Controversy in Nebraska as Governor Refuses Federal Funding to Feed Kids in Need
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Controversy in Nebraska as Governor Refuses Federal Funding to Feed Kids in Need

Nebraska’s Republican governor reiterated on Friday his refusal to accept $18 million in federal funding intended to support children who may face hunger during school breaks.

Governor Jim Pillen stated in a written release that Nebraska would not participate in the 2024 Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (Summer EBT) program.

This announcement coincided with a news conference held outside the Governor’s Mansion in Lincoln, where advocates for children and low-income families urged Pillen to reconsider before the January 1 deadline for program enrollment.

The Summer EBT program, initiated as part of federal assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic, aims to provide pre-loaded Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards to families with children eligible for free and reduced-price school lunches.

These families would receive $40 per eligible child per month throughout the summer, and the EBT cards could be used to purchase groceries, similar to the way Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are utilized.

In his statement, Pillen stated, “COVID-19 is over, and Nebraska taxpayers expect that pandemic-era government relief programs will end too.”  

On December 19, Pillen declared that Nebraska would not be taking part in the initiative.When he later defended his position at press conference by declaring, “I don’t believe in welfare,” he sparked furor of criticism.

Neighboring Iowa has also chosen not to participate in the program, as Republican Governor Kim Reynolds announced the decision last week, stating, “An EBT card does nothing to promote nutrition at a time when childhood obesity has become an epidemic.”

States engaging in the federal program must cover half of the administrative costs, estimated at $300,000 for Nebraska. Advocates argue that the administrative cost is minor compared to the $18 million benefit. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates this benefit would support 175,000 Nebraska children facing potential hunger during summer days.

On Friday, the advocacy group Nebraska Appleseed presented a petition with over 6,100 signatures from 230 communities across Nebraska, urging the state to participate in the federal Summer EBT program.

Many signatories emphasized the program’s crucial need, especially considering multi-year inflation surpassing household incomes.

A single mother from Bruno, a small rural town in eastern Nebraska, wrote, “Everything is expensive. I’m a full-time working single mom, and my budget is already stretched thin.

The extra money for food would free up funds for bills, savings, and car maintenance, especially with my growing son involved in sports.”

Despite the petition, Pillen insisted on Friday that the state would continue supporting food-insecure children through the Summer Food Service Program.

This program provides meals and snacks at various sites when school is not in session, enabling providers to identify and report issues like malnutrition, neglect, and child abuse.

Critics argue that not all families, particularly in Nebraska’s extensive rural areas, have access to on-site programs, as these sites can be many miles away from struggling families.

“No kid ever said, ‘I want to be born into a family that struggles,'” said Jenni Benson, president of the Nebraska State Education Association — the state’s largest teachers union. “Why would we even question that people and children deserve food?”

Longtime Omaha community activist Preston Love Jr. questioned on Friday if Pillen was caving in to political pressure by turning down the federal funds.

“I know the governor a little bit, and he seems to be a reasonable man. He’s a man who is compassionate in conversation,” Love said. “This is out of character. So, obviously, he’s not following his heart. He’s following his politics. He’s falling victim to political posturing, and there’s no excuse for that when it comes to children.”

 

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With more than two years of expertise in news and analysis, Eileen Stewart is a seasoned reporter. Eileen is a respected voice in this field, well-known for her sharp reporting and insightful analysis. Her writing covers a wide range of subjects, from politics to culture and more.