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Support for LB 825 -Establish local offices for access to public benefit program

January 25, 2011

To: Health and Human Services Committee

From: Aubrey Mancuso, Policy Coordinator

RE:  Support for LB 825 to establish local offices for access to public benefit program

Voices for Children supports LB 825 as a means of ensuring that consumers have meaningful and consistent access to public benefit programs.  In general, the use of new technology is important to improving the delivery of public benefits.  However, in the months since the ACCESS Nebraska system has been implemented, we have heard from many organizations in the community who have raised concerns about the difficulties that accessing the new system has created for them and their clients.  Some of these barriers have been related to implementation problems, but there is also concern that relying almost exclusively on internet and phone access will make public benefit programs inaccessible to those who may need it the most.

Disparities exist in usage of and access to the internet.  According the Pew Research Center, internet usage varies based on disability status and income.  Non-disabled adults are more likely to use the internet than adults with disabilities and those with incomes above $75,000 per year are more likely to use the internet than those earning less.[i]  This is concerning because low-income families and individuals with disabilities are more likely to participate in public benefit programs.  Data from the U.S. Census also reveal differences in internet use and accessibility based on level of education.  For example, only 12% of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher reported that they had no internet access at home while 68% of those with a high school diploma or less lacked home internet.[ii]

Phone communication can also create challenges.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 30% of American households no longer have a landline and rely only on cellular telephones for all of their phone calls.[iii]  In most cases, consumers using this type of phone don’t have unlimited minutes.  Long wait times and multiple phone calls on a single issue can make these programs inaccessible to those who are unable to afford the call time needed to apply for benefit programs.

These disparities reveal that while phone and internet accessibility are more convenient for some, they also create barriers to meaningful access for others.  Encouraging the use of technology, while ensuring that in-person services are still available to those who need them, will ensure that our safety net programs are reaching those who need them most.

LB 825 attempts to maximize the use of existing state buildings to ensure that that in-person access is available.  We urge the committee to advance this bill.

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