In a U-turn, the governor of Nebraska declares that the state will accept federal money to feed children

Governor Jim Pillen of Nebraska has changed his mind and declared that he will take federal money to assist in providing food for undernourished kids throughout the summer. Pillen said on Monday that the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children, worth approximately $18 million, will be accepted by the state.

Declaring, “I don’t believe in welfare,” Pillen justified the state’s decision to deny the cash in December. However, he faced tremendous pressure to take the money, even from some of his own party members.

During a press conference on Monday, Pillen stated that he made the decision to accept funds provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture after speaking with a group of high school students from Nebraska who had come to the state Capitol earlier this month.

According to Pillen, “They talked about hunger and the summer USDA programme and when they’d get a sack of food, depending upon access.” “And based on what I observed from my seat, Nebraska needs to improve.”

As part of the federal support made available during the COVID-19 epidemic, the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children programme, sometimes known as Summer EBT, was widely utilized before being made permanent in 2022.

Low-income families, those whose children qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches, and those who are currently enrolled in Medicaid, food assistance, or other assistance programmes are all eligible to receive pre-loaded EBT cards.

During the three summer months, such households would get forty dollars for each qualified child. Like SNAP benefits, the cards can be used to purchase groceries.

Pillen’s reversal was partly influenced by pressure from MPs, particularly those from rural districts. Previously, the governor contended that Nebraska will keep supporting children who are food insecure by means of the Summer Food Service Programme, an independent initiative that offers meals and snacks at different locations during the summer months when schools are not in session.

However, detractors argued that not all families are able to access the on-site programmes, especially in Nebraska’s large rural areas where the sites may be distant from economically disadvantaged families.

A bill introduced by Omaha, Nebraska, state senator Jen Day, a Democrat in the formally nonpartisan Legislature, would have compelled the state to take the federal money. Republican state senator Ray Aguilar of Grand Island made Day’s bill his top priority for the session, ensuring that the entire Legislature would have an opportunity to discuss it, demonstrating the broad support for the programme.

Two dozen Republican congressmen, including Aguilar, joined Pillen at the press conference on Monday.

15 states, all led by Republican governors, chose not to accept the funding this year, including Nebraska. The governor of neighbouring Iowa, Kim Reynolds, attacked the federal food programme for “doing nothing to promote nutrition at a time when childhood obesity has become an epidemic.” Iowa is one of those states.

On Monday, when asked if Reynolds is sticking to her decision to refuse the cash, her staff declined to comment.

Nebraska state senator Megan Hunt expressed her gratitude to Pillen for choosing to accept the funding.

“This demonstrates that all opinions matter, and that gaining support from people in all corners of the state and on all political stripes for issues that have common ground in order to assist Nebraskans and bring our tax dollars home is a win for everyone,” tweeted Hunt.

The USDA extended the deadline for states to indicate their participation for this summer from January 1 to Thursday.

According to Pillen, on Monday, representatives from Nebraska had already been in touch with the USDA to clarify that the state will be taking part this year.

The USDA stated that it is dedicated to working with those that are “operationally ready to participate successfully in 2024,” but it did not immediately respond to inquiries about whether any of the remaining 14 holdout states had indicated by Monday if they would participate this year.

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