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But when canvassing Philadelphia grocery stores, his team found that many of its potential clients—around 80 percent, Chen says —were already signed up for benefits.

Though organizations like the US Digital Service and 18F pioneered building technical infrastructure at the federal level, thanks to the hiring freezes, budget cuts, and high profile exits that have occurred during the Trump administration, they face an uncertain future.

This innovation is shifting to the private and nonprofit sectors, where companies are using both classic venture capital models and more traditional forms of state contracting to significantly improve civic technology.

Young tech workers have increasingly noticed the wide-open opportunity to bring disruption to outdated social programs.

With a user base of nearly 43 million Americans, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food stamps, is ripe for innovation. Now she uses Fresh EBT, an app launched by mobile software startup Propel.

Code for America, a nonprofit founded in 2009 to connect developers and designers with local and state governments, had previously tackled community problems like building an app to identify the fire hydrants that needed shoveling after snowstorms.