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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 2, 2012
 
CONTACT
Russ Reno, Communications and Legislative Services, (402) 471-8287
 
DHHS Testifies on ACCESSNebraska Bills
 
LINCOLN – Local access for benefit assistance is available for clients of the Department of Health and Human Services in at least 119 communities, and services mandated in a legislative bill are already being provided, testified Scot Adams, interim director of the Division of Children and Family Services, before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday (2/1/12).
 
Adams made the comments in response to LB 1016, which requires DHHS to contract with and place staff in 30 community-based organizations, and LB 1041 that asks for simplification of documents, verification of information across programs, and coordination and simplification of benefit renewals.
 
In testimony on LB 1041, Adams said that currently, clients already can complete one application for several benefit programs. DHHS developed a cross-benefits application, which changed processes and policies to create an efficient and cohesive delivery of services.
 
The bill also requires DHHS to make reasonable efforts to prevent case closure. He said the Department makes reasonable efforts to reach a client through letters regarding scheduled interviews, missed interviews and requests for verification. In some circumstances, additional reminders are sent prior to the closing of the case, and letters of review are sent 30 days before their case is due for renewal and possible closure. 
 
“All households receive no less than 10 days notice before their case is closed,” Adams said. “Additional notifications, whether by phone or otherwise, would come at a cost. Many of the requirements set forth in the bill are already in place in state regulations and are currently used by DHHS.”
 
Regarding LB 1016, he said DHHS has 28 full-time, local offices across the state that are open to the public to assist economic assistance clients. In addition, 496 community partners are located at 600 sites in 119 communities and provide services including use of a computer, assistance with online applications, and providing paper applications. The names of community partners and their locations are available on the DHHS website.
 
“I want to reiterate that we have always and continue to meet with individuals in person on request,” Adams said.
 
“To meet the requirements of LB 1016, DHHS would need to hire at least 30 additional social service workers and three supervisors,” he said. “Without additional funding to hire the staff needed to support these community-based organizations, DHHS would need to use current staff from the local offices and Customer Service Centers.”
 
The statewide offices and community partners are part of DHHS’ ACCESSNebraska, which expands client services by using current technology and policy efficiencies to modernize the delivery of economic assistance through the Web, telephone and walk-in offices, he said.
 
ACCESSNebraska was launched September 2008 to handle benefit cases with a universal system and four Customer Service Centers. The fourth center opens this week in Lexington.
 
The objectives of the project are to:
  • Increase accessibility to economic assistance programs.
  • Increase DHHS responsiveness to customers and maintain accuracy of case eligibility determinations.
  • Increase efficiency of the service delivery system by utilizing a universal case management system and through advances in technology.

Adams said that since September 2008, more than 327,000 applications have been submitted online where clients can apply, report changes and view their benefits at any time. Those applications represent 62 percent of all applications. Over 10 million pages of client information have been scanned into the system, which allows staff to see a client’s case information from any location.

Customer Service Centers, he said, allow clients to call one toll-free number and reach a social service worker who can view their case, handle reported case changes, complete an interview and answer questions.  In December 2011, more than 203,000 calls were made to ACCESSNebraska’s telephone number. Of these, 109,000 were received by the Customer Service Centers and the remainder were handled through an interactive voice response option or were routed to other areas. The average wait time in December was just over eight (8) minutes.

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