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Dems pound gov for hiring Taco Bell, Wal-Mart workers for child welfare

The state Democratic Party continues to pound away on the governor for the failures cited in a recent state audit of the state’s attempt to reform and privatize child welfare in Nebraska.

The Dems put out the following press release today:

One of the many tragedies of the Governor’s Child Welfare Services debacle is that unqualified individuals were hired to provide important services for foster children.

According to the recent auditor’s report, two subcontractors were found to be using workers who lacked appropriate credentials to provide client services. Those employees “had neither a Bachelor’s Degree nor a staff equivalency petition approved by the DHHS service area contract liaison, as required by the service contracts. The immediate prior employment of two workers had been at Taco Bell and Wal-Mart – neither of which is an establishment known to offer extensive training in the field of child welfare services.“

DHHS was supposed to provide approval for subcontractor hires, but they did so in a “perfunctory” fashion. Additionally, Governor Heineman told the Lincoln Journal Star earlier this week that “we can’t expect government to be the parent, and it’s very unfortunate that we are involved in these situations.”Jim Rogers, Executive Director of the Nebraska Democratic Party said that statement, coupled with the actions of the administration, show a callous attitude toward foster children.

“Does Heineman really not believe the state has an obligation to protect the lives and well-being of innocent children who aren’t able to get proper support in their homes?,” Rogers said. “Most Nebraskans agree that despite parental failings or hardships, innocent children should not be neglected. And we shouldn’t be hiring people who are unqualified to provide these specialized child services.”

The uncredentialed employees were paid $10.50 or $13.00 per hour. At the same time, DHHS was reimbursing the direct contractor for the work of those same employees at a rate of $47 per hour. That means the contractors profited enormously from paying unqualified staff wages much lower than what would have been required to retain qualified workers.


Arenas not a good investment?

Today’s LJS story on a prominent economist’s opinion that most arenas and stadiums are not the economic panaceas they’re advertised to be was interesting to me, having covered the planning of Lincoln’s $340 million arena project for a half dozen years.

Perhaps the toughest story to get in the Journal Star was one in which I interviewed a bunch of economists about this very sentiment that such publicly financed projects are not the shot in the arm supporters say they will be.

It was one of the most heavily edited, scrutinized stories I’ve written in my 20-year journalism career. The city election was coming, and we wouldn’t want to poison people’s mind with such sacrilege, would we? After the story was published, one of the leaders of the pro-arena movement told me they would be coming out with their own economist to refute my story’s findings. About a week later, a UNL economics professor wrote this guest column, sort of vaguely refuting my story, I guess.

Which was funny, given that UNL economists just were nowhere to be found whenever I tried to get them to comment on Lincoln’s proposed arena. It seemed they were ducking the issue.

And then last year I took a UNL economics/journalism class, and that very professor, David Rosenbaum, was frequently a guest speaker. I couldn’t wait to ask him about how his opinion of arenas seemed to go against the grain among economists. When I finally got my chance, he refused to answer my question. I think he knew who I was. I dropped the class soon thereafter. I figured if we couldn’t speak freely about the biggest economic question facing our own fair city at that moment, what could we talk about honestly?

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