We helped a state employee figure out their short-term disability benefits.
A state employee contacted the Ombudsman with a complaint about the Department of Administration and the short-term disability insurance program. Our investigation identified system errors affecting the Complainant and potentially others receiving or entitled to receive short-term disability benefits. The Department had already started to fix those errors and planned to perform audits to identify any other people affected by the errors.
We helped a granddaughter help her grandmother
We received a call from someone looking for resources to help their grandmother and their family heal from a crime committed long ago. Our Intake Assistant, Marisol Iniguez, listened carefully and figured out what resources would help the caller help her grandmother. “I have renewed hope that I will be able to resolve a long time situation that will help with family healing process. Thank you for your hard work. And thank you for Ms. Iniguez. She had the insight to know that I needed to be directed in another direction.”
We helped keep Alaskans warm
During an Arctic Blast in 2022, a tearful caller reported that they had been waiting three months for the Division of Public Assistance to process their application for the Heating Assistance Program. Their fuel tank was nearly empty, and they had been turning their heat off to ration what was left. Our Intake Team helped the caller connect with someone at DPA who could help, and their heating assistance was approved that day. They were able to get heating fuel the next morning, and stay warm during the sub-zero weather.
We Helped a Crime Victim Whose Compensation was Denied
The Ombudsman received a complaint from a crime victim that the Violent Crime Compensation Board (VCCB) unreasonably denied their request for compensation and ignored their request to appeal. An ombudsman investigator contacted the VCCB about the complaint.
The VCCB confirmed they received the person’s appeal, and had forwarded it to the Office of Administrative Hearings. The agency acknowledged they had not provided this information to the person, and immediately sent confirmation.
The investigator reviewed the VCCB records and learned that the Board had previously authorized reimbursement of relocation expenses but the agency had not paid the person. The investigator discussed this with agency, which then processed the person’s request for reimbursement of these expenses.
We Helped a Witness with Travel to Testify in Court
The Ombudsman received a complaint that a District Attorney had refused to make arrangements or reimburse the costs for a law enforcement officer to travel on their personal time to testify in a criminal case. The officer felt this was unreasonable. The ombudsman investigator reached out to the Department of Law Criminal Division to learn more about the complaint issues, after which the Department reimbursed the officer’s travel expenses.
We Helped Resolve a Delayed Heating Assistance Application
We received a complaint from an older Alaskan who had been waiting three months to hear back about their application to the Heating Assistance Program. They had tried repeatedly to contact the Division of Public Assistance (DPA) through the virtual call center, but never connected with anyone or received a call back.
The ombudsman investigator contacted the DPA Constituent Relations Manager and Heating Assistance Program Manager to discuss this complaint, after which DPA processed the complainant’s application and notified them of the decision. “I do thank you for helping us out,” the Complainant told our investigator.
We Helped a Widow Collect Their Spouse’s Belongings
A widow contacted us for help retrieving her husband’s belongings from the Department of Corrections. We referred her to the DOC Chaplain to request the property. Family members have a limited time to make these kinds of requests, so we helped make sure that the necessary paperwork was received by DOC so that they could release the property to her. Soon after, she received her husband’s belongings from DOC.
We Helped an Elder Stay Warm in Winter
An elder complained that the Heating Assistance Program, run by the Department of Health and Social Services, had not issued a heating voucher they had been approved to receive. We contacted the Heating Assistance Program and learned that a “glitch” in the system that manages heating assistance applications and vouchers had affected the elder’s voucher. After that, the Heating Assistance Program issued the voucher to the elder’s preferred heating oil vendor.
We Helped a Parent Get a Response to an OCS Grievance
A parent alleged that the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) had not properly responded to their administrative grievance. We contacted OCS and confirmed that the grievance was received, and an OCS supervisor had spoken to the parent about their concerns. However, the supervisor had not provided the parent with a formal written decision about the grievance (which is required by agency policy). The OCS Community Relations Manager ensured that the parent received the written response to their grievance. We provided information about how to request additional consideration of their grievance, if they did not accept the supervisor’s response, and encouraged them to contact our office again if OCS failed to respond.
We Helped Resolve an Unemployment Insurance Problem
“You were extremely professional and very clear with what the Ombudsman could and couldn’t do to help. I am very happy that you were able to help us navigate the claims process . . . if we have any future complaints with a state agency, I am calling your office.”
