Staff spotlight: Laurie has big goals and high hopes for new position

Since 1990, the Center for Rural Affairs’ Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP), has provided services to micro businesses throughout Nebraska. Because of financial assistance, and/or training provided through REAP, countless small businesses have grown and thrived, and just as many eager entrepreneurs have seen their dreams come true by opening their own businesses.

To lead a program which offers that much opportunity and gives so many people hope is a giant undertaking, but it’s one that Laurie Donnell is excited to begin.

Recently, Laurie took on the role of REAP director. Through the program, entrepreneurs can create a business plan, research potential markets and marketing ideas, discuss management issues with experienced business specialists, and apply for a small business loan.

“The mission and vision of the Center is in direct alignment with my own core values,” she said. “We both want to drive small business forward in the state of Nebraska.”

Center Executive Director Brian Depew added, “We’re thrilled to have Laurie on board to help lead our small business lending and services forward. We know how much opportunity there is in rural Nebraska. We want to serve even more small businesses in the future, and Laurie can help us get there.”  

With 25 years of Small Business Administration lending experience, Laurie is well-prepared for the task at hand. She has also executed two successful turnaround efforts; one with a failing restaurant, and the other with a qualitative market research company, experience that gives her unique insight into business assistance.

One of the Center’s commitments is to strengthen rural communities through small, self-employed business development. The Center offers four essential services: financing, business training, technical assistance, and networking. Laurie plans to build on these already successful services.

“I look forward to growing the lending capacity at the Center, and making a substantial impact on the future growth of small business in our state,” she said. “My hope is to eventually become the number one Small Business Administration microlender in the nation.”

Laurie’s passion for small business in rural America comes from a long family history of hard work and perseverance. A fourth generation farmer from Gordon, Nebraska, Laurie says it all started with her grandmother, who was raised in a “dug-out” home in the Sandhills, along with her 11 siblings. Since then, no one in her family has been a stranger to the rural lifestyle.

“Growing up, I was active in 4-H, and learned the value of hard work, planning, budgeting, and self-sufficiency,” she said. “Our family still operates a successful farming operation, and I have dedicated my career to assisting rural Nebraskans in building economic stability via self-employment.”

When she’s not working toward building a stronger rural America, Laurie loves to travel, golf, cook, and sew. She says her dream is to have a goat farm at her new home in rural Lyons.

Laurie serves the entire state of Nebraska, and can be reached at the Center’s main office at 402.687.2100 ext. 1026 or lauried@cfra.org. Read more about Staff spotlight: Laurie has big goals and high hopes for new position

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You can make “The Good Life” a reality for all Nebraskans

Corbin Delgado, policy assistant at the Center for Rural Affairs, has been tasked with knocking on the doors of hundreds of Burt County, Nebraska residents, so they can demonstrate their commitment to the state’s future.

As he knocks on doors in Burt County, Loretta, a Lyons resident, answers the door with a warm smile. Delgado grins and says, “Howdy! My name’s Corbin Delgado and I’m with the Center For Rural Affairs. I’m out here trying to get Medicaid expansion on the ballot this November, do you have a second to talk?” Loretta welcomes him into her home as Delgado explains the purpose of his visit. After agreeing to sign, Delgado reads her the required legal statement at the top of the petition page that clarifies how her signature will make a difference.

As the Insure the Good Life Campaign approaches its July 5 deadline, organizers are hard at work to gather more than 85,000 signatures statewide, or 5 percent of registered voters in 38 of the state’s 93 counties. Rural counties, like Burt County, are crucial to meeting this threshold. As a result, Delgado continues to hit the streets and knock on doors in rural areas on behalf of the thousands of Nebraskans that our current health care system has left behind. 

“I’m out here because I believe no person should be working their hardest to support themselves and their family and still come up short when it comes to getting health insurance,” Delgado said. “Every person deserves a fair shake and a hand up when they are in need.  When people sign, they are helping 90,000 of our neighbors achieve the good life.”

One of the greatest strengths that Nebraskans have is the ability to connect with their neighbors. By endorsing the Insure the Good Life campaign with your signature, you will show all residents of the Cornhusker state that you value their quality of life. Nebraska’s slogan is “The Good Life,” and, with your help, this slogan can become a reality for your neighbors who don’t have access to health care coverage.

Insure the Good Life is a coalition-based campaign to put access to affordable health care on the November ballot for all Nebraskans to decide. With the support of 24 organizations in the Cornhusker state specializing in a range of topics from rural issues to public health, this campaign is aimed at improving the quality of life in all of the state’s communities through the expansion of Medicaid.

“The Insure the Good Life campaign seeks to take action where the legislature has not for the last six years,” said Jordan Rasmussen, policy program associate at the Center for Rural Affairs, a coalition member. “By placing Medicaid expansion on the ballot this fall, Nebraskans will have a say in making our state healthier.”

“Too many of Nebraska’s working parents, their children, and their neighbors have been left in a coverage gap, earning too little to qualify for subsidies to purchase health coverage from the Health Insurance Marketplace and earning too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid,” Rasmussen continued. “This means that these hard-working individuals simply go without insurance coverage, placing their health and the well-being of their families in peril.”

A common misconception is that Medicaid is a costly, government handout for people who don’t work hard enough to deserve it. This narrative could not be further from the truth and it is harmful to the health of our neighbors who lack access to health care. These Nebraskans may make too much to qualify for current programs, but they make much too little to afford the sky-high premiums that are common in today’s market.

“Originally, many of the nation’s rural states held out on the expansion of health care coverage for low-income individuals, or those who earn less than $17,000 a year,” Rasmussen said. “However, there has been a shift and recognition in the value of expansion, and now that number is down to 17 states.”

Nationwide, 23 states including Indiana, California, and Ohio have expanded Medicaid