Lincoln hosts conference to address Nebraska’s rising poverty rate

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) — Nonprofits, policymakers and state officials all came to Lincoln on Wednesday to discuss better ways to help struggling Nebraska families.

The Coalition for a Strong Nebraska organized the conference, which was aimed at getting the ball rolling ahead of the next legislative session in January.

Josie Schafer with the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research said the poverty rate in Nebraska trended down until the pandemic. 

Now it’s going in the wrong direction.

Data shows that Nebraska’s poverty rate right now is around 10%, which is lower than average in the United States.

“But still here in Nebraska, that means 1 in 10 people live in poverty, and even higher rates for kids,” Schafer said.

Brian Barks, president of the Food Bank for the Heartland, said the pandemic made some signs of poverty more visible.

We’ve been seeing somewhere around a 40% increase in individuals and households that are now seeking food assistance,” Barks said. “Many of them are doing so for the first time.”

Speakers also discussed how poverty is related to health care access.

“If people aren’t able to get a good job, have health care, then unfortunately sometimes, they’re not going to be as healthy as they want,” said Josie Rodriguez, the chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at One World Community Health Centers.

Rodriguez said research shows a correlation between where racial minorities live and poverty and lack of access to basic services. 

“Think about Lincoln and the center of Lincoln; where you see more poverty, you see racial minorities,” Rodriguez said. “There are no grocery stores. And so, there are not so many green spaces where they might be able to go and maybe take their kids to the park.” 

Speakers agreed that in order to address poverty in our state, different organizations, businesses and the government need to come together.  

The name of Wednesday’s conference was “Healthy Families, Strong Communities.” It took place at the Nebraska Innovation Campus.

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