Benefits that thousands of Nebraskans rely on may soon be harder to get

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Despite historic inflation and soaring grocery prices, many households that currently qualify for federal assistance programs might not in the near future.

Currently, about 150,000 Nebraskans rely on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits to help buy food.

The program, funded by the federal government and managed by each state, provides households with an electronic debit card to buy groceries.

Expanded eligibility that was put into place in 2021 could expire in 2023.

About 4,500 Nebraska households containing around 10,000 people have gained access to SNAP with the expanded eligibility, said Eric Savaiano of Nebraska Appleseed, citing the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

“Lots of folks are working two jobs, three jobs to make ends meet,” he said. “So without supplemental nutrition assistance, through the SNAP program, losing those benefits might mean people have to choose between medicine and rent and food for them or their families.”

Tina Rockenbach, executive director of Community Action of Nebraska, said during the pandemic, those benefits allowed families to meet their basic needs in a time when many people didn’t have a job or were laid off without pay.

She said a lot of jobs that were lost have since come back but that families continues to struggle.

“It’s a pivotal time right now to really take a look at what families need,” Rockenbach said. “There’s a lot of conversations going on regarding living wages, regarding jobs available, things like that. And you can see with the low unemployment in our state, families are working. Where they’re really struggling right now is with making ends meet.”

Currently, eligibility is 165% of the federal poverty guidelines, meaning a family of three qualifies with an income around $38,000.

If expanded eligibility ends next year, the cutoff would return to 130% and that income limit would be lowered to $29,000.

Seventy-two percent of SNAP recipients in Nebraska are families with children, and 30% include someone with disabilities.

Community Action and other organizations said they are looking for Nebraska’s lawmakers to either extend the current eligibility or make it permanent before it expires.

Community Action, which serves all 93 counties in Nebraska, said it’s available to help connect people with the assistance they might need.

The nonprofit said both working families and retirees are potentially at risk of losing benefits, so now is the time for people to make their voices heard.

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