency of this moment. An essential component in our nation’s recovery is the transformation of our safety net to a system that actually works for everyone. We need a system that can keep its promise to us - to catch us if we fall on hard times and get us back on our feet. We’re looking forward to working together, scaling our solutions to help our community members help themselves, and leading the way to build a better safety net.

Join us for Rebuilding the Social Safety Net: How Can We Center Equity?, a Zoom Discussion Forum on Wednesday, October 28, 9-10am PT to discuss the future of the social safety net system and how it can be transformed to center equity. Please come ready to share your experiences, ask questions, and discuss innovative solutions for how the system can be transformed! Register here.