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Legislature stands up for families most in need of help

Legislature stands up for families most in need of help

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Our state’s governor seemed to be taking lessons from the Grinch this week as he announced on Monday that the state would no longer accept the additional $300 per week in federal unemployment benefits for people receiving state benefits, then vetoed bills to expand the food stamp and heating assistance programs in Nebraska.

But the Legislature came through for Nebraskans most in need on Wednesday when they overrode Pete Ricketts’ vetoes of LB108 and LB306.

These bills now will become law, allowing an additional 3,945 families to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and expanding eligibility for federal heating assistance.

Ricketts had said in vetoing state Sen. John McCollister’s food stamp bill that providing benefits to people making between 130% and 165% of the federal poverty level would act as a disincentive to work. But that argument doesn’t hold water. Nebraskans who have that much income — up to $43,725 for a family of four — are working, maybe even at several low-paying jobs. But they still need help in providing enough food for their families.

Our state — and our community — have so many hard-working families that live paycheck-to-paycheck and have trouble putting enough food on the table for their children.

It might be because of medical bills. It might be because of day care costs so that the parents can work. But for most of them, it’s not because they want to sit at home and not work.

Our state must do whatever it can to make sure its residents have enough food to eat.

“Please remember that SNAP recipients are our friends, neighbors and fellow church members,” McCollister said during legislative debate.

The Legislature also overrode Ricketts’ veto of state Sen. Tom Brandt’s bill that will expand eligibility to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program program from 130% of the federal poverty level to 150%, making more Nebraska households eligible.

Before passage of this law, a family of three qualified up to an annual income of about $28,000. The cutoff now will be $33,000.

Heating assistance is another program that provides an essential service to those families most in need of help. Families that are barely getting by need help when their utility bills climb during the coldest weather of the winter.

Food and heat are not luxuries. They are necessities and these programs are in existence because our government has recognized that there are families who need the help. Expanding them to meet more need should be celebrated, not stopped.

Thank you to the legislators who voted their conscience and supported these bills in the face of the governor’s opposition.

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