AccessNebraska special legislative committee authorized

Lawmakers voted Feb. 29 to authorize a special committee of the Legislature to provide oversight to a portion of the state’s public benefit delivery system.

LR418, introduced by Omaha Sen. Sara Howard, creates the ACCESSNebraska Oversight Committee. Howard said the committee will provide oversight and ongoing dialogue between the Legislature and the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to ensure continued improvement of the system.

ACCESSNebraska is an online and call center system developed and implemented by DHHS to determine public benefit eligibility and deliver benefits to clients.

The ACCESSNebraska Special Investigative Committee of the Legislature was created in 2014 to investigate an array of problems, including long wait times for callers, lost paperwork and high worker turnover. Authorization for the committee was extended until the beginning of the current legislative session in January of 2016.

Howard said Nebraska ranked first in the nation in processing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits prior to changing to the ACCESSNebraska system.

“Then we switched to a call center system and we went down to 51st,” she said. “We’re now sitting at 32nd.”

Howard, who served as chairperson of the committee last year, said that while an investigative committee is no longer necessary, continued communication is.

“We wanted to maintain one more year of legislative oversight,” she said. “We want them to know that we’re still watching and we still want those call wait times to go down and the processing of those applications to speed up.”

Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz supported the resolution, saying the public benefits that are accessed through the system are essential to keeping children and the elderly safe and secure. As a result, she said, timely processing of applications is essential.

“There is still a lot of work to be done and I don’t think that we are quite where we need to be,” Bolz said, adding that continued oversight could result in even more improvement in the system.

Sen. Merv Riepe of Ralston opposed the resolution. As a member of the previous special investigative committee, Riepe said he disagreed both with the findings of the committee’s report and the recommendation for an oversight committee.

“I believe we have to acknowledge where we are today and not wallow in past failures,” he said.

Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford, also a member of the special investigative committee, supported the resolution. Before it dissolved, she said, the previous committee considered continued investigation, an oversight committee or turning oversight back to DHHS.

“After discussing the pros and cons of each of those three directions, it was the sense of the [investigative] committee that to move forward with this oversight committee was the appropriate step to take,” Crawford said.

Lawmakers voted 26-7 to adopt the resolution.

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