Overcoming Data Sharing Operational Challenges
People who are eligible for safety-net benefits often don’t receive them due to stigma or lack of awareness. That’s a problem Benefits Data Trust is trying to address through the use of data sharing and data matching, said Jeneé Safford, a policy attorney with the organization, during the March 23 C4BH meeting. Safford was joined by her colleague, Alissa Weiss, director of government innovation.
Located in Philadelphia, Benefits Data Trust is a national nonprofit that seeks to improve people’s health and financial outcomes by using data, technology, and policy.
The organization focuses on benefit programs with similar eligibility criteria, such as SNAP, WIC, Medicaid, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and unemployment compensation. Often people are enrolled in one program, such as Medicaid, but not in the other benefit programs. Benefits Data Trust identifies these individuals and assists them as they enroll in other programs, which can be a challenging process.
Benefits Data Trust also analyzes the results of its data-matching process to understand demographic or geographic enrollment trends, thus revealing disparities that inform its outreach efforts among communities that aren’t enrolling in programs.
As a reference point, Benefits Data Trust has conducted data matches across four states to discover that tens of thousands of eligible individuals aren’t accessing benefits in those states.
Benefits Data Trust’s Data Sharing Playbook Provides Guidance
Its Data Sharing Playbook is informed by Benefits Data Trust’s expertise, government officials, and other experts, and focuses on data sharing for benefits analysis and outreach. Included in the playbook are foundational legal considerations for data sharing on a federal and state level. Important considerations are the need to be sensitive to laws such as HIPAA, as well as the question of ethical consent.
The playbook provides common data-sharing agreement components, in addition to data privacy and security components. Local and state agencies can use these materials when they’re tasked with building their own data sharing agreements.
Weiss provided several tips to tackle the operational considerations of data sharing. Areas of focus include the importance of early and comprehensive stakeholder engagement, clear definitions within a data dictionary, and the need to include demographic and geographic data to evaluate disparities.
WIC As a Data-Sharing Case Study
To conclude their presentation, Weiss showcased WIC as an example from their playbook. She observed that WIC data is tightly guarded under federal regulations, which means that, often, only people directly connected with the administration of WIC programs have access; still, Benefits Data Trust has worked with WIC agencies to facilitate similar outcomes through creative means that stay within the letter of the law.
For example, Benefits Data Trust has initiated unidirectional data sharing with WIC programs, which means that the state WIC program completes the data-matching process and conducts outreach to the eligible participant. Benefits Data Trust also sends queries that the state WIC program answers with a simple “yes” or “no,” which still allows the Benefits Data Trust to complete its analysis and provide assistance.
The Data Sharing Playbook features WIC legal analysis, case studies, and a data sharing agreement example. Learn more about California Data Sharing.