An older Alaskan contacted the Ombudsman frustrated that the application process for her husband’s Unemployment Insurance was so confusing and complicated, and that the information he received from the Department of Labor said he was approved for benefits a month before but nothing had been paid. Ombudsman staff contacted the agency and learned that the agency was struggling with a backlog — caused by the huge increase in applications for UI during the COVID pandemic. We confirmed that the complainant’s application for benefit was approved and that payments would be made within a week. A week later, the complainant confirmed that all the UI benefits had been received.
We Helped Ensure Access to Dental Care
An inmate contacted us complaining that he had been waiting weeks to have an abscessed tooth extracted. While we investigated the complaint, he was referred to a community dentist for care. We found that the Department of Corrections had unreasonably delayed providing him necessary dental care. Read the full report on the investigation, findings, and recommendations.
We helped an Alaskan Solve an Unemployment Insurance Problem
“I just wanted to say Thank you so much for your help. I got my money to buy food now. I very much appreciate your help in resolving my problem.”
One of many people who contacted us with problems applying for and receiving Unemployment Insurance (UI) during the COVID pandemic, this Alaskan called us after trying for two months to apply for UI benefits. UI had received his application, but had not finished reviewing it for eligibility. Ombudsman staff determined that the Department of Labor had not started processing claims for UI benefits from self-employed Alaskans yet. We explained the process, and gave the person direct referrals to UI staff who could help if they did not receive an answer within 30 days of the start of processing self-employed folks’ applications. The complainant reported that they received their benefits four days later.
We Helped a Caller Renew their Medicaid benefits
“I just wanted to share my appreciation for the guidance you provided me. . . My Medicaid renewal is complete, and disaster has been avoided. I credit this to your offices getting me the correct contact information. I’m very grateful.”
An Alaskan contacted the Ombudsman because they were have trouble connecting with the Division of Public Assistance (DPA) to renew their Medicaid. The person had submitted all their paperwork, more than once, and made dozens of phones calls — but had not heard back from DPA. The person had life saving surgery scheduled for the month after their benefits would end, if the renewal was not successful.
Ombudsman Intake staff provided step-by-step information, and referrals to the DPA staff who could get their Medicaid renewal on track. Five days later, the person had successfully renewed their Medicaid insurance.
We Helped Resolve a $10,000 Overpayment
We received a complaint about the Division of Banking and Securities not returning overpaid filing fees. The complainant had mistakenly overpaid the fee associated with its annual corporate filings, which the Division acknowledged. However, the Division declined to refund or credit the overpayment to the complainant.
The ombudsman investigator confirmed the overpayment, and determined that, while a refund was not permitted by state law, the Division had discretion to consider other ways to resolve the complaint. After the investigator communicated with the agency about the complaint, the Division identified a way to credit to the overpayment, ensuring that the complainant did not lose the more than $10,000 paid in error.
We Helped Solve a Complaint about Access to Mental Health Services.
We investigated a complaint about lack of communication and action by the public guardian. The investigator determined that the root of the complaint was a lack of public mental health services and resources to provide for the ward’s needs. The ward experienced serious mental illness and a long pattern of institutionalization. The public guardian had not been able to identify services to help the ward, given the ward’s meager resources.
The investigator identified staff from several state agencies and treatment providers who could collaborate to find additional community-based services for the ward, and then facilitated a series of meetings with the complainant, public guardian, and others to develop a plan for bringing more services to the ward. New community-based services were offered to the ward, and the complainant had a better understanding of the role and resources of the Office of Public Advocacy.
We helped prevent financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult.
We investigated a complaint about a public guardian, alleging that the guardian refused to release the ward’s funds or provide financial reports. The investigation revealed that the complaint had been made by someone seeking to take advantage of the ward. The ward told ombudsman staff they were satisfied with the guardian’s services but would appreciate having more of their funds each month. Ombudsman staff determined that the ward’s finances were in order and offered to facilitate a meeting between the ward and the guardian. With our assistance, the ward was able to ask for and understand the information they wanted from the guardian. Ombudsman staff also determined that the guardian and Office of Public Advocacy implemented reasonable measures to protect the ward from further economic predation.
