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Policy: Labor

Union criticizes staffing at Neb. benefits hotline

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Associated Press,Labor unions,Labor,Nebraska,Health Care,Medicare and Medicaid,Entitlements,HHS

LINCOLN, Neb. — Union officials say a shortage of workers contributes to the problems at a Nebraska hotline for people applying for benefits such as food stamps and Medicaid.

The ACCESSNebraska hotline was established in 2010 by the Department of Health and Human Services for people applying for benefits but has been criticized for long wait times and poor service.

The leader of Nebraska's public employees union, Mike Marvin, told the Lincoln Journal Star there aren't enough workers to handle all the calls.

"There's just so much coming in that they can't keep up with it all," said Marvin, who is executive director of the Nebraska Association of Public Employees.

In October, the state set up a new hotline to handle Medicaid eligibility questions.

HHS spokesman Russ Reno said the changes this fall have helped.

An audit of the program released last week says the hotline is still providing poor service, but the audit, performed by the Legislature's Performance Audit Committee, happened just before Nebraska set up the second hotline.

The auditors acknowledged that HHS has made significant changes, but said the high rate of busy signals and long wait times remain troubling.

Reno said the department is monitoring the workload of staffers answering calls on the hotline. He also said that since the programs are now handled by different hotlines, new workers don't have to be trained in as many programs.

State Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln said she hopes her fellow lawmakers will support her proposal to streamline eligibility paperwork for benefits.

"If we make better choices in terms of verifications and recertifications and other types of paperwork, we'll decrease the tasks that the folks who are staffing ACCESSNebraska have to do," she said. "And that's another piece of the solution to the workforce problem."

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