Ending SNAP benefits harmful to rural families, workers

Small Towns
Farm and Food

By Derrik Conard, former staff member

Published in the Scottsbluff Star-Herald, Feb. 25, 2023
Published in the North Platte Telegraph, Feb. 28, 2023

A study released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates close to 120,000 households in Nebraska faced food insecurity between 2018 and 2020. The agency defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active and healthy life. 

In 2021, leaders in Nebraska took note. That year, the Nebraska Legislature expanded the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to hundreds of additional families by increasing the gross income eligibility limit to 165% of the federal poverty level. But the change is set to expire on Sept. 30.

Legislators now have the opportunity to make it permanent. On March 2, the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee will have a hearing on Legislative Bill 84.

Introduced by Sen. Jen Day, the bill comes at a time when food prices continue to rise. These price increases are especially damaging to rural residents who tend to face higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and food insecurity, compared to those living in urban areas. 

In Lincoln County, 61% of the population falls below the 165% federal poverty level threshold. Scotts Bluff County’s rate is 68%. Garden County has the highest rate in the area, at 77%, while Sheridan and Keith counties are at 69% and 61%, respectively.

In comparison,  59% of the residents living in Douglas County, which includes the city of Omaha, qualify for SNAP benefits.

In 2021 more than 157,000 Nebraska residents— or 1 in 12— received SNAP benefits. More than 72% of Nebraska SNAP users are families with children, while 30% are in households with seniors or people with disabilities. Participants between the ages of 16 and 59 must work to be eligible for benefits, unless otherwise specifically exempt. 

Making the SNAP gross income eligibility permanent will allow Nebraska families and workers the stable food security they need while pursuing better work, and it would encourage workforce advancement, which is good for the local communities and economies.

SNAP is also an important economic driver in rural economies. Economists estimate that for every dollar a household spends through SNAP, about $1.70 in economic activity is generated. That money can help a small-town grocery store keep its doors open and, in so doing, support what may be the only place to buy fresh food for miles.

As we navigate higher cost of living expenses, it's important we think about the resources available in our community and where additional assistance is needed. Working together, we can make sure every Nebraskan has the resources they need to put food on the table.