Bill to expand SNAP eligibility advanced

More Nebraskans would be eligible for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, under a bill advanced from general file April 14.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist20' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. John McCollister'>Sen. John McCollister</a>
Sen. John McCollister

Nebraska families making up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level would be eligible for SNAP benefits under LB108, as introduced by Sen. John McCollister of Omaha. Currently, a family is eligible for the program with a gross income of 130 percent or less of the federal poverty level and an adjusted net income — after deducting expenses such as housing and child care — of 100 percent or less of the federal poverty level.

LB108 would not change the net income standard, which is set by the federal government.

McCollister introduced an amendment, adopted 34-13, that would set the gross income eligibility limit at 165 percent.

SNAP benefits are entirely funded by the federal government, McCollister said, and all administrative costs associated with LB108 would be covered through the federal American Rescue Plan Act. The amendment would require the state Department of Health and Human Services to report to the Legislature regarding the bill’s impact on the number of Nebraskan’s being served and continued funding availability by Dec. 31, 2022.

McCollister said 80 percent of Nebraska families receiving SNAP benefits include at least one working adult and half of them have children.

“People who receive SNAP benefits are not slackers,” McCollister said, adding that most are the state’s “working poor.”

Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward supported the bill, saying it would help Nebraskans who are struggling financially.

“I think we owe the people that can’t afford food — that aren’t as blessed as well as we are — the right to have their bellies full at night when they go to bed, especially young children. You can’t learn if you’re hungry all the time,” Kolterman said.

Bellevue Sen. Carol Blood supported LB108 because it would help those in need and also would stimulate the economy.

“[SNAP] benefits augment the income of farmers, retailers, food processors and distributors, not to mention their employees,” she said.

Sen. John Arch of La Vista opposed the bill, which he said would not eliminate the so-called cliff effect — when a recipient becomes ineligible for benefits due to an increase in pay — but merely would shift it. He said Nebraska has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and that expanding SNAP eligibility would disincentivize people from seeking employment.

Kearney Sen. John Lowe said he opposed LB108 because Nebraska taxpayers would have to fund the expanded program once federal dollars run out.

“Once we start a program it never goes away,” Lowe said.

After adoption of the amendment, senators advanced LB108 to select file on a 29-18 vote.

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