Anchorage i-Team and Food Bank of Alaskas SNAP text service named as a finalist

4/28/2020
Mayor's Corner

ANCHORAGE — Today, Fast Company recognized the Anchorage Innovation Team (i-Team) and the Food Bank of Alaska as World Changing Ideas Award finalists for developing a text-messaging tool that streamlines enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Fast Company's 2020 World Changing Ideas Awards honor the most promising businesses, policies, projects, and concepts from around the globe that address climate change, social injustice, or economic inequality.

“The i-Team continues to impress and improve with the innovations it contributes to the Municipality. The way they combine creativity and technology to help the people of Anchorage sets an example that will also benefit other communities," said Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.

Nearly one in seven Alaskans struggle with food insecurity, which contributes to negative economic and health outcomes for thousands of Anchorage residents. SNAP helps families overcome food insecurity, and acts as a community stabilizer during economic downturns because the impact of SNAP dollars multiplies throughout the local economy.

Around 25% of eligible Alaskans are not enrolled in SNAP. In 2019 the Anchorage i-Team partnered with the Food Bank of Alaska (FBA) to streamline the application process, which otherwise consists of a cumbersome 28-page paper application. The team created a free text service to help, which launched in October 2019. Now, when Anchorage residents text “SNAP" to 907-891-8913, an automatic Textbot responds with questions that direct the resident to information or connects them with appropriate FBA staff for assistance.

"Anyone can now ask for help anytime, just by sending a text, even from a flip phone. It has allowed the Food Bank's amazing staff to have more one-on-one phone calls with residents, doing what they do best, helping food insecure Alaskans put food on the table," said Anchorage i-Team director Brendan Babb. 

SNAP Textbot inquiries now result in 22% of FBA's SNAP assistance requests, and the tool has allowed FBA to triple its geographic reach from seven boroughs/census areas to 21.

The SNAP Textbot has proven critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in increased need for food assistance. FBA reports an average 75% increase in the need for food assistance, and a 42% increase in inquiries comparing March 2019 to March 2020. The number of people using the text service has quadrupled since March 15 compared to the previous 30 days. The Textbot has saved FBA staff and client time by allowing for some inquiries to be handled entirely via text message.

"Food Bank of Alaska's partnership with the Municipality of Anchorage's i-Team to develop the SNAP Help Textbot has been phenomenal. Texting is something we were interested in doing for a while, but didn't have the capacity or expertise to get it off the ground," says Jim Baldwin, Food Bank of Alaska's Chief Executive Officer. "The Textbot allows us to reach new clients easily, and provides a convenient way for clients to request assistance. It saves our small SNAP Outreach team considerable time, and allows us to reach more clients across the state with less effort - something that is so critical right now."

Anchorage residents facing food insecurity can text SNAP to 907-891-8913 for assistance or click here. The award announcement can be found here and here.

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Media contacts:

Municipality of Anchorage: Ira Slomski-Pritz, ira.slomski-pritz@anchorageak.gov, 907-444-5356

Food Bank of Alaska: Cara Durr, cdurr@foodbankofalaska.org, 907-232-8820

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