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Nebraska Governor Reverses Decision, State to Accept Federal Funding for Child Nutrition

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Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen made a significant reversal on Monday, announcing that the state will accept approximately $18 million in federal funding aimed at supporting hungry children during the summer break.

Pillen’s decision marks a shift from his stance in December when he initially declared the state’s rejection of the funding, citing his opposition to what he termed as “welfare.” However, mounting pressure, including from members of his own party, compelled him to reconsider.

Speaking at a news conference, Pillen revealed that his change of heart came after meeting with a group of high school students from across Nebraska who shared their experiences of hunger and dependence on the summer USDA program for sustenance. Their testimonies resonated with Pillen, prompting him to reevaluate the state’s stance.

The program in question, known as the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (Summer EBT), has been instrumental in providing assistance to low-income families, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. It offers pre-loaded EBT cards to eligible families, providing $40 per eligible child for three summer months to purchase groceries.

Critics of Pillen’s initial refusal argued that relying solely on the Summer Food Service Program, which provides on-site meals during school breaks, was insufficient, especially for families in rural areas where access to such sites is limited.

State Senator Jen Day introduced a bill compelling Nebraska to accept the federal funding, garnering bipartisan support. Republican Senator Ray Aguilar, along with two dozen other Republican lawmakers, joined Pillen at Monday’s news conference, signaling unity across party lines on the issue.

Nebraska was among 15 states, all led by Republican governors, that initially opted out of the funding this year. The decision drew comparisons to neighboring Iowa, where Governor Kim Reynolds criticized the federal program’s efficacy in addressing childhood obesity.

However, amidst Pillen’s reversal, Reynolds’ stance remains unclear. Despite declining to comment on the matter, the bipartisan support for accepting the funding reflects a broader consensus on addressing child nutrition issues.

State Senator Megan Hunt, expressing gratitude for Pillen’s decision, highlighted the collective effort in advocating for the funding’s acceptance. She emphasized the importance of bipartisan collaboration in addressing common challenges and utilizing available resources to benefit Nebraskans.

The USDA extended the deadline for states to declare their participation until Thursday, allowing Nebraska to confirm its decision to participate this year. While it remains uncertain if other holdout states will follow suit, the USDA reiterated its commitment to supporting states ready to participate in 2024.

Pillen’s reversal underscores the significance of listening to diverse voices and prioritizing the well-being of vulnerable populations. As Nebraska prepares to avail federal assistance for child nutrition, the decision reflects a proactive approach to addressing pressing societal needs and ensuring equitable access to essential services.

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