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A Path Forward on Access Nebraska

Path to Success by Dhinel Chheda 2012

It’s summer, and while many of you are hopefully getting out the road map to head off on summer adventures, some of our state Senators are beginning their work on a different kind of road map.

Our public benefit programs like Medicaid, child care subsidy, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP — also known as “food stamps”) help provide a safety net for families who fall on hard times.  In Nebraska, the majority of individuals who benefit from these programs are kids.  Kids make up almost 2/3 of those receiving health insurance through Medicaid and about half of those participating in SNAP. Together, these programs help ensure that children have more access to health care and nutritious foods during critical developmental years.

In 2010, Nebraska changed the way that these programs are accessed by switching to a primarily online and phone-based system called “Access Nebraska” for applications and assistance and instead of dedicated caseworkers, applicants and callers are connected with a worker who is available.  This changes has been fraught with challenges and complaints related to lost documentation, long call wait times and other issues.

In 2012, the Legislature tried to help restore some stability to the system by increasing in-person application assistance and dedicated caseworkers for those who need it by passing LB 825.  Unfortunately, there were challenges with implementing this legislation and problems with the system continued.

This year, the Legislature passed LR 400, to establish a special committee to make recommendations about improving the system.  The work of this special committee gets underway tomorrow and will culminate with recommendations in December.  The Principles for an Effective Access Nebraska System that we signed on to provides a vision for what a functioning system should look like.

Children eligible for food stamps or Medicaid shouldn’t go without having their basic needs met because our system is doing a poor job of connecting them to the resources they need.  Our public programs should be efficient and accessible, and we hope that the Legislative committee puts forth a road map that helps us get there.

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