GovTech: Schmidt Futures

Eric Schmidt’s philanthropic organization has launched a program meant to spark innovation for access to benefits for low-income residents. Funding, technical help and partnerships are all part of the effort.

Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic group run by a former CEO of Google and his wife, is funding a program designed to help public agencies expand access to social safety benefits, including at the state and local level.The organization, led by Eric and Wendy Schmidt, has launched its Social Safety Net Product Studio. In a statement, Schmidt Futures described the effort as “an initiative bringing technologist entrepreneurs together to improve the accessibility of U.S. government social safety net benefits.”The work also involves the Ballmer Group, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies.

The studio, with $13 million of funding, aims to open access to more than $100 million worth of benefits for U.S. low-income families over the next two years, according to that statement. As Schmidt Futures put it, that will come via the organization’s support of 12 groups working on scalable tools for people seeking benefits.The move is among the latest examples of tech professionals trying to bring more digital efficiencies to a variety of benefits.Participants in the Schmidt program include entrepreneurs, engineers, data scientists, designers and researchers. They will receive not only funding but technical assistance and other support.

Examples of the work involved include what a Schmidt Futures spokesperson, in an email to Government Technology, described as “an end-to-end cash assistance software platform to help state and local governments to design eligibility applications, verify and process applicants, disburse payments and track outcomes” from Beam; open source tools “to help state governments (starting with New Jersey) improve communication between benefit recipients and state agencies” from Semicolon Design Group; an open source portal for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food benefit verification from Nava, with assistance from the state of Montana; and “an open source foreclosure and eviction analysis tool” from DataKind and New American that also involves 14 cities and counties.This new effort stems from earlier work by Schmidt Futures to encourage affordable and more accessible high-speed Internet, according to the statement.“We have been inspired by the ingenuity of the applicant pool, the awardees and their government partners,” said Elizabeth Young McNally, executive vice president of Talent Ventures at Schmidt Futures, in the statement. “They are tackling stubborn challenges with a renewed sense of urgency and optimism, driven by new, tech-forward solutions to enable greater access.”

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