Health and Human Services

SNAP restaurant meal program considered

The Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony Feb. 21 on a bill that seeks to address food insecurity among vulnerable populations in Nebraska.

Sen. Terrell McKinney
Sen. Terrell McKinney

LB920, introduced by Omaha Sen. Terrell McKinney, would require the state Department of Health and Human Services to establish a Restaurant Meals Program no later than July 1, 2025.

Under the program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients who are elderly, disabled or experiencing homelessness could use their SNAP dollars to purchase pre-made meals at below-market price from participating restaurants. Restaurants would contract with the department to offer meals to eligible individuals.

McKinney said barriers such as a lack of cooking facilities or stable housing can impede a person’s ability to prepare meals at home. Allowing SNAP participants to use their benefits to purchase prepared meals would ensure equitable access to nutritious food, he said, regardless of their circumstances.

“This initiative ensures that SNAP benefits are utilized effectively to combat hunger and improve food security among vulnerable populations,” McKinney said. “By providing SNAP beneficiaries with the option to purchase prepared meals at restaurants, we promote health and nutrition, support local businesses, ensure equity and inclusion and streamline access to benefits.”

Gladys Harrison, owner of Big Mama’s Kitchen and Catering in Omaha, testified in support of LB920. She said she proposed the idea to McKinney because the program would help increase access to nutritious food in both rural and urban areas of the state.

“One thing Nebraska has plenty of is restaurants,” Harrison said, “and restaurants can help [fill the] food desert needs that we have.”

Katie Nungesser, policy coordinator for Voices for Children in Nebraska, also spoke in support of the bill. Over 3,500 Nebraska families with children were homeless in 2021, she said, and an additional 2,229 families were at risk of homelessness.

“When a family is homeless without a kitchen, the ability to pay for a precooked or ready-made meal can be the difference between going to bed hungry or fed,” Nungesser said.

Testifying in support of LB920 on behalf of AARP Nebraska, Jina Ragland said food insecurity has significant negative health effects for older Nebraskans. Older adults who are food insecure are more likely to experience depression, diabetes, heart attacks and limitations on their daily activities than their food-secure counterparts, she said.

“Participation in the SNAP program is associated with improved health outcomes, contributes to lower health care costs, fewer ER visits and fewer long-term care admissions to a hospital,” Ragland said. “LB920 … [allows] older Nebraskans to remain healthy, age in place and stay at the lowest level of care for longer periods of time.”

Ansley Fellers, executive director of the Nebraska Grocery Industry Association, spoke in opposition to the proposal. She expressed concern that the cost of meals at participating restaurants would be higher than a person would pay at a grocery store.

“We believe with [the] limited funds available, we should do our best to ensure SNAP dollars are stretched as far as possible,” Fellers said.

The committee took no immediate action on LB920.

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