Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen Turns Down $18 Million in Funding
Republican Governor Jim Pillen of Nebraska has made the controversial decision to reject $18 million in federal funding that would have supported feeding children in need during the summer months. The funding, known as Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (Summer EBT), provides pre-loaded EBT cards to eligible families to purchase groceries. This program was widely utilized during the COVID-19 pandemic and was made permanent in 2022.
Bill Introduced to Reverse the Rejection
In response to Governor Pillen’s rejection, Senator Jen Day of Omaha has introduced a bill that would require the state to accept the Summer EBT funding. Senator Day presented the bill to the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, seeking to overturn the governor’s decision. However, the deadline for states to declare participation in the program was January 1st, making it unlikely for Nebraska to join this summer. Exceptions have been made in the past by the federal government for other programs, but it remains uncertain if this will happen in this case.
Republican Governors Opting Out
Nebraska is one of over a dozen states with Republican governors that have chosen to opt out of receiving the Summer EBT funding. Gov. Kim Reynolds of neighboring Iowa has criticized the federal food program, claiming it does “nothing to promote nutrition” while childhood obesity rates soar. However, other states, including 35 in total, have opted into the program, with an estimated 21 million children nationwide expected to benefit from it this summer.
Concerns Over Food Insecurity
Senator Day and other critics argue that rejecting the funding ignores the growing issue of food insecurity in Nebraska. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture reveal a steady increase in food insecurity among Nebraska households, with 13.5% considered food insecure in 2023. This places Nebraska above the national average and ranks it as the 11th highest in food insecurity in the country. The rising cost of food has hit low-income residents the hardest, exacerbating the need for assistance.
Support for the Bill
Senator Day has garnered support for her bill, with Senator Ray Aguilar of Grand Island, a Republican ally, prioritizing the legislation. The bill stands a good chance of being debated by the full Legislature this session. Day’s effort has also seen widespread support from constituents, with numerous calls flooding in from her predominantly rural district. The inability for all families to access on-site programs, particularly in remote areas, makes the Summer EBT program a crucial lifeline for struggling families.
Alternative Program Offered
Following the backlash to his rejection of the Summer EBT funding, Governor Pillen announced that Nebraska would continue to support food-insecure children through the Summer Food Service Program. This program provides meals and snacks at various sites when school is not in session. However, critics argue that not all families have access to these on-site programs, especially those in vast rural areas where sites can be miles away from struggling families.
Current Status of the Bill
Seventeen individuals, including representatives from food pantries and services, testified in favor of Senator Day’s bill during a recent hearing. Additionally, 153 people sent letters of support for the legislation. There were no testimonies in opposition to the bill, although four individuals submitted letters expressing their opposition. The bill’s fate remains uncertain, with the missed deadline for participation making it a challenge for Nebraska to join the Summer EBT program this year.