Bill to extend pandemic-era food stamp benefits up for hearing Thursday

LB84 would extend those benefits to the SNAP program, helping hundreds of thousands of Nebraska families and children.
Nebraska LB84 would expand pandemic-era SNAP benefits if passed.
Published: Feb. 28, 2023 at 10:14 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Low-income families in the U.S. will be faced with more difficult choices starting Wednesday, the first of the month. A bill in the Nebraska legislature could help Nebraskans past September. A hearing on LB84 is scheduled for Thursday.

“It’s one thing for us to be disappointed because we didn’t go to the store and get the cake that we wanted, or we aren’t able to maybe get all of the groceries that we wanted,” said Together Omaha’s president and CEO, Mike Hornacek. “But it’s a whole different thing when you can’t put food on the table for your family and your kids are going to be hungry or you’re going to have to skip a meal. That’s totally different.”

Fortunately, over the short term, both Nebraska and Iowa families need not worry about losing the extra benefits that have helped them weather job loss and inflation since COVID began.

In Nebraska, for instance, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program money was extended by the unicameral until the end of September. LB84 will determine what happens then.

“This was legislation that was introduced during the pandemic to give extra access to families that were struggling during the pandemic,” Hornacek said. “Unfortunately, as we know now, food insecurity rates are the highest they’ve ever been even post-pandemic, whether that has to do with inflation and many other things, so this legislation is critical.”

Together provides more than 140,000 individuals with food assistance each year, and they are just one of many community service programs already struggling to help those in need.

“We’ve had a lot of extra funding the last two to three years to help our communities and make sure people had access to healthy and nutritious food and safe and affordable housing,” Hornacek said. “We kept everybody afloat so that way victims didn’t skyrocket, things like that, and there’s a very harsh reality that we’re facing right now where we still have unprecedented need.”

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calls SNAP the nation’s most important and effective anti-hunger program. The Douglas County Health Department estimates nearly 13% of folks living in Omaha and Council Bluffs are living with food insecurity. 8% qualify for SNAP assistance in the state, the large majority being families with children, the disabled and the elderly. It’s estimated SNAP lifts some 32,000 people above the poverty line in Nebraska, including 17,000 children, on average every year.

“We need to be more innovative, we need to be more creative and we need to find some more sustainable long-term solutions,” Hornacek said. “But the people that we serve every day, they don’t really want to hear about long-term sustainable solutions. [They] want to know how they’re going to feed their family tonight and they want to know how they’re going to have a place to sleep.”

Hornacek says if some form of LB84 does not make its way through the unicameral, an estimated 10,000 Nebraskans stand to lose SNAP benefits come the end of September.

32 states in total have extensions of the supplementary COVID-era benefits in place -- but when the epidemic status expires on May 11, some will see those benefits end, too. 42 million Americans receive SNAP assistance in this country, with most being working families.