Nebraska Honored for its Proactive Approach to Reaching Families Early

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) was honored this month by a state charity for its efforts to proactively help low-income families access state benefits.

DHHS was the recipient of the Compassion in Action Award, given out each year by the Matt Talbot Kitchen and Outreach Center (MTKO), a Lincoln-based nonprofit with a mission to prevent hunger and homeless.

Nebraska DHHS Deputy Director Karen Heng and Mariana Muñoz de Schell of Food Bank of Lincoln at the Feeding the Soul of the City Banquet. Photo courtesy of DHHS

“The DHHS team has gone above and beyond to answer, or find the answer to, questions that do not necessarily fall within their area,” said Glenn Schawang, the center’s outreach specialist, in a statement announcing the award. “They have also been a valuable resource to the Matt Talbot Outreach staff to better serve our First HOPE housing clients.”

Since January of 2016, DHHS has conducted benefits and assistance outreach at the center, sending case managers to work with anyone interested. The case managers are able to take applications, scan documentation and complete interviews for assistance, and issue electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards at the site.

“It is important that those in need have access to programs and services and are able to receive eligibility decisions in a timely manner,” said DHHS Deputy Director Karen Heng. “When you are in a crisis it is very hard to go without while you are waiting for a decision.”

DHHS runs a web version of this local outreach effort called ACCESS Nebraska, an online guide through eligibility and attainment of Medicaid or benefits. The department has also developed several other experimental projects to help connect low-income families with resources, including:

  • Family Action Support Team (FAST), a two-county pilot program through which DHHS reaches out families that, Heng describes, have “come to the agency’s attention” that might need assistance with child care, transportation or housing.
  • A partnership with the Department of Labor to help food stamp recipients connect to job training and employment opportunities, a program that now operates in three sites.
  • CarePortal, a faith-based online initiative that helps DHHS monitor ongoing needs in two pilot areas, and then work with area churches to respond.

The award was presented at MKTO’s annual Feeding the Soul of the City banquet.

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John Kelly
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.