Nebraska lawmakers override vetoes of SNAP, pension bills

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska lawmakers expanded Nebraska’s food stamp and heating assistance programs and ordered the state to take over the management of Omaha Public Schools’ troubled pension system on Wednesday, brushing aside the objections of Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Lawmakers overrode the Republican governor’s vetoes of all three bills on the second-to-last day of this year’s regular session.

The newly enacted laws will allow an additional 3,945 Nebraska families to qualify for federal food-assistance benefits, expand eligibility for federal heating assistance, and direct the state’s public-employee retirement agency to start managing the investments that pay for teacher pensions in the state’s largest school district.

In his veto letters, Ricketts argued that the food-assistance bill would create a disincentive to work at a time when businesses are desperate for employees. He said the energy assistance bill relied on a one-time infusion of federal money to permanently expand the benefit. And he argued that the state’s managerial takeover of the Omaha Public Schools’ pension fund was part of a push by the district to eventually have the state assume responsibility for its $1 billion pension liability.

On each measure, lawmakers rejected the governor’s arguments.

The sponsor of the food-assistance law, Sen. John McCollister, said most people who qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP or food stamps, are already employed. And he said those who aren’t often suffer from serious disabilities or are caring for a relative.

McCollister said the proposal would give more families “a new lease on life,” by raising the cutoff to qualify. The law will temporarily allow families to qualify if their gross income is 165% or less of the federal poverty level — $43,725 for a family of four. Under current Nebraska law, the same family could only qualify if they make 130% or less of the federal level, or $34,450.

“Please remember that SNAP recipients are our friends, neighbors and fellow church members,” said McCollister, of Omaha.

The argument didn’t sway some conservative lawmakers, who viewed it as expansion of the welfare state, but lawmakers voted by the narrowest possible margin, 30-19, to override Ricketts.

“You want to do your good works with your neighbor’s tax dollars, because that’s what we’re doing here,” said Sen. Mike Groene, of North Platte.

Senators voted 32-15 to override the veto of the heating-assistance bill. The sponsor, Sen. Tom Brandt, of Plymouth, said allowing more people to qualify would solve a bureaucratic problem with the program.

Categories: Nebraska News