Minnesota Moves Forward with Plain Language

I’ve always thought of Minnesota as a progressive, citizen-centered state. The following example of the successful use of plain language proves my point.

Hennepin County, Minnesota, has just completed a three-year pilot program in which they tested short forms for recipients or those who are eligible to apply for certain types of benefits. The outcomes were so encouraging, they will now roll out the new forms for statewide use.

Rep. Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis, sponsored a bill to implement a pilot program to test if they could make it easier for people to apply to receive Supplemental Security Income payments. They tested 200 people who filled out the original application against 200 using the new form.

The results indicated that although the return rate didn’t change, the short forms

  • were more convenient
  • took an average of 5 to 10 fewer minutes to process
  • cost $.65 less to mail down from $1.26 per unit.

Ironically, because we are so “trained” to expect lengthy, unintelligible government forms, some people were afraid that filling out the short form might mean they would lose of their benefits. (Pavlov would have something to say about that.)

One reason this “experiment” was so successful is the effect it had on the people who have to fill out these forms, many of whom are nearing the end of their life, or facing debilitating illnesses, or suffering with severe disabilities.  Government communication should not add to their pain and suffering.

The least government can do is make it easy for us to secure benefits we are entitled to.

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Center for Plain Language (centerforplainlanguage.org)


Printed April 19, 2014


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