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Nebraska Denies Emergency Assistance to 90% of Poor Families

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Wednesday, January 5, 2022   

Nebraska and other states are hoarding more than $5 billion intended for struggling families, according to
new analysis.

In 2019, for every 100 Nebraska families living in poverty, only 17 were getting cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program. Ashley Burnside, a policy analyst with the Center for Law and Social Policy, explained that states gradually have been closing the door to federal funds, even during the pandemic.

"States have changed the eligibility requirements for the program," she said, "and it's become harder and harder for parents to access the program - despite there being a high level of financial need in the state."

According to federal data, Nebraska - along with Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas - denied nearly 90% of applications from families seeking emergency relief. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, the agency charged with distributing TANF funds, has not yet responded to a request for comments.

Welfare reforms passed under the Clinton administration gave broad leeway to states for how TANF funds should be distributed, and a provision meant to prevent hoarding was left out of the final legislation. Some officials have warned that welfare discourages work and creates dependency, but Burnside noted that most families living in poverty already are working, and government assistance has been readily available to banks and industry.

"Just because families are poor, that doesn't mean that the government shouldn't be there to support them when they're having a financial emergency," she said, "and it's not a child's fault if their parents cannot secure a job."

Burnside said she believes keeping money intended for families with children is short-sighted, because investing in children's well-being pays off down the road. When kids have stable housing and nutrition, they do better in school, earn better wages as adults and become financially independent.

"When you're hoarding the money and not providing it to families as they're facing poverty, that doesn't do anything to help the child," she said. "States shouldn't be sitting on money that they have when they could be providing emergency financial support to families that are just barely making it month to month."


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