North Omaha Economic Development Pushed; Ricketts Responds to Child Welfare Questions

Dec. 21, 2020, 1:38 p.m. ·

Director of Economic Development Tony Goins speaks Monday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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Gov. Pete Ricketts’ administration on Monday announced new initiatives to spur economic growth in north Omaha. And the governor responded to questions about the management of child welfare cases.

Speaking at Gov. Ricketts' news conference, Director of Economic Development Tony Goins announced a new office in north Omaha, a largely black community with high rates of poverty.

“Thanks to the leadership of Gov. Ricketts, DED will have, for the first time in its 50 years of service, a physical location in north Omaha, which will be dedicated to spurring business and economic development opportunities throughout the entire region,” Goins said.

Director of Administrative Services Jason Jackson announced other initiatives he said were designed to increase state contracting with minority-owned businesses, including posting anticipated contracts on the department’s website, and advertising more in media consumed by minorities. Ricketts said the state is also hiring more minorities, with their percentage of the state workforce having risen from 7.3 percent in 2014 to 11.3 percent last year.

On another subject, Ricketts was asked about the status of the state’s contract with Saint Francis Ministries, which oversees case management for abused and neglected children in Douglas and Sarpy Counties.

Sen. Sara Howard, outgoing chair of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, said Saint Francis is failing to meet standards for caseload sizes, documentation of children’s locations and case plans, and background checks for workers. It is also having financial problems following allegations of mismanagement that led to the departure of its two top officials.

Ricketts said the state is working with Saint Francis to make sure it can provide the services it’s supposed to.

“Certainly we’re going to have a dialogue with them about what sort of resources they need to be able to continue to serve our families. But it’ll all come with expectations about how they’re going to continue to do that and their financial stability. So those are ongoing conversations. But our plan right now is to continue to make sure we’re looking out for the children and families first, which means around stability and getting them the services they need, which, the only way you’re going to provide that stability is through Saint Francis,” Ricketts said.

However, Ricketts said the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, which provides child welfare case management services for the rest of the state, is also considering what alternatives the state would have it Saint Francis is no longer able to provide those services.