According to the Associated Press, the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (Summer EBT) program was widely employed as part of federal assistance made available during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was made permanent in 2022.
It provides pre-loaded EBT cards to families whose children are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches at school. Those families would receive $40 per eligible child per month over the summer, and their cards can be used to buy groceries — similar to how SNAP benefits are used.
Roughly 150,000 children in Nebraska were eligible in the 2022-2023 school year.
But saying he does not believe in welfare, Governor Jim Pillen (R) recently announced that his state will not take federal money to feed kids over the summer. More than a dozen other Republican governors have made similar decisions.
In response, state Senator Jen Day (D) has introduced a measure to effectively go around that and require Nebraska to accept $18 million for the program.
That concerns Jonathan Butcher of The Heritage Foundation.
"First, it seems odd that a state lawmaker would try to have the state consider legislation to require it to participate in a federal program," he responds.
He also has concerns about federalism in a case like this, which is the combining of a general government with regional governments.
Furthermore, the federal meal programs are far from perfect. For one thing, they are highly wasteful; most kids do not eat everything on their plates. For another, the programs do not accurately identify who should receive help.
"I would just say in general that federal meal programs are among those that are in dire need of some pretty significant reform," Butcher submits.
Sen. Day has found a Republican ally, state Sen. Ray Aguilar of Grand Island, in her effort. Aguilar has prioritized Day's bill, giving it a good chance of being debated by the full legislature this session.