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ACCESS Nebraska is a messed up system

Mark Intermill, advocacy director for AARP Nebraska, made the following statement at today's State Capitol news conference on ACCESS Nebraska, the state's troubled system for administering public benefits.

I want to thank the ACCESS Nebraska Investigative Committee, and the staff who have supported them, for the work that they have done to document the history of ACCESS Nebraska, how it works and how it can break down. That history of ACCESS Nebraska will be very helpful to policy makers going forward.

The section of the report that summarizes why we keep meeting like this is found on Page 8 where a 2008 briefing of the Health and Human Services Committee is referenced. In that briefing, ACCESS Nebraska was characterized by the director of the Division of Children and Family Services as a means of reducing the staffing requirement by 25 to 27 percent saving the state $8.5 million a year when implemented.

It turns out that it is not reasonable to think that you can cut FTEs from an understaffed state government function and expect to replace that capacity by providing access to an online tool for use by people who don’t use computers.

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Photo courtesy of Jeff Sheldon, Nebraska Appleseed

This is not to criticize state employees who have been given the task of trying to make ACCESS Nebraska work. Their assignment has been to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. They are trying to provide a high level of customer service. But the framework in which they work has made it difficult to do so.

I also want to recognize those people who work in the aging network who have been going the extra mile to help older people in need to maintain their public benefits. Despite ACCESS Nebraska, they’ve helped assure that our oldest citizens with limited means have access to long-term care services, help with paying their utilities or buying food. It hasn’t been easy. I have watched the aging network staff reaction to the ACCESS Nebraska process evolve from frustration to anger to resignation. As one of them told me yesterday, “We’ve learned to tolerate a messed up system.”

ACCESS Nebraska is a messed up system. But the committee has presented a road map to move us towards a more functional public benefits enrollment process. There may be elements of ACCESS Nebraska that should be retained. But there is much that needs to be rethought and reworked. I am hopeful that today marks the beginning of the next phase of fixing ACCESS Nebraska.

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