By Governor Pete Ricketts
November 2, 2015
The Governor’s official photo is available here.
Over the past few months, I have often spoken about the importance of helping our state’s most vulnerable citizens. Because of this focus, my administration has sought ways to make government more customer friendly. This past week, I joined the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to showcase some of the improvements we have made to ACCESSNebraska, the system many Nebraskans use to access public benefits. These improvements follow the appointment of a new leadership team at DHHS and a commitment by my office to move the public benefits system forward after hearing about the challenges it faced from Nebraskans across the state.
In 2008, the State of Nebraska created the ACCESSNebraska system to change its strategy for the administration of economic assistance and Medicaid programs. The implementation of the new strategy and changes to the program’s design fell short of expectations, including the level of service provided to its clients. As I have traveled the state, I have heard stories from Nebraskans who have faced serious challenges, such as long call wait times, while trying to utilize the system. For instance, long call wait times at the ACCESSNebraska call centers can drain valuable pre-paid phone minutes, making it difficult for clients to navigate the program.
Thanks to collaboration between the state’s Chief Operating Officer Felix Davidson and the team at DHHS, ACCESSNebraska has started to move beyond some of these challenges. Recently, call wait times for the call centers servicing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) fell from a two-year average high of 23 minutes and 51 seconds in August 2014 to an average low of 4 minutes and 42 seconds in September 2015. While we have been able to improve service to our customers, the state has also been able to improve accuracy when it comes to determining who is eligible to receive benefits from the state. Between October 2014 and April 2015, Nebraska’s SNAP denial accuracy rate rose from 17th-in-the-nation to 8th, and we continue to work to improve this ranking and the program’s integrity. Consistent with my commitment to hold the line on spending, this has been accomplished without additional appropriations.
Nebraskans tell us that improvements to ACCESSNebraska are having a meaningful impact on their lives. In the past couple of months, the Tiangwa family applied for SNAP benefits, and they were approved and processed the following day. “This is really important for me and my family,” said Ms. Tiangwa. “I’m so thankful and grateful for the help.” A DHHS partner who helps clients apply for services thanked the Scottsbluff ACCESSNebraska team for handling her cases efficiently and accurately and added that the team has made a “vast difference for her and her clients.” These are just a couple of examples of how these changes are making a difference.
The changes at ACCESSNebraska are just the beginning of what is to come. My administration is working to improve the performance of and services from each agency across state government. Competition in the private sector forces businesses to continually improve their services, and Nebraskans deserve the same continuous improvement from state government. In the coming months and days, I hope you will share with my office some of your experiences with state agencies. Your input is invaluable as my office continues to develop new initiatives to make government work for you and all Nebraskans. You can share your thoughts by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 402-471-2244.