Have you ever wondered why someone who hates “big government” decides they would like to run it? They have absolutely no incentive to make government work for the average person, and in fact, they purposely defund and create red tape in order to create inefficiencies and burdens so that they can prove to their constituents it doesn’t work. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy they are happy to fulfill. They don’t do this just to torture people, although they really love that part of it. Their main motive is to dismantle social programs so they can raid government coffers to line their own pockets. Thus, “big government” hating Republicans have no incentive to govern well, and they are completely inept at governing efficiently at all, especially during times of crisis. This explains what we call the COVID19 shitshow at the federal level and in red states like Nebraska.
Billionaires like Ricketts call their systematic dismantling of public institutions “privatization.” They have never met a public institution that they didn’t want to ravage in order to sell to the lowest bidder, who in turn skims a profit off the top of our taxpayer dollars, all in order to provide the cheapest services, and to punish and humiliate the most vulnerable people in society. Here are just a few examples:
- Child welfare privatization was a huge failure and the fallout continues to this day. (See abused kids who sleep in waiting rooms because the lowest bidder will always provide the shittiest services.)
- Public schools (See past Seeing Red blogs here, here, and here.)
- Prison privatization was and is the sole reason Frakes was hired by Ricketts. (See here.)
- Public health / COVID19 testing privatization: Instead of investing $27 million in the State of Nebraska’s Department of Public Health and our local health care facilities, Ricketts thought some startup techbros from Utah with no healthcare experience deserve Nebraska taxpayer dollars.
And finally, today’s example: Ricketts’s 1.7-million-dollar giveaway to Nelnet to process unemployment claims. The numbers in the U.S. and in Nebraska have reached historic levels not seen since the Great Depression, and this means that we needed to increase the capacity for filing unemployment claims at the Nebraska Department of Labor (DOL) fast. For context, In the last six weeks, the number of Nebraskans filing for employment has topped 100,000.
Enter inept Peter Ricketts who simply cannot pass up an opportunity to shit on state agencies and state workers to enrich his billionaire family and friends.
Before COVID19 there were 34 adjusters working for the Nebraska Department of Labor. The new Nelnet contract is providing 100 more adjusters, all of whom started approx. 2 weeks ago. The no-bid contract goes through July, with a possibility for an extension if needed at that time.
And you know what? If this gets more people their unemployment sooner, then fucking fantastic. An RFP (request for proposal) would have taken some time to consider bids. But fine, we need workers fast, and we do not need them all forever, so contracting with an outside agency to provide labor isn’t crazy. Hey, at least these aren’t some techbros with no healthcare experience who live in Utah and have some weird connection to Iowa and Ashton Kutcher.
Here is the problem. First, the charge-out rate for these new temporary employees is $35/hr, while state adjusters make $17.05/hr. Don’t you dare think that all that cash is going to workers, though. No, the new Nelnet peeps may well make $15/hr because Nelnet needs to line their pockets with taxpayer dollars, of course! Sure, maybe some money might go towards equipment, or workspace, but do DOL adjusters working from home have equipment and tech support? Nope. Those who work at home use their own computers and their own internet access that they have to pay for.
So far, the DOL adjusters have had access to overtime, and many have sacrificed nights and weekends for weeks trying to help their fellow Nebraskans during this crisis. But greedy Pete Ricketts can’t even let that go unchecked. As an example, Arbor Day is a state holiday for state employees. DOL adjusters could have made bank on Arbor Day and processed a lot more claims by putting in 10-12 hours on top of their vacation, but the state said nope. They were limited to working only nine hours that day. You see, instead of paying dedicated state employees more, Peter would rather take your tax dollars and pad Nelnet’s pockets.
There has been a bunch of other questionable stuff going down with these private employees, too. They have turned a five to six week training session into a three-day training powerpoint, and allowed these very green employees access to A LOT of data (including Social Security numbers) without having their background checks processed. As you might imagine, these new Nelnet employees need a lot of supervision, and DOL adjusters are being asked to provide it, but without supervisor pay.
The Nebraska Association of Public Employees (NAPE) is working hard to support all state workers, including DOL employees. Despite NAPE’s best efforts, Ricketts has thumbed his nose at hazard pay, and continues to make 60% of employees go into their offices for no apparent reason.
And you might expect tripling the workforce two weeks ago should help to relieve some of the burden of all the excess unemployment claims currently backed up in Nebraska. I mean, if it works, maybe it is worth 1.7 million dollars? The answer is, no. It doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference given the cost and the lack of training for these new workers, not to mention the strain on current DOL employees.
On May 3, Nebraska Labor Commissioner John Albin finally announced the agency had cut some red tape to speed up the process. Specifically, they will only look into your most recent employer, rather than looking deeper into your employment history. However, this is clearly too little too late. When the first record number of unemployment claims were seen, that red tape should have been immediately cut, not on April 30th. As with many of the ways our government is failing to address the COVID crisis, it is caused by either a lack of imagination or will. We will let you decide which applies here.