Code for America

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Code for America
Founder(s)Jennifer Pahlka
EstablishedSeptember 2009
CEOAmanda Renteria[1]
EndowmentPrimary sponsors

Code for America is a 501(c)(3) civic tech non-profit organization that was founded by Jennifer Pahlka in 2009, "to promote ‘civic hacking’, and to bring 21st century technology to government."[2] Federal, state, and local governments often lack the budget, expertise, and resources to efficiently deploy modern software.[3] Code for America partners with governments to help deliver software services, particularly to low income communities and to people who have been left out.[4] "A large population of American citizens in poverty are not connected and exposed to government resources that they are eligible for—nearly US$60,000,000,000 worth of potential benefits for people in need remain unclaimed every year."[4][5] Projects that illustrate the organization's impact include:

  • GetCalFresh – a portal to access food assistance programs in California that lowered the time to complete an application from 45 minutes to under 10 minutes. Users can access benefits from their mobile device and receive text message updates.[6]
  • MNBenefits – a site that allows Minnesota residents to apply for a range of benefits in English or Spanish. Residents can also upload documents and get help via a live chat feature. The site takes what is often an hour long paper process down to a 12 minute task.[7] The work enabled $636 million in benefits for the state that would have otherwise been lost.[8]
  • Clear My Record – Software that analyzes large datasets of criminal records and pinpoint records eligible to eased or dismissed in states like California, Utah, Illinois.[9][10][11]
  • GetCTC – a streamlined filing tool that enabled low-income families to claim the Child Tax Credit and other tax benefits.[12]
  • GetYourRefund – an online service that allows taxpayers to access Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) services virtually.[12]

Safety Net Innovation Lab[edit]

In April, 2022, "Code for America received two separate investments, totaling US$100,000,000 over seven years, to set up its Safety Net Innovation Lab and work with state and local government agencies to modernize their social safety net administration services to make access to government services more equitable."[13] The investments were made by Audacious project worth US$64,000,000, and Blue Meridian Partners with US$36,000,000.[13] The project also includes, "expanding agencies’ digital services to boost participation in assistance programs targeting women, infants and children, and developing an integrated benefits application that allows families to apply for and access benefits all in one location."[14] The project includes partnerships with 15 states, announced in cohorts:

The remaining states have yet to be announced as of October, 2023.


Former Code for America headquarters in San Francisco

In 2009, Jennifer Pahlka was working with O'Reilly Media at the Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington, DC. A conversation with Andrew Greenhill, the Mayor's Chief of Staff of the City of Tucson, sparked the initial idea for Code for America, when he said "You need to pay attention to the local level, because cities are in major crisis. Revenues are down, costs are up—if we don't change how cities work, they're going to fail."[17] The two began discussing plans for a program that eventually became Code for America, "a one-year fellowship recruiting developers to work for city government".[17] With support from web entrepreneur Leonard Lin, Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media, and technologist Clay A. Johnson, among others, the organization was launched in September 2009.[17]

In July 6, 2010, the organization announced it would be recruiting fellows to participate in an 11 month program with assigned cities.[18] Twenty fellows were selected from 360 applicants.[19] Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Seattle were the four cities selected to participate in the 2011 program.[20] Fellows partnered with Boston developed an "Adopt a Hydrant" website, so that volunteers in Boston could sign up to shovel out fire hydrants after storms. The system was also used in Providence, Anchorage, and Chicago. Honolulu created a similar website, "Adopt-A-Siren", for its tsunami sirens.[21] A group of 2015 fellows started the GetCalFresh project, which grew into a multi-year project supported by teams within the organization.[22]

In 2012, Code for America started supporting local volunteer groups called Brigades. One of the first Brigades, Friendly Code, was out of Grand Rapids, MI.[23] The Brigade network eventually grew to 60 chapters.

