Food Insecurity in Nebraska Remains Higher Than Normal, and Some Say Increased SNAP Benefits Would Help
By Christina Stella , Reporter/Producer Nebraska Public Media
Sept. 25, 2020, 5:13 p.m. ·
Nebraska continues to see higher rates of food insecurity due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Data gathered in September by the Census' Household Pulse Survey shows around 13 percent of households in Nebraska don’t always have enough to eat. Before the pandemic, that number was 6 percent.
Until July, 40,000 households in Nebraska had access to expanded foodstamps benefits under the CARES Act passed in March: a family of four used to max out at $300 dollars per month in SNAP benefits. With the added benefits, that ceiling became $680.
When the state moved to end expanded payments in July, some non-profits criticized the decision, including Nebraska Appleseed, Voices for Children, and Foodbank for the Heartland. At a zoom conference this week organized by the three, representatives said COVID-19 continues to impact Nebraskans’ access to food.
Two recipients of SNAP benefits also spoke. One woman named Linda — who omitted her last name to protect her privacy — said expanded access to SNAP helped her disabled family survive the spring.
“The food prices have skyrocketed, as have the prices of everything else like toilet paper soap and other basic necessities," she said.
Now, she said, her family’s allotment of $32 per month doesn’t go very far, and she can’t get a job to make up the rest.
"All we hear is go back to work, and Nebraska has the lowest unemployment rates," she said. "It's not normal, our normalcy has changed ... and to me, this is cruel. And we feel this because we're disabled at no fault of our own.”
It it true that Nebraska's unemployment rate has mostly normalized at 4%. That number, combined with comparable SNAP usage to last year — around 71,000 applications over the past month, compared to 70,000 in September 2019 — fueled the state's decision to taper boosted pandemic SNAP benefits.
Governor Ricketts says Nebraska continues to offer other forms of federal pandemic assistance, including higher jobless benefits and pandemic EBT, which reimburses the cost of lunch to parents with children in in remote schooling.
"One of the things we want to do is make sure that these benefits aren't just ending at once," he said. "What we want to do is step this down over time, and here in Nebraska, being the least impacted state, I think we can have a way to show the rest of the country how we get back to a more normal life.”
Ricketts has also pointed to pandemic aid for foodbanks to compensate for lost SNAP funds. Shelley Mann, assistant director of the Foodbank of The Heartland's SNAP division, says the organization has seen a 40% increase in calls to their SNAP hotline. She says increasing SNAP allotments save costs while creating federal investments in local grocers.
"For every meal that leaves the doors of a Feeding America Food Bank in the country, snap is able to provide 12 meals more," she said.
"These funds are spent locally, supporting the economies of towns large and small across Nebraska."