"If poverty is about time and mental bandwidth as well as money, how does this change how we combat its effects? 'When we think about programs for the poor, we don’t ever think, hey, let’s give them programs that don’t use a lot of bandwidth,' says Mr. Mullainathan. Instead, we fault people for failing to sign up for programs that are ostensibly available, even though we don’t factor in the time and cognitive capacity they need to get past even the first step.
“'If I give people a very complicated form, it’s a big demand on cognitive capacity,' Mr. Shafir says. 'Take something like the Fafsa' — the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — 'Why is pickup for the low-income families less than 30 percent? People are already overwhelmed, and you go and give them an incredibly complicated form.'
"To him, the obvious conclusion is to radically change our thinking. 'Just like you wouldn’t charge them $1,000 to fill out a form, you shouldn’t charge them $1,000 in cognitive complexity,' he says. One study found that if you offer help with filling out the Fafsa form, pickup goes up significantly."
It starts with empathy
Jake Solomon has another take on the issue, which he explains so well in his post People, Not Data https://medium.com/@lippytak/people-not-data-47434acb50a8 about the work he and the other Code for America fellows in San Francisco did last year to simplify the compliance for Food Stamp recipients.
What I love about Maria's article, though, is that it gives another way of thinking about why complex government forms are even worse than they appear, especially when it comes to providing services to people least able to deal with them.
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