Feb 13, 2024

Gov. Pillen Announces SEBT “Nebraska Solution”

Posted Feb 13, 2024 2:17 AM

By Office of Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen

LINCOLN, NE – Surrounded by more than 20 state senators in the Warner Chamber at the State Capitol, Governor Jim Pillen touted a “Nebraska solution” that will allow the state to take advantage of the federally-funded Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (SEBT) program, while ensuring that additional needs of children and their families are met. Gov. Pillen was joined in his announcement today by Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) CEO Steve Corsi, Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) Commissioner Brian Maher and Senator Ray Aguilar (District 35).

“My team has been in touch with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has expressed interest and support for this plan,” said Gov. Pillen. “We simply must do better in Nebraska to enhance the quality of life and the quality of interaction with kids and their families during the summer months. This program will make sure that happens.”

DHHS, through the Office of Economic Assistance, will act as the coordinating agency for the implementation of the SEBT program. NDE will partner with DHHS to provide necessary student information to DHHS, so that eligible children are identified, and families are aware of the benefits and additional resources available to them.

In addition to vendor issued EBT cards, the program will have touchpoints incorporated to ensure that kids are safe. Supplemental features of the program include:

  1. Educational outreach that informs families about the types of nutritious foods that parents can purchase for their kids with SEBT cards
  2. A website with information about the SEBT program that also provides connections to other summer programs with additional support and resources
  3. When the SEBT card is mailed to families, trained staff with DHHS will follow up personally to assess any other needs and determine what resources would be of benefit
  4. DHHS will send text messages to enrolled families, so they can easily apply for SEBT. This also provides another connection to trained DHHS staff who can help families identify and navigate access to additional resources in their communities

“We are very excited about this program because we are going to implement it the Nebraska way,” said DHHS CEO Steve Corsi. “We won’t just be transferring additional money. We are setting up the program to ensure kids are safe in the summer. Through our partnership with NDE, we are confident DHHS will be able to implement this in a timely manner, built upon the foundation already established with NDE to carry out the Pandemic-EBT program”

Nebraska will also continue to participate in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), also funded through the USDA. Like SEBT, it also provides no-cost food to children, usually in centralized locations where kids get access to nutritious meals and snacks. There are 280 such sites around the state operating in schools or non-profits. One of the benefits of the program is that children have an opportunity to interact with adults who can spot signs of abuse, malnutrition, mental health and other issues that require immediate attention.

“During the pandemic, when schools were shut down and kids were at home, calls to Children and Family Services (CFS) dropped significantly,” said Gov. Pillen. “We don’t want that to happen again. Enabling DHHS to follow up with families enrolled in SEBT will ensure those kids are not falling through the cracks.”

“This plan is a great way to meet the needs of kids who experience food insecurity as well as provide a means for ensuring they are cared for properly during the summer months,” said NDE Commissioner Maher. “This will provide another opportunity to check in with our students.  We welcome the chance to have caring adults touching base with kids and families during the summer months.”

Sen. Aguilar, who prioritized LB 952, added his support to the Governor’s plan. That bill called on DHHS to submit for SEBT funding, but it left out the supplemental supports that have now been added through Gov. Pillen’s initiative.

“The issue of food insecurity is critical, and I know this is a very important issue for the Governor. He is a strong advocate for meeting the needs of kids in communities across our state,” said Sen. Aguilar. “I am pleased we have been able to come up with a solution that will allow us to pursue SEBT funding for this year, and that the program will meet other critical needs for Nebraska families.”

Next steps include working with the USDA for inclusion in this year’s SEBT program as well as submitting the required Plan for Operations and Management (POM). That document will be drafted by DHHS and submitted by the Feb. 15 deadline.

DHHS estimates that 150,000 students or 80,000 households will be eligible to receive SEBT benefits.