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Meet the 20 year-old Philly civic tech company you didn’t really know existed

March 3, 2016 Category: MediumPurpose
Solutions for Progress is a 24-year-old Philadelphia-based civic technology company. It’s also a social enterprise — being both a benefit corporation and a B Corp, they watch a triple bottom line. The company operates two digital services that have been scaled across the country. But have you heard of them?

According to CEO Chris Jacobs, despite being the second benefit corporation in the state and helping over a million low-income Americans get access to public benefits and financial management, SfP has always flown a bit under the radar. It’s not a flashy enterprise, and they only really started collecting data and implementing their technology in 2007, but the company’s scale speaks for itself: SfP serves a real need.

“We have a very clear mission and a clear culture which is about providing services used by our partners to help eradicate poverty,” Jacobs said. “We’re not shy about saying our goal is to do ourselves out of business.”

The company hopes to chart an end to its own existence, and it wants to do so through its two flagship programs:

  • The Benefit Bank is a repository of local social services that screens users for program eligibility while they get tax assistance and filing services. According to Marketing VP Peter Rubenstein, it’s created some serious impact — for every dollar invested in the TBB technology, SfP has seen 40 dollars in benefits received by clients.
  • MyBudgetCoach is the second leg of SfP’s fight to alleviate poverty. Once a family is stabilized, MyBudgetCoach works through partners to facilitate financial coaching, giving families the structure to set and reach financial goals.

SfP is able to scale geographically only through its partner organizations. Here’s the gist of how that works: SfP partners with large organizations with large networks of smaller nonprofits, government agencies and service providers across 10 states — think food banks, churches, social service groups and re-entry organizations — to get their constituents access to programs like SNAP and health coverage.

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Of course, constituents can always enroll in SNAP programs or Medicaid through their state or county offices, but according to Rubenstein, those offices are often only open eight hours a day, their locations aren’t easily accessible to everyone who needs help and individuals may need more support than an overstretched civic servant may be able to offer. It can be overwhelming.

They’d much rather apply for those same benefits at their local church, rec center or community-based organization — and they can, if they’re partnered with SfP, which trains their staff in TBB and MyBudgetCoach. Plus, those who apply for benefits at TBB partner sites can have many of their benefits applications electronically submitted directly into the state or federal system, streamlining the process. It “enhances what the Commonwealth is trying to do to address a major issue,” Jacobs said.

Tax season is the best time to get people enrolled in public programs or receiving services from local nonprofits.

The best time to get more people enrolled in public programs or receiving services from local nonprofits? Tax season.

Jacobs and Rubenstein said low-income populations working the the gray economy sometimes just don’t know how to file their taxes, so they avoid it — maybe because they cut hair now and then or provide low-key cleaning services. SfP and its partners can get them enrolled in programs and teach them how to file their taxes in one shot. It’s a few more steps toward stabilization.

Through their two flagship services, SfP is a civic tech company providing basic needs opportunities to populations that oftentimes don’t have or have very little access to those opportunities.

“It becomes such a wonderful portal to people who are otherwise excluded,”Jacobs said.

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