Every two years, state agencies in Nebraska publish a biennial budget proposal outlining potential priorities for funding and budget cuts. This year, in light of projected reductions in state revenue receipts, Governor Ricketts has asked state agencies to identify general fund budget cuts amounting to 8 percent in laying out a 2017-2019 budget. Our state investment in systems that support children have a lasting and widespread effect on our future and our community. Because of this, Voices for Children in Nebraska reviews budget proposals issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to explore the impact that cuts will have on the well-being of children in our state.
The proposed changes in funding for programs that have been incredibly beneficial to children is concerning to us at Voices for Children. In this post in our series on the DHHS proposed budget, we will examine the consequences of budget cuts to AccessNebraska.
ACCESSNebraska was created in 2008 to modernize and streamline processing for public programs including Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Prior to the implementation of this program, program participants worked with a case manager in one of five independently operating service areas; the absence of a state-wide system led to inconsistencies, lack of transparency, and inefficiency. In creating ACCESS Nebraska, a state-wide online and phone-based system, the state hoped to rectify these issues and provide more efficient assistance to participants. However, the program immediately saw many problems, leading to Nebraska ranking last of all 50 states in timeline processing of SNAP applications at the end of 2014.
In the past 2 years, the Legislature and DHHS have focused on improving ACCESSNebraska and, as a result, 91% of applications are now processed on time, exceeding the federal goal of 85%. Caller wait times have decreased and application processing takes an average of 8 days, down from 40 days in November 2014. Just last week, the special legislative committee on ACCESSNebraska, formed to correct the program’s inefficiencies, announced they are disbanding due to “notable improvements” in the program. Despite these improvements, DHHS suggests closing Customer Service Call Centers in Lexington and Scottsbluff, a move that will decrease staff, increase barriers to access, and place Nebraska at risk to lose federal funding.
As the Legislature begins to make its final budget cuts next month, it is vital that they keep the well-being of children and families in mind. We have previously advocated for various improvements to the ACCESSNebraska system, including employing an appropriate number of staff to handle call volume quickly; cutting the budget on a successful program would undo years of progress. Lawmakers should consider the benefits that investments in programs like ACCESSNebraska will provide for children and families for years to come.
The budget is a complicated document and we’re sure to miss issues that are important to some of our readers. If you’re concerned about a particular proposed cut in the budget, let us know in the comments below. We may not cover everything on our blog, but we still want to know what challenges you see in the upcoming budget. If you are concerned about any of the cuts outlined above we urge you to contact your senator about your concerns before the legislature begins to decide on the final budget in January.