The writer, of Red Oak, Iowa, is president and CEO of PromiseShip, based in Omaha.

If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. On July 3, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services signed a five-year contract with St. Francis Ministries to provide child welfare case management services in Douglas and Sarpy Counties beginning Jan. 1, 2020, at a fraction of the cost of the current contract.

In theory, this sounds like the state got a good deal and saved taxpayers money. In reality, it will end up costing the state and its taxpayers much more. We project it will be nearly $29 million more annually.

PromiseShip’s current costs for the services provided in our community are the same or less than the other four service areas in the state. HHS’ independent evaluator, the Stephen Group, found that for the last two years, PromiseShip has delivered more complex services at a cost that is equal to or less than the rest of the state.

A closer look at St. Francis Ministries’ proposed budget quickly reveals that it will have to immediately achieve and sustain a 46% cost reduction beginning “Day One” of its contract. The big question is whether St. Francis Ministries can actually achieve these drastic cost savings without slashing services that children and families desperately need to address the causes of abuse and neglect.

Do not be fooled. There is no innovation or evidence-based practice or any other approach that will achieve this result. In fact, the proposed “Dyad Case Management Model,” touted at a recent HHS town hall meeting as a cost-saving innovation, has already been tried in our community and failed because it was too expensive.

If these cost savings were possible, then HHS would have already implemented them statewide. When a new vendor proposes to swoop in and save the day by supposedly offering “innovative and efficient” services for nearly half of the current cost, then every taxpayer should be concerned.

Just because such services are the “new” choice and appear to cost less doesn’t mean they actually will be what’s best for children and families or that they will save one red cent. In this case, we caution you, as a Nebraska taxpayer, “Buyer beware!”

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