The temperature outside hit 90 degrees during the summer of 2008 as hundreds of people lined up outside benefit offices across Michigan, waiting to apply for food stamps and other benefits to carry their families through tough times. Many of the hot, frustrated people in the crowd were attempting to navigate the complex system of accessing public benefits for the first time, only to be met with wait times of over eight hours.

To address this crisis, the Michigan government, philanthropy, and the private sector came together to enact the Michigan Benefits Access Initiative (MBAI), a public/private initiative created to streamline the benefits application process, increase online access to DHS programs, and coordinate local support services.

Over the next 11 years, the MBAI stood as an exemplar of user-centric bundled benefits administration, which has been tested and continuously refined as the needs of the consitunants and available technology has evolved.

The Heising-Simons Foundation partnered with VIVA to conduct stakeholder interviews with representatives from the Michigan government agencies responsible for creating the MBAI, community-based organizations that help end users navigate the system, and families themselves who benefit from the updated system. The resulting report outlines the development and funding of Michigan’s system, but also asks, “If families were the systems designers, how would they create the support systems they are relying upon? How would families define what success should look like?”

Read our executive summary of the MBAI, or access the full report to read case studies of how this program has impacted the lives of Michiganders and learn how they would design a benefits system to meet their needs.

Key activities of this partnership:

  • Research Scan and Report
  • Stakeholder Interviews