Nebraska’s governor stands firm on rejecting federal funding to feed food-insecure children


Omaha, Neb. (AP) - nebraskaThe Republican governor on Friday reiterated his rejection of $18 million in federal funding to help feed children who might otherwise go hungry if they were out of school.

Nebraska will not participate in the 2024 Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer — or Summer EBT — program for Children, Gov. Jim Pilen said in a written statement. The statement came as advocates for children and low-income families held a news conference outside the governor's mansion in Lincoln, calling on Pilen to change his mind before the Jan. 1 deadline to sign up for the program. Went.

The program – part of federal aid provided during the COVID-19 pandemic – will provide pre-loaded EBT cards to families whose children are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches at school. Those families will receive $40 per month per eligible child during the summer. The card can be used to purchase groceries, just like SNAP benefits are used.

“COVID-19 is over, and Nebraska taxpayers can expect pandemic-era government relief programs to end as well,” Pilen said in his statement. Pilen announced on December 19 that Nebraska would not participate in the program. He sparked a storm after defending that stance at a press conference, saying, "I don't believe in welfare."

Neighbour iowa "The EBT card does nothing to promote nutrition at a time when childhood obesity has become an epidemic," Republican Governor Kim Reynolds said in announcing that decision last week.

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States participating in the federal program are required to cover half of the administrative costs, with the estimated cost for Nebraska being $300,000. Supporters of the program say the administrative costs far outweigh the $18 million benefits, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates will benefit 175,000 Nebraska children who might otherwise go hungry some days during the summer.

Advocacy group Nebraska Appleseed on Friday filed a petition with more than 6,100 signatures from 230 communities across Nebraska, calling on the state to use the federal summer EBT program. Many of those who signed the petition also included comments expressing how much the program is needed, especially in light of multi-year inflation that has outstripped many household incomes.

"Everything is expensive," wrote a mother from Bruno, a small rural town in eastern Nebraska. Boy, he could practically eat a hole through the wall; It seems like it never stops. Extra money for food will free up money for things like bills and savings, and car maintenance. ,

Pilen stressed Friday that the state will continue to help food-insecure children through the Summer Food Services Program, which provides meals and snacks at various locations when school is not in session. Providing on-site services also allows providers to detect and report issues such as malnutrition, neglect and abuse among children, she said.

But critics say not all families have access to on-site programs — especially in vast rural areas of Nebraska, where sites may be miles away from a struggling family.

"No child has ever said, 'I want to be born into a family that struggles,'" said Jenny Benson, president of the Nebraska State Education Association - the state's largest teachers union. “Why would we question whether people and children deserve food?”

Preston Love Jr., a longtime community advocate in Omaha, questioned Friday whether Pilen was bowing to political pressure in rejecting federal funding.

“I know the governor a little and he seems to be a sensible person. He is a person who is kind in conversation,” Love said. “It is out of character. So, obviously, he is not listening to his heart. He is running his own politics. He is falling prey to political posturing and there is no excuse for it when it comes to children.”

As of Friday, 28 other states and six other U.S. territories and Native American tribes had confirmed their participation, according to the USDA.

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