ai express – Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen’s administration has declined to participate in a new and long-term Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) program that aims to supplement existing initiatives to combat child hunger. However, a legislative bill has been introduced to compel the governor’s involvement in this program.
Dr. Karla Lester, now 55 years old, recently found the courage to openly discuss a deeply personal and shameful aspect of her past: experiencing hunger during her childhood.
On Thursday, during a legislative committee hearing, the Lincoln pediatrician joined 17 other advocates in advocating for the adoption of a proposal that would require Nebraska’s participation in the national Summer EBT food program for children. This proposal is in direct opposition to the wishes of Governor Jim Pillen.
State Senator Jen Day of Gretna delivered a speech during a legislative hearing on LB 952, as shown in the photograph.
The program has sparked controversy as it aims to allocate approximately $18 million in federal funds for groceries to around 150,000 low-income Nebraska youths. Pillen, expressing his opposition to the state’s involvement in the program, stated that he does not support welfare.
Lester empathizes with the emotional burden that children face when they don’t have access to regular meals. She personally knows the feeling of “stigma and shame” that comes with not having a guaranteed lunch or dinner. She describes it as a secret that weighs heavily on a child’s mind.
Lester expressed her determination to not let the funds go to waste, stating: “I can’t simply sit back and watch as these funds slip away.”
Priority bill for Sen. Ray Aguilar
State Senator Jen Day of Gretna, the proponent of Legislative Bill 952, apprised the Health and Human Services Committee about the financial implications of the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer program in Nebraska. According to Senator Day, the program would require an annual administration cost of approximately $400,000, along with additional one-time startup expenses.
State Senator Ray Aguilar from Grand Island is prioritizing this bill to increase its chances of being discussed in the legislature.
The proposal received unanimous support, with no opposition voiced during the discussion. However, there were a few electronic letters of opposition that were submitted, totaling four in number. On the other hand, a significant number of individuals, a total of 153, expressed their support for the proposal through letters.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, responsible for overseeing the EBT program, did not provide a representative to speak at the hearing. However, they did submit a letter expressing a neutral stance.
Low-income families in participating states will receive $40 per month for each eligible school-aged child, up to $120, to purchase groceries starting in the summer of 2024.
Day expressed her appreciation for a neutral party, stating, “It was a pleasant experience to encounter someone without any bias.”
The DHHS letter did not specifically address the Summer EBT program. Instead, it highlighted the advantages of other food-related programs already available to low-income families in the state.
The deadline for states to declare their interest in participating in the summer program passed on January 1st. However, according to Day, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has indicated that they are open to working with Nebraska.
According to the USDA, as of today, Summer EBT has been opted into by 35 states, the District of Columbia, and 10 tribes and U.S. territories.
Pillen doubled down
In this program, assistance is provided through pre-loaded EBT cards that families can use to buy groceries. Eligible families will receive $40 per child, per month for the three summer months.
The benefits provided by this program complement other available programs like SNAP and WIC, rather than discounting them.
Pillen remained firm in his decision to decline participation in the program.
In a letter to his constituents just before the new year, he expressed his belief that the COVID-19 pandemic was over and that the government relief programs associated with it should also come to an end.
According to the governor, the current summer food program that provides lunches at summer school and summer camps is already adequate. He emphasized that the program is interactive and incorporates activities such as reading, nutrition education, and physical activities.
Speakers on Thursday emphasized that participation at the sites in Nebraska, especially in rural areas, is low.
Logan Nungesser, a 15-year-old student from Lincoln, who spoke in favor of LB 952. (Image courtesy of the Nungesser family)
Logan Nungesser, a 15-year-old student from Lincoln, expressed gratitude for the utilization of pandemic-era EBT cards, as they provided her family with the opportunity to purchase groceries and ensure access to food. With these cards, they were able to visit the grocery store and fulfill their dietary needs.
The lawmakers were “invited” by the teen to experience the perspective of students who rely on food programs.
According to Nungesser, the burden of embarrassment and stigma falls on the child if there is a summer meal site available. He emphasizes that as teenagers, we can all relate to the feelings of shame and how it can deter students from attending these sites.
Numerous individuals who spoke before the committee emphasized that the program would not only be advantageous for young people but also for businesses.
According to Rasna Sethi, an analyst at the OpenSky Policy Institute of Nebraska, the injection of $18 million in food benefits is expected to have a multiplier effect, resulting in approximately $30 million flowing into the Nebraska economy.
According to Brian Barks, the president and CEO of Food Bank for the Heartland, it is unacceptable that one out of every eight hungry individuals in Nebraska is a child.
According to him, the Summer EBT program will help reduce the strain on state food banks caused by the growing demand.
The Summer EBT program, which was inspired by pilot projects and a nationwide pandemic-era initiative that has since concluded, was officially established by Congress through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023.
Advocates for the summer food program were determined to make progress before the new year. They intensified their efforts, including delivering a petition to Pillen. This petition, which had over 6,000 signatures from more than 200 communities, showcased the widespread support for the cause.
A letter was sent by a group of 15 state senators, led by Day, to the DHHS, requesting the administration to reconsider the situation.
Day decided to try something different when previous approaches failed. LB 952 was introduced as a new solution.
The HHS Committee did not take any action on Thursday regarding the decision to advance the bill to the full Legislature.
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The Nebraska Examiner reports that a proposal to require Nebraska to accept $18M in federal food funds for kids received no opposition at a recent hearing.