- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A new legislative report says Nebraska’s public benefits hotline intended to help with programs like food stamps and Medicaid needs to be overhauled.

A special committee charged with looking into to workings of the ACCESSNebraska hotline found the call center’s system to be lacking, the Lincoln Journal Star reported (https://bit.ly/1z3kWJV ) Wednesday.

The system, implemented in 2008, has drawn complaints about long waits to talk to caseworkers and a high rate of busy signals.

The investigative committee created this year confirmed what audits in recent years have found: That the system has failed to reach its service goals and is dysfunctional.

“ACCESSNebraska has, since its inception, been underfunded and largely a failure,” the report said.

Attempts to fix the system haven’t done enough and, in some cases, made things worse, the report found. Federal officials have ranked Nebraska near the bottom of states for how quickly new food stamp applications are processed, the report said.

ACCESSNebraska employees worked overtime for a month this fall to catch up on thousands of applications for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, often dubbed food stamps.

But the report says that when the month was over, signs of another backlog began to appear.

“We are now knocking on the door of 2015, and we are still dealing with multiple glitches and incremental remedies at best,” said state Sen. Annette Dubas, of Fullerton, who heads the special committee. “We continue seeing the same problems today as we did when this program was first unveiled.”

Nebraska Health and Human Services Department officials say not enough time has passed to know whether another backlog is in the works.

Jill Schreck, the department’s deputy director for economic support, said her agency does not consider the hotline a failure and was critical of the legislative report.

“It’s discounting the really hard work our workers have done,” she said.

The committee recommends HHS hire more staff to serve clients and avoid backlogs.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, https://www.journalstar.com

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