Nebraska Governor Reverses Stance, Agrees to Federal Funding for Children’s Nutrition

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On Monday, Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen made a surprising announcement, stating that the state will now accept approximately $18 million in federal funding to provide assistance to hungry children during the summer break.

Pillen made an announcement in December, expressing his decision to decline the funding. He defended his position by stating, “I don’t believe in welfare.” However, he faced significant pressure, even from within his own party, to accept the funds.

During a news conference on Monday, Pillen announced his decision to accept funds allocated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He made this choice after engaging with a group of high school students from various parts of Nebraska who recently visited the state Capitol.

“They discussed their hunger and the summer USDA program, as well as the timing and availability of food distribution,” Pillen explained. From my perspective, what I witnessed there was a clear indication that improvements need to be made in Nebraska.

The Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children program was widely utilized as part of federal assistance provided during the COVID-19 pandemic, and later became a permanent program in 2022. It offers pre-loaded EBT cards to families with low incomes, including those whose children qualify for free and reduced-price lunches at school, as well as those already receiving food assistance, Medicaid, and other forms of assistance. Those families would receive $40 per eligible child for each of three summer months. The cards can be utilized for purchasing groceries, much like the way SNAP benefits are utilized.

Influences from legislators, especially those representing rural areas, also contributed to Pillen’s change of position. The governor emphasized that Nebraska is committed to supporting food-insecure children during the summer months. This is done through the Summer Food Service Program, which offers meals and snacks at different locations when schools are closed. However, some critics argued that not all families have the opportunity to access the on-site programs, especially in the remote rural areas of Nebraska, where the sites may be located far from families in need.

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Bipartisan Support Grows for Nebraska’s Acceptance of Federal Funding Bill

A bill proposed by state Sen. Jen Day of Omaha aimed to compel the state to accept federal funding. Day, a Democrat in the officially nonpartisan Legislature, sought to address this issue. The program gained bipartisan support, with Republican state Sen. Ray Aguilar of Grand Island prioritizing Day’s bill for the session. This increases the likelihood of the bill being debated by the full Legislature.

Aguilar was one of the many Republican lawmakers who stood alongside Pillen during Monday’s press conference.

Nebraska was among the 15 states that chose not to receive the funding this year, all of which had Republican governors. Several states, including Iowa, have expressed concerns about the federal food program’s impact on nutrition, particularly in light of the growing issue of childhood obesity.

Reynolds’ office refused to provide any answers on Monday regarding her stance on the funding.

State Sen. Megan Hunt, from Omaha, expressed gratitude to Pillen for his decision to accept the funding.

“This demonstrates the impact of every individual’s voice and the importance of diligent efforts to garner support from all corners of the state and political spectrum on issues that benefit Nebraskans and bring our tax dollars back. It is a victory for all,” Hunt twe

The deadline for states to declare their participation this summer was originally set for January 1st. However, the USDA has extended the deadline to Thursday.

Pillen mentioned on Monday that Nebraska officials had already contacted the USDA to verify their participation for this year.

The USDA did not respond to inquiries regarding the participation of the remaining 14 states. However, the agency expressed its dedication to collaborating with states that are prepared to successfully participate in 2024.

 

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