This story is a follow-up to last month’s Omaha Jobs column, which you can find here.
Last month, The Reader wrote about the challenges that Omaha’s social safety net faces, particularly as it pertains to housing and food insecurity. Omaha-area nonprofit leaders addressing these challenges talked candidly about the benefits and drawbacks associated with the influx of funding for pandemic-related relief.
But the challenge extends beyond just the nonprofits that serve the poor. Eligibility requirements for government programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, are at risk of being rolled back.
In May 2021, the Nebraska Legislature voted to extend SNAP eligibility to families making up to 165% of the federal poverty level (for a family of four, the monthly income cutoff would be $4,125/month). This extension is set to expire Sept. 30.
Prior to that, SNAP was only available to families making a gross income of 130% or less ($3,250/month for a family of four). After Sept. 30, SNAP requirements will return to these criteria.
A 2022 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said just under 50% of Nebraskans on SNAP are members of working families. Working households receive $328/month on average, which is above the $243/month average for all households. Just 18% of recipients have incomes above 100% of the federal poverty line (a monthly income of $2,500 for a family of four).
Then-Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed the bill to extend SNAP eligibility out of concern that the Legislature would permanently preserve the extension after it expires, which would deter Nebraskans from returning to the workforce in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Legislature voted to override him.
A 2021 report from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the work requirements on SNAP have no effect on the employment rate and that it’s unclear whether they boost the self-sufficiency of recipients. However, a 2018 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said most people who are of working age and receive SNAP benefits work unstable jobs with low pay and no benefits.
“SNAP’s dual function as both a short-term support to help families afford food during a temporary period of low income and a support for others with longer-term needs is one of its principal strengths,” according to the report.
State Sen. Jen Day, who represents north-central Sarpy County in the Legislature, introduced a bill that would remove the sunset, exactly what former Gov. Ricketts said he didn’t want. She said making the extension permanent costs the state virtually nothing, since SNAP is a federal program.
“Now would be the worst possible time to roll back any increase,” Day said. “We should not be taking food out of the mouths of our constituents.”
Data provided by Day’s legislative office indicates about 4,500 households in Nebraska would lose SNAP benefits if the extension sunsets.
It’s unclear whether the bill will be considered, along with any anti-poverty legislation being introduced this session. The Reader asked senators from the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, which would consider the proposal, for an interview; other than Day, nobody responded.
contact the writer at email@example.com