Pillen Sticks To Decision To Pass On $18-M In Federal Summer Food Funds


     Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen stood firm Monday and let the deadline pass for applying for $18-million in federal funding to help feed children who might otherwise go hungry while school is out. 

      Pillen had issued a statement Friday defending his decision not to allow the state to participate in the 2024 Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children program, repeating his statement that he doesn’t “believe in welfare.”

     That statement came as advocates for children and low-income families held a news conference outside the Governor’s Mansion to call on Pillen to change his mind. Federal officials estimate the program would benefit 175,000 Nebraska children who might otherwise go hungry on some days during the summer.

      States that participate in the federal program are required to cover half of the administrative costs – an estimated $300,000 for Nebraska. Advocates of the program say it still has a 60-1 return even with picking up the administrative costs.

      Pillen said “COVID-19 is over, and Nebraska taxpayers expect that pandemic-era government relief programs will end too.” He insisted the new program isn’t needed in Nebraska because the state is continuing to help food-insecure children through the Summer Food Service Program.

      That program provides meals and snacks at various sites when school is not in session, and Pillen said it also allows providers to spot and report issues such as malnutrition, neglect and abuse in children.

     Critics say not all Nebraska families have access to the on-site programs, especially those in the rural parts of Nebraska where sites can be many miles away from a struggling family.

      The Lincoln Journal-Star in an editorial questioned what Pillen considers welfare, pointing to the pandemic-era Payroll Protection Program, which provided loans to more than 114,000 entities in Nebraska, including some associated with Pillen,

      Pillen-related businesses received $7.8-million dollars in loans, but had about $2.8-million of that total forgiven under the terms of the program. 

    The editorial asks “If PPP loans and government subsidies aren’t welfare because they are investments, what would you call nourishing a child properly?