We Helped Resolve a Child Support Hardship Complaint
A father contacted the Ombudsman to complain that the Child Support Services Division (CSSD) had levied and emptied his bank account just days after he had made a large payment through wage garnishment. The Ombudsman learned that CSSD had provided the complainant with written notice of the enforcement action and that the actions taken by CSSD to levy the complainant’s bank account were in accordance with Alaska law. However, because the complainant contended that the bank levy had created an extreme hardship for him, CSSD put a hold on the levied funds and agreed to work with the complainant to potentially return some or all of the funds, if the complainant could prove that this created a hardship for him through the Administrative Review process. The Ombudsman relayed this information to the complainant and closed the complaint. The Ombudsman learned from CSSD within a couple days that the entire amount of bank levy funds received by the agency had been returned to the complainant and that the complainant’s request for a hardship to modify his ongoing wage withholding order was granted. (A2015-0458)
We Helped Ensure Access to Health Care
A woman contacted the Ombudsman complaining that, even though she was receiving Social Security for a disability, she had been turned down when seeking medical care. The Ombudsman contacted the Division of Public Assistance and learned that woman had Medicaid but that the mailing address the agency had on file for her was no longer correct. The agency corrected the address and mailed out new Medicaid coupons that day, allowing the woman to get the medical treatment she needed. (A2015-0952)
We Helped Resolve a Child Support Garnishment, Overpayment
An inmate contacted the Ombudsman asking for help because the Department of Corrections (DOC) continued to collect child support through a garnishment of his inmate account even though he had supplied proof that his obligation was satisfied several months earlier. The Ombudsman facilitated conversations between the Child Support Services Division (CSSD) and DOC to ensure that DOC had the documentation necessary to remove the CSSD garnishment from the inmate’s account. The same day the Ombudsman contacted both agencies, DOC removed the garnishment and refunded the man’s account $68. CSSD sent him a refund of $104.
We broke through a communication barrier at the Division of Public Assistance to help a man get his brother into a nursing home before time ran out.
A Southeast man contacted the Ombudsman on behalf of his disabled brother who was trying to get into a nursing home for care. The brother had applied for Medicaid but his application had not yet been processed. When space became available for the brother in a nursing home the brother’s family was told that space would only be held for two weeks. The brother’s family members said they repeatedly called Medicaid’s Long-Term Care line, but they sat on hold for hours without getting through to a live person, and there was no option to leave a message. The Ombudsman called the phone numbers provided by the family with similar results. She then called an office supervisor and explained the situation. The supervisor assigned the application for review and it was approved three days later, allowing the brother to move into the nursing home. The Ombudsman suggested DPA add an option for callers to leave a voice mail for the long-term care Medicaid section to prevent this problem from happening again in the future. (J2015-0062)
We helped a state retiree get credit for past employment history which resulted in an increase of his retirement benefits.
A recent state retiree contacted the Ombudsman to complain that the Division of Retirement and Benefits refused to recognize his part-time work history with the state back in the 1970s for the purposes of determining his PERS tier status. As a result, DRB’s decision greatly reduced the retirement benefits he would receive. The complainant filed for retirement in October 2016 after consulting with a retirement and benefits counselor. During this process, he also requested PERS service credit for part-time employment with the state in the early 1970s. Investigation revealed that agency staff provided conflicting information to the complainant about his retirement status, as well as his ability to claim part-time service credit. Agency staff wrote to the complainant notifying him that his application for retirement had been received and processed and that his effective retirement date would be November 1. The form letter stated that the agency would contact him if they needed any additional information, and to expect his first retirement check in approximately six weeks. They also provided conflicting correspondence to the complainant about his eligibility to receive PERS credit for early part-time service. When he did not receive his first check within the six week time period, he contacted the agency and learned that the staff had not in fact completed processing his application because they needed additional information from him about his part-time service. However, they never tried to contact him about it. The benefits manager reviewed the matter for the Ombudsman and confirmed that the complainant did in fact qualify for part-time service credit. His application was processed with a retroactive date of November 1, 2016, the official date of retirement. (A2017-0081)
We helped an inmate win parole that was threatened to be revoked due to a disciplinary issue that had been already been overturned.
The Parole Board began proceedings to revoke an inmate’s parole based on a finding that the inmate had violated disciplinary rules within the institution shortly before he was set to parole. The inmate subsequently appealed the guilty finding and succeeded in getting the finding overturned. The inmate contacted the Ombudsman because he believed the Parole Board should reconsider its decision in light of the overturned disciplinary decision. Upon contact from the Ombudsman, the Board quashed the parole warrant and the inmate was promptly released from DOC custody. (A2016-0520)