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NE lawmaker seeks to reverse governor’s rejection of federal child food funding

  • Nebraska’s Republican governor, Jim Pillen, has rejected $18 million in federal funding to help children in need of food over the summer.
  • Sen. Jen Day of Omaha has introduced a bill that would require states to accept summer EBT funds.
  • Thirty-five states are participating in the program, and approximately 21 million children are expected to benefit.

Weeks after Republican Gov. Jim Pillen announced that Nebraska would not accept federal funds to feed children in need during the summer, Omaha lawmakers announced that when schools are closed, He is pushing a bill that would require the state to accept $18 million in funding for children at risk of going hungry. is closed.

Pillen came under fire in December when he refused funding and defended his position by saying, “I don’t believe in welfare.”

Sen. Jen Day of Omaha introduced a bill Thursday to the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee seeking to overturn Pillen’s rejection. Even if the bill were to pass, the deadline for states to sign up this summer was Jan. 1, although the federal government sometimes allows exceptions for other programs, officials said.

U.S. federal program to provide food benefits to nearly 21 million children this summer

The Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer for Children (Summer EBT) program was widely adopted as part of the federal assistance made available during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and was made permanent in 2022.

Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen speaks in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol on June 7, 2023 in Washington, DC. An Omaha lawmaker is pushing her bill weeks after Nebraska announced it would not accept federal funds to feed needy children during the summer. Requires the state to accept $18 million to help children who may go hungry when schools close. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Provide preloaded EBT cards to families whose children qualify for free or reduced-price lunch at school. About 150,000 children in Nebraska became eligible for the 2022-2023 school year. These families would receive $40 per eligible child per month during the summer. You can use this card to buy groceries, similar to how you use SNAP benefits.

Nebraska is among more than a dozen states, all with Republican governors, refusing to receive the funds. Those states include neighboring Iowa, where Gov. Kim Reynolds criticized federal food programs that “do nothing to promote nutrition in a time of childhood obesity.”

Food banks struggle as more people face food insecurity

Day, a Democrat in the Nebraska state legislature who is officially independent, has found a Republican ally in Sen. Ray Aguilar of Grand Island. Aguilar has prioritized Day’s bill, which will likely be considered by the entire Congress this session.

Aguilar said the issue has led to a flood of calls from voters in largely rural districts asking them to support the program. Day said U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics showing a steady increase in food insecurity among Nebraska households could help explain the flurry of calls.

Statistics show that in 2017, 10.7% of Nebraska households were food insecure, but that rate rose to 12.1% in 2022 and 13.5% in 2023. Mr. Day said.

“This puts Nebraska above the national average and ranks 11th in the nation for food insecurity,” she says. “As many of you know, groceries are more expensive than ever, and low-income Nebraskans are being squeezed the most.”

In response to backlash over the denial of Summer EBT funding, Pillen said Nebraska will continue to help food-insecure children through the Summer Meal Service program, which provides meals and snacks at various locations during school holidays. issued a statement. Providing on-site services also allows providers to detect and report issues such as child malnutrition, neglect and abuse, he said.

258 million people faced severe food insecurity in 2020, UN report says

But Day and other critics countered that not all families have access to on-site programs. Especially in Nebraska’s vast rural areas, the sites can be miles away from struggling families.

On Thursday, 17 people, many representing food pantries and services, testified in favor of Day’s bill, and another 153 people sent letters of support. Although no one testified against it, four people sent letters opposing the bill.

Thirty-five states, all five U.S. territories, and four tribes have chosen to participate in the program this year, reaching approximately 21 million children in the U.S. and its territories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They are expected to receive food benefits through the program this summer.

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