The One Degree Common App

By Angel Alvarado, SW Engineering Consultant at Alluma

Here at Alluma's One Degree, we understand that one major difficulty of accessing social services is that they are not one size fits all. In a previous analysis, we reported that 66% of our members need help in more than one resource category (e.g. food, housing, employment, legal, and taxes, etc.), while 28% need help in five or more.

Traditionally, accessing social services in any one of these categories would involve a potentially lengthy process of researching, traveling to, and filling out applicable paperwork for each service. For individuals already struggling, this time and travel commitment can sometimes be enough to prevent them from receiving social services they are otherwise eligible for.

This is why we are so excited to officially launch the Common App, a new One Degree from Alluma service  that allows individuals to apply to Medi-Cal (Covered California), CalFresh (Food Stamps or SNAP) and, for San Francisco residents, the San Francisco Recreation and Parks scholarship, all at the same time with one online application available in English and Spanish.

Common App from One Degree Alluma

Once you sign up for the Common App, or simply use an existing One Degree or Google account to log in, you can apply to all of these programs in as little as 20 minutes. After answering the required questions, the Common App handles the preparation and delivery of the documents to program providers. And because we built the Common App to be extensible, we are excited to add more programs over time.

One Degree has always been a free platform for individuals to find and access resources. With the Common App, we are taking our platform to the next level by directly facilitating applications to these social service programs.

The Common App Design Process

Let’s take a deeper dive behind the scenes of how we built the Common App.

Development started with a human-centered design process which identified four guiding principles:

1. Applying for multiple benefits should not unnecessarily increase the amount of time or questions asked of the applicant.

  • We identified the basic questions that are shared between 2 or more applications and consolidated them into the first section of the Common App. We’ve named this the “Common Info” section. These questions get asked once and are then automatically added to each application that requires them.

2. Community members should be able to use the Common App easily and securely, no matter their level of tech literacy

  • We designed the Common App to be inclusive, accessible, and easy to use. Plus, when someone uses the Common App to submit their applications, they do so securely. Any information they give us is stored in our HIPAA-compliant servers and, for sensitive information, further encrypted to ensure their information stays secure, without any extra effort from the user.

3. Streamline the submission process for supporting documents

  • The process of compiling and submitting personal documents like tax forms or proof of residence can be daunting and time-consuming. With the Common App, we explain which forms are required versus which are optional. And lastly, we provide an easy-to-use upload form that securely sends their documents to the service provider. Applicants can upload files or take photos of their documents from their mobile device.

Document upload on Common App

  • We know asking for information like a social security number and citizenship status can make people anxious or uncomfortable. We are mindful of that by only asking these questions if they agree to it upfront.

Opt-in to share SSN and immigration status

4. Increase exposure to different programs

  • At the start of each application, the applicant can choose from a selection of different programs that they may apply to. Even if an applicant is unfamiliar with each program, this selection menu provides a description of each program and, most importantly, explains what the applicant can potentially receive in simple, plain language.

Select the benefits you need

  • After an applicant is done with their application, they can easily apply to additional programs using the information and documents they’ve already entered. The result is significant time and effort savings for the applicant and more consistent information for program providers.

Tracking the status of your application

Available Programs on the Common App

Let’s take a look at the specific programs an individual can apply for. As noted previously, we identified the common questions between all these applications, which we ask in a “Common Information” section before taking our members to specific application questions. In effect, this reduces the application time for each program by up to 20 minutes.

1. CalFresh

  • What it is: monthly electronic benefits that can be used to buy most foods at many markets and food stores
  • Who it’s for: people with low-income who meet federal income eligibility rules and want to add to their budget to put healthy and nutritious food on the table
  • CalFresh allows you to apply online, in-person, or over the phone. The online application may take up to 20 minutes to complete. With the One Degree Common App, we’ve reduced that online application time down to as little as 3 minutes, because most questions will have already been answered as part of the Common Information section. The Common App also allows individuals to add up to 9 additional household members to their application for food assistance.

2. Medi-Cal (Covered California)

  • What it is: a program that offers free or low-cost health coverage for children and adults with limited income and resources
  • Who it’s for: low-income individuals, including families, seniors, people with disabilities, children in foster care, pregnant women, and childless adults with incomes below 138% of federal poverty level.
  • Medi-Cal is the longest of all the applications we brought to the Common App. The application requires detailed information about jobs and household members. We wanted to make the application feel more personalized and approachable, so we made some notable improvements that make the application a more human-centered process rather than a pile of paperwork. Here are a few examples:

Instead of presenting a depersonalized form where a household member is referenced as “Person #” as in this original Medi-Cal form:

Original Medi-Cal form

We use the information submitted in the first section of the Common App to present a more inviting and easy way to input this information:

A more inviting way to input

  • We also use previously entered information to make the application more personalized while asking about job-related information. This is what the original form looks like:

Original form

And, this is how we made these forms more personalized:

Tell us about Julieta's income

  • Additionally, because we understand that asking for personal information related to SSN and citizenship status can be uncomfortable, we ask permission from our members to ask those questions. If they do provide us with sensitive personal information such as a SSN, we encrypt and safely store that information. Members that are not willing to provide this information still can fill out and submit their Common App application and will later be contacted by the agencies that run each program, who can then determine whether that information is needed from them directly.

Option to continue your application

  • The Common App also allows individuals to add up to 9 additional household members to their application for health coverage, instead of 4 as in the original paper form. In the original paper form, members would need to make physical copies of the document to account for more than 4 household members.

3. San Francisco Recreation Parks Scholarship

  • What it is: 50–100% discount off any SF Rec & Parks program registration
  • Who it’s for: Residents of San Francisco with a household income equal to or less than 250% of the current federal poverty level.
  • For Common App users who designate San Francisco as their county of residence, they will see an additional option to add the SF Rec & Parks Scholarship to their application. The Common App intelligently shows this program only to our users who live in San Francisco, which demonstrates the flexibility of the Common App to show and recommend benefit programs that are relevant to an individual’s specific circumstances and their location.

One Degree looks forward to adding more programs to the Common App going forward, making it easier than ever for members to apply to these important benefits.

Making the connection for our members

Using the Alluma eligibility screener, members can assess if they are eligible for Medi-Cal and CalFresh before starting their application. If they are eligible, we immediately link them to the Common App to apply for benefits.

CalFresh & Medi-Cal Eligibility Screener

In a similar fashion, a member could be searching for food-related resources and get prompted to apply for CalFresh.

Get prompted to apply for CalFresh

Or, they could be searching for health-related resources and get prompted to apply for Medi-Cal.

Get prompted to apply for Medi-Cal

After many months of work, we are excited we have officially launched the Common App and see our members already starting to apply and get enrolled. We are proud that the ecosystem of our different products — such as, iOS, Android Apps and text-to-search — is even better positioned to get our members to the full range of resources they need.