OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska’s Republican governor on Friday reiterated his rejection of $18 million in federal funding to assist feed youngsters who may in any other case go hungry whereas college is out.

Nebraska won’t take part within the 2024 Summer season Digital Advantages Switch for Youngsters — or Summer season EBT — program, Gov. Jim Pillen mentioned in a written assertion. That assertion got here as advocates for youngsters and low-income households held a information convention exterior the Governor’s Mansion in Lincoln to name on Pillen to alter his thoughts earlier than the Jan. 1 deadline to enroll in this system.

This system — a part of federal help made out there in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic — would supply pre-loaded EBT playing cards to households whose youngsters are eligible without cost and reduced-price lunches at college. These households would obtain $40 per eligible youngster monthly over the summer season. The playing cards can be utilized to purchase groceries, just like how SNAP advantages are used.

“COVID-19 is over, and Nebraska taxpayers count on that pandemic-era authorities reduction applications will finish too,” Pillen mentioned in his assertion. Pillen introduced on Dec. 19 that Nebraska wouldn’t take part in this system. He has drawn a firestorm of criticism for later defending that stance at a information convention by saying, “I do not imagine in welfare.”

Neighboring Iowa is also opting out of this system, with Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds asserting that call final week and saying, “An EBT card does nothing to advertise diet at a time when childhood weight problems has grow to be an epidemic.”

States that take part within the federal program are required to cowl half of the executive prices, which might value Nebraska an estimated $300,000. Advocates of this system observe that the executive value is much outweighed by the $18 million profit, which the U.S. Division of Agriculture estimates would profit 175,000 Nebraska youngsters who may in any other case go hungry on some days in the course of the summer season.

Advocacy group Nebraska Appleseed on Friday delivered a petition bearing greater than 6,100 signatures from 230 communities throughout Nebraska calling on the state to make the most of the federal Summer season EBT program. Lots of those that signed the petition additionally included feedback expressing how a lot this system is required, particularly in mild of multi-year inflation that has outpaced many family incomes.

“Every part is pricey,” wrote one mom from Bruno, a small rural city in japanese Nebraska. “I’m a single mother who works full time, and my finances is already unfold so skinny. My son performs sports activities, and as a rising boy, he may virtually eat a gap by way of the wall; it feels prefer it by no means stops. The additional cash for meals would unlock cash for issues like payments and financial savings, and automotive upkeep.”

Pillen insisted Friday that the state would proceed to assist food-insecure youngsters by way of the Summer season Meals Service Program, which offers meals and snacks at numerous websites when college is just not in session. Offering on-site companies additionally permits suppliers to identify and report points like malnutrition, neglect and abuse in youngsters, he mentioned.

However critics say not all households have entry to the on-site applications — notably in Nebraska’s huge rural stretches, the place websites could be many miles away from a struggling household.

“No child ever mentioned, ‘I wish to be born right into a household that struggles,’” mentioned Jenni Benson, president of the Nebraska State Training Affiliation — the state’s largest academics union. “Why would we even query that folks and kids deserve meals?”

Preston Love Jr,, a longtime group advocate in Omaha, on Friday questioned whether or not Pillen was bowing to political strain in rejecting the federal funding.

“I do know the governor just a little bit, and he appears to be an affordable man. He is a person who’s compassionate in dialog,” Love mentioned. “That is out of character. So, clearly, he is not following his coronary heart. He is following his politics. He is falling sufferer to political posturing, and there is not any excuse for that on the subject of youngsters.”

As of Friday, 28 different states and 6 different U.S. territories and Native American tribes had confirmed their participation, in line with the USDA.

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