Committee will study public benefit access system

Lawmakers approved a measure March 7 that establishes a special investigative committee of the Legislature to study the state’s public benefit access system.

LR400, introduced by Fullerton Sen. Annette Dubas, establishes the ACCESSNebraska Special Investigative Committee of the Legislature. ACCESSNebraska is an online and call center system developed by the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and implemented in 2009 to determine public benefit eligibility and to deliver those benefits to clients.

Under the proposal, the scope of the investigation will include but not be limited to the:
• experiences of clients and their families;
• adequacy of the technology used within the ACCESSNebraska system; and
• adequacy of staffing and training of DHHS employees working within the system.

The committee will consist of seven members of the Legislature appointed by the Executive Board. The committee is authorized to hold hearings and issue subpoenas as deemed necessary and will issue a report of its findings and recommendations to the Legislature no later than Dec. 15, 2014.

Dubas said the state has experienced a variety of problems with ACCESSNebraska since its inception, including long wait times for callers, high worker turnover and lost paperwork. Nebraskans have waited hours to access the system, she said, and 70 percent of the current workforce has less than 18 months of experience.

“This program needs a comprehensive [examination] to determine where we are at and what we need to do at multiple levels to take corrective action,” she said. “Rather than continue to introduce random pieces of legislation … we would be better served to do our own independent analysis.”

Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell supported the resolution, saying people have been “patient beyond belief” with the system but that patience is running out.

“It is unconscionable that our customer service to Nebraskans is not the best that it can be,” she said.

Omaha Sen. John Nelson questioned whether establishing a special committee was necessary. The ACCESSNebraska system is improving, he said, and perhaps could be provided adequate oversight through the work of standing legislative committees.

“Is there another way that we can encourage that?” Nelson said.

Dubas said DHHS reform efforts have been halting and not comprehensive.

“This program has been in place since 2009, and we are still trying to make it work,” she said. “I’m not sure how much longer we can wait.”

The resolution was adopted on a 23-0 vote. Legislative resolutions require a simple majority of members present for adoption.

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