nebraska governor stands by rejection of federal funds to feed hungry kids

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The Republican governor of Nebraska is standing by his decision to reject a federal program that would give the state $18 million to help feed food-insecure children next summer.

Gov. Jim Pillen reiterated his stance in a statement Friday on why the state won’t be participating in the 2024 Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children or Summer EBT program.

“COVID-19 is over and Nebraska taxpayers expect that pandemic-era government relief programs will end too,” Pillen said in a statement.

The program, made available in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, would give EBT cards to low-income families whose kids are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches at school.

Families would receive $40 a month per child over the summer. In exchange for the $18 million in federal funds, the state would have to pay $300,000 in administrative costs.

“I don’t believe in welfare,” Pillen said at a previous news conference about his decision to reject the funds.

Instead, Pillen said, the state would continue to help kids through the Summer Food Service Program, which provides meals to low-income kids who are signed up for on-site services like summer school and camps.

At a rally on Friday in front of the Governor’s Residence, advocates for the federal program argued the Summer Food Service Program doesn’t reach thousands of kids who aren’t able to participate in those on-site programs, the Nebraska Examiner reported.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds also announced her state would reject the federal program. Reynolds cited “childhood obesity” as a reason to reject the $18 million.

“An EBT card does nothing to promote nutrition at a time when childhood obesity has become an epidemic,” Reynolds said in a news release about her decision.

Twenty-eight other states, along with six other U.S. territories and Native American tribes, will be taking part in the program, The Associated Press reported.

In the last year and a half, eight other states have adopted free universal meal programs for kids in public schools. Those states are Massachusetts, California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Vermont and Minnesota.

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