Twenty Nebraska state senators have written Gov. Pete Ricketts asking that he join with the rest of the nation in extending emergency food aid during the pandemic.
Nebraska is the only state not taking advantage of extra federal dollars for those on food stamps. Some 173,000 Nebraskans were receiving food stamps as of 2017, with children, the disabled and the elderly making up the majority.
“There is no obvious reason why Nebraska is refusing to provide enhanced (food) benefits,” said State Sen. John McCollister, one of those signing the letter.
About 60% of Nebraska food stamp recipients would get additional money if Nebraska were to take advantage of the federal offer. That’s according to state figures.
The U.S. Agriculture Department has calculated that the emergency benefits would provide the average five-person household an additional $240 monthly to buy food.
Ricketts’ office could not be reached for comment Monday evening. On Friday, a Ricketts spokesman said the governor stood by his decision not to extend aid. His office also has referred inquiries to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
The extra money for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, comes from a federal coronavirus relief bill. Under the expanded program, all recipients can receive the maximum allowable amount, even if, for example, they had some income. Nebraska participated in the beefed-up program from March through July but did not join the other 49 states in offering additional aid for August. Thirteen states, including Iowa, already have applied to continue through September.
Under the program, the federal government pays the full cost of the extra food aid and half the administrative costs.
Khalilah LeGrand, a DHHS spokeswoman, has said the extra federal food aid was intended to be temporary and that more Nebraskans are finding work. She has encouraged people to get back to work if they are able to do so.
Those who run the state’s food pantries say they can use all the help they can get. From March 15 to June 30, the Food Bank for the Heartland distributed 11,633,012 meals, a 61% increase.
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