LINCOLN - Nebraska lawmakers are considering a proposal to expand eligibility limits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the program formerly known as food stamps.
Proponents say Legislative Bill 108 would help working families hit by the coronavirus pandemic's economic fallout.
Shelley Mann, assistant director of SNAP at Food Bank for the Heartland, said her organization has not seen a hunger crisis on this scale in its 40-year history.
She argued making SNAP accessible to more Nebraskans is critical because the program is a much more efficient way to feed people.
"There's just no way that we can 'food bank' our way out of this increase in hunger," Mann contended. "For every meal provided by every food bank in the United States, there are nine additional meals provided by the food stamp program."
The legislation aims to eliminate the so-called cliff effect, where workers who get promotions and small pay increases end up losing hundreds of dollars in food assistance.
The measure would allow families to continue receiving help, in part by considering expenses including child care that make it harder to purchase food. Critics warn that expanding SNAP eligibility from Nebraskans earning 130% of the federal poverty level to 185% would disincentivize people from seeking work.
Mann countered allowing workers to bring in a little more income without losing the assistance keeping them afloat will set them up for long-term success in the workforce, which will help families become less dependent on government programs and food pantries.
"We are incentivizing work," Mann asserted. "We're incentivizing promotion, we're incentivizing taking more hours. Because we're saying 'If you do those things, we are not going to punish you.'"
She added expanding SNAP eligibility also will help Nebraska's state and local economies recover from the public health crisis. Every dollar in federal benefits generates $1.70 in economic activity.
Mann pointed out SNAP dollars are spent quickly and locally at farmer's markets and grocery stores.