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Education

Last call... for now!

Our major piece of legislation, LB364, will be up for debate very soon, as early as Monday (April 26). If passed, this legislation will transform the lives of children across Nebraska. LB364 ensures more educational scholarship opportunities for low-income families.

Every parent deserves the ability to choose an education that is best for their child. No parent should be denied this fundamental right. LB364 helps families lacking financial means to exercise school choice by increasing the number of scholarships available to those families.

I have written on this legislation many times. Bishop Conley has also written on parental rights in education last week and this week (turn back to page 2 if you missed it). Because of that, I’m going to cut to the chase and make a last call: we need your action (now!). Take a moment and write your State Senator. Visit www.necatholic.org/be-an-advocate where you can find an action alert entitled “Nebraska Kids Need You.” This action alert makes it easy to contact your State Senator.

As Christ said: “What you have done for the least of these, my brethren, you have done unto me.” Thank you for your advocacy on this bill, and we will keep you updated as legislative debate happens.

On the topic of assisting those in poverty, I want to highlight another piece of legislation we have been supporting this legislative session.

LB108, introduced and prioritized by Sen. John McCollister (Omaha), would increase the gross income eligibility limit for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known previously as the food stamps program).

Currently, to qualify for food assistance under SNAP, a person must meet two different income eligibility limits. The first is a gross income eligibility limit of 130% of the federal poverty level. This equates, for one person, to an annual gross income of just under $17,000. If the person does not exceed this limit, then they are allowed certain deductions (e.g., standard deduction, medical expenses, dependent care). After the deductions are applied, they must meet the second limit, which is a net income eligibility limit of 100% (or roughly just under $13,000 annual net income).

If they do not exceed this 100% federal poverty level limit, they can become eligible to receive food assistance under SNAP. At this level, the maximum amount a single person could receive for food assistance benefits would be just above $200 per month. In 2018, SNAP assisted more than 160,000 Nebraskans put much-needed food on their tables.

LB108 would increase the first eligibility limit related to gross income and proposes to increase it to 165% of the federal poverty level (or just over $21,000 annual gross income). While this limit would be higher, the applicant would still need enough deductions to meet the net income limit. If passed, LB108 would help around 2,500 additional families get access to food assistance.

We have supported this legislation for a few underlying principled reasons: solidarity, subsidiarity, and preferential option for the poor.

Under Catholic social teaching, the principle of solidarity instructs us to seek the common good of our brothers and sisters, especially in ensuring their basic material and spiritual needs are met. Solidarity recognizes our interdependence. Unlike Cain, we do not pose the question to God: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” For we are most certainly charged—by God—to care for our neighbor.

The principle of subsidiarity instructs us that if a “lower” level of community can handle something, a “higher” form of community should not interfere. For example, if an issue can be handled within the family, the church or city or county or state should not interfere with the family’s control of the issue. When it comes to food assistance, each of us—in conjunction with our local church and other charitable institutions—have an obligation to meet the needs of the poor. However, it is abundantly clear that these “lower” forms of community (e.g., Catholic Social Services) cannot meet the full food assistance demand of the poor. This means that “higher” forms of community need to step in to assist.

LB108 recognizes the state’s important supplementary role in providing basic help to the hungry. In short, LB108 provides a just social safety net to ensure families are receiving the proper nutrition owed to them on account of their human dignity.

Like with LB364, take a moment to urge your State Senator to support LB108. This legislation has advanced first round of debate, but will have a difficult road ahead as the Governor has indicated his opposition which can make final passage into law more difficult.

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