LINCOLN — Nebraska has been freed from federal court oversight after fixing problems that had delayed food assistance to needy families.

U.S. District Judge John Gerrard last month ordered the termination of a class action lawsuit after state officials met the terms of a settlement agreement.

The agreement required Nebraska to process at least 96 percent of supplemental nutrition assistance program, or SNAP, applications on time for 25 out of 28 months. SNAP benefits are commonly called food stamps.

On Tuesday, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced to a group of Lincoln call center workers that the state had hit the goal in 27 of the last 29 months.

He praised the workers for turning around a troubled system.

“We’re doing a fantastic job of getting the job done,” he said. “We’re doing a great job of serving the customer.”

The Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, which filed the lawsuit in 2014, also hailed the end of the court case.

Appleseed filed the case on behalf of Tami Leiting-Hall, a single mother from Lincoln, and others like her.

“We are pleased to see the significant improvements (the state) has made in SNAP processing times as a result of this lawsuit,” said Molly McCleery, deputy director of the nonprofit advocacy group.

Termination of the lawsuit represents another key milestone for AccessNebraska, the call center system used to process applications for food assistance, Medicaid and other public benefits.

The system was plagued with long wait times, lost documents, a backlog of unfinished tasks and delays in providing needed benefits from its launch in 2009.

In December 2014, a legislative oversight committee concluded that AccessNebraska was “largely a failure.” The class action lawsuit was filed earlier that year.

By January 2015, federal officials were threatening to pull $17 million in federal administrative dollars from the state for taking too long to process food assistance applications.

AccessNebraska has shown steady improvement since 2015, when Ricketts took office and named it a priority for the Department of Health and Human Services.

In January 2016, the legislative committee reported significant improvement in the AccessNebraska system. The committee disbanded at the end of that year, citing the improvements that had been made.

Also in 2016, state officials met the benchmarks set by federal officials to avoid the loss of federal funds and settled the lawsuit with Appleseed.

The state and Appleseed jointly filed the motion to terminate the lawsuit last month.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

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