In May 2019, Pahlka announced her intention to step down from her leadership role at Code for America once a replacement was found.[24] On May 1, 2020, Amanda Renteria was named as the new CEO.[25]

In January 2023 Code for America ended its Brigade Program and began sunsetting affiliation with Brigades. In an interview, Tracey Patterson, Code for America’s chief program officer, "Called the brigades a 'big part' of Code for America’s history, she said its mission has shifted over the years to the point that supporting dozens of decentralized groups isn’t the best use of its resources."[26]

On August 4, 2021 Code for America employees announced their intent to unionize with the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local1010. The organization officially ratified its first union contract in October 2023. The benefits package “sets a model for technology nonprofits across the country,” according to CEO Amanda Renteria.[27]


  1. ^ "Code for America names new CEO".
  2. ^ "Code For America Announces Five Companies For Accelerator Program". TechCrunch. 10 July 2014. Retrieved 15 October 2023.
  3. ^ Boyd, E.B. (5 January 2011). "Hacker-Driven "Code for America" Kicks Off Today". Fast Company.
  4. ^ a b Renteria, Amanda (2 May 2022). "A bold plan to transform access to the US social safety net". Retrieved 28 October 2022.
  5. ^ Peters, Adele. "Code for America will help states redesign their public benefits systems". Fast Company. An estimated $60 billion in funding for food assistance and other social safety net programs goes unclaimed each year.
  6. ^ Johnston, Ryan (31 May 2019). "California announces statewide expansion of Code for America food stamp tool". StateScoop. Retrieved 23 October 2023.
  7. ^ "Minn. Hones Its 'Human-Centered' Benefits Web, Mobile Portal". GovTech. 21 October 2021. Retrieved 23 October 2023.
  8. ^ McKenzie, Lindsay (24 July 2023). "Code for America, Minnesota speed up Medicaid renewals". StateScoop. Retrieved 10 December 2023.
  9. ^ Garcia-Navarro, Lulu; Bowman, Emma. "Algorithm Targets Marijuana Convictions Eligible To Be Cleared". NPR.
  10. ^ Pace, Eliza (10 February 2022). "Utah's 'clean slate' law goes into effect to expunge old, minor criminal charges". Retrieved 23 October 2023.
  11. ^ Freed, Benjamin (27 August 2019). "Code for America's pot-conviction clearance program heads to Illinois". StateScoop. Retrieved 23 October 2023.
  12. ^ a b "State partners with Code for America, IRS for free e-filing". Retrieved 23 October 2023.
  13. ^ a b "Code for America Receives $100 Million Investment to Work With SLGs on Safety Net Innovation Lab". Retrieved 23 October 2023.
  14. ^ Wood, Colin (12 April 2022). "Code for America to launch safety-net innovation project after $100M investment". StateScoop. Retrieved 23 October 2023.
  15. ^ Freed, Benjamin (18 May 2022). "Code for America's 'Safety Net Innovation Lab' names first 4 states". StateScoop. Retrieved 23 October 2023.
  16. ^ McKenzie, Lindsay (23 March 2023). "Code for America unveils second wave of 'Safety Net Innovation Lab' states". StateScoop. Retrieved 23 October 2023.
  17. ^ a b c Kamenetz, Anya (29 November 2010). "How an Army of Techies Is Taking On City Hall". Fast Company.
  18. ^ Bilton, Nick (6 July 2010). "Changing Government and Tech With Geeks". Bits Blog. Retrieved 23 October 2023.
  19. ^ "Code for America Fellows to Work with City Governments". Government Technology. 3 November 2010. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  20. ^ "Hacker Driven Code for America Kicks Off Today". Fast Company. 5 January 2011. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  21. ^ Raja, Tasneem (June 2014). "Is Coding the New Literacy?". Mother Jones. Retrieved 21 June 2014.
  22. ^ Lu, Yiren (10 November 2016). "Why Is It So Hard to Make a Website for the Government?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 23 October 2023.
  23. ^ Crist, Molly (6 February 2014). "RapidChat: Jonathan Pichot". Rapid Growth. Retrieved 23 October 2023.
  24. ^ Fried, Ina (23 May 2019). "Exclusive: Code For America founder plans to step down". Axios.
  25. ^ Fried, Ina (1 May 2020). "Code for America names new CEO". Axios.
  26. ^ Freed, Benjamin (17 May 2023). "Cut loose, Code for America's former local brigades look to regroup". StateScoop. Retrieved 23 October 2023.
  27. ^ srispens (30 October 2023). "Code for America finally ratifies first union contract". StateScoop. Retrieved 10 December 2023.

External links[edit]