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Office of Governor Pete Ricketts

Better Service for Nebraskans


By Governor Pete Ricketts

July 9, 2018


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Running government more like a business is helping make the State of Nebraska more effective, more efficient, and more customer-focused.  In the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Chief Executive Officer Courtney Phillips and I have issued annual business plans to help bring greater discipline and focus to the work of our team.  As June wrapped up, the agency completed goals from its second annual business plan, and we are excited to report that the initiatives we have worked on are helping Nebraskans live better lives.


The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, is one of the most well-known programs administered by the agency.  Over the past year, we have expanded our innovative SNAP reemployment program, an initiative that is helping food stamp recipients find better jobs and become more financially independent.  With new locations in Hastings, Columbus, and Norfolk, we have been able to serve more families, and we are making a difference in their lives.  Take for example: A single mom who had previously worked hourly jobs making about $900 per month now has a job paying $2,700 a month with benefits, potential for bonuses, and, even more importantly, regular hours so she can be home at night with her kids.  Overall, we have helped 36 percent of participating families find a new job.  Those families have increased their pay approximately $10,000, and each has reduced or eliminated their need for food stamps.


In the area of behavioral health, the Nebraska System of Care (NeSOC) for children and families is making a positive impact on Nebraska’s youth and their mental health.  NeSOC is designed to better coordinate resources and give a voice to families and children seeking mental health services.  Kids like Jaxon from northeast Nebraska, who visited my office in May to talk about NeSOC, are having input in how they are being served.  In its first year, more than 600 young Nebraskans in crisis received services.  During that timeframe, the number of Nebraska youths who have needed to utilize the most intensive and restrictive services, such as inpatient care and residential treatment, has declined from 7.1 percent to 6.7 percent.  NeSOC now has the flexibility to serve more Nebraskans because of savings achieved in the range of $800,000 to $2.6 million. 


In recent years, the Attorney General, the Legislature, and I have worked together on proactive steps to tackle emerging issues such as opioid abuse.  Our Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) helps doctors keep track of the controlled substances that have been given to patients, helping prevent “doctor shopping.”  In January, we became the first state in the nation to require all prescriptions to be reported to the PDMP.  According to a recent analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Nebraska has the distinction of having the least drug overdose deaths of any state in the nation, and initiatives like this will help us maintain the ranking.


In delivering services for Nebraskans with developmental disabilities, we have been cutting red tape for families and providers.  In past years, we slashed the amount of paperwork families filled out and reduced the average wait time for eligibility determination by nearly 80 percent, from 69 days to an average of just 16.  In 2017, we made more service offers to Nebraskans with developmental disabilities than in the previous five years combined. 


For over three years now, we have made ACCESSNebraska, the state’s hotline for food stamps and Medicaid, a priority.  When I entered office in 2014, customers were spending nearly 24 minutes on hold.  The federal government was threatening to fine the state $17 million due to poor performance.  A class action lawsuit had also been filed against the state.  Thanks to the work of the team and sustained success, wait times have been reduced to less than five minutes for over two years now, and recently we celebrated the end of a court order, which ended the lawsuit.  Due to the team’s great performance, the federal government awarded Nebraska a SNAP Performance Bonus of more than $600,000 to be reinvested.


This week, we are rolling out the third annual business plan that outlines initiatives for the next year.  If you want to read about our upcoming work, I hope you will visit, and check out the plan.  Additionally, if you have ideas on how we can continue to make DHHS more effective, more efficient, and more customer-focused, I hope you will contact my office by emailing or calling 402-471-2244.