Health and Human Services

Direct cash assistance increase proposed

A bill intended to increase access to direct cash assistance for low-income families in Nebraska was considered by the Health and Human Services Committee March 8.

Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh
Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh

LB290, introduced by Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha, would increase the standard of need — a monthly amount calculated to determine an individual’s basic subsistence expenses — for Aid to Dependent Children. The program provides direct cash assistance funded by the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant.

The standard of need is considered in a participant’s initial income eligibility and used to calculate their benefit amount. ADC funds can be used to cover basic living expenses such as rent, utilities, food, clothing and other household necessities.

The bill would increase the standard of need for an individual to $1,132.50 and $393 for each additional eligible individual in a household. Cavanaugh said the current annual net income for a single person to qualify for ADC is $7,212, which she said would increase to $13,590 under her proposal.

Going forward, the bill also would require the state Department of Health and Human Services to adjust the standard of need annually to account for inflation.

Diane Amdor, staff attorney at Nebraska Appleseed, spoke in support of the proposal. DHHS currently has nearly $131 million in TANF funds, she said, which are to be used to reduce poverty across the state. The Legislature’s top priority for that funding should be increasing the availability of direct cash assistance for the lowest income Nebraskans, she said.

“These programs affect real people living real lives,” Amdor said.

Also testifying in support of LB290 was Natalia Tu, research and policy analyst for the Women’s Fund of Omaha. Tu said a single, working adult in Nebraska would need to make approximately $2,200 per month to cover basic expenses and be considered economically secure — which includes setting extra money aside for retirement and emergencies.

Of the 70 percent of all Nebraska households that are considered economically secure, she said, only 24 percent comprise single women with children.

“This legislation is critical,” Tu said. “Economic security is foundational to achieving gender equity in our local communities.”

Testifying in opposition to the bill was Andrew Keck, deputy director of finance for the DHHS Division of Children and Family Services. He said LB290 not only would compromise the sustainability of other TANF-funded programs, but also could negatively impact the eligibility of certain families who utilize other income-based economic assistance programs.

Under federal law, he said, both the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Low-Income Heating Energy Assistance Program consider ADC payments as income when determining eligibility.

“An increase in ADC payment amounts could impact families’ eligibility for SNAP and LIHEAP, which could decrease benefits received for some households,” Keck said.

The committee took no immediate action on LB290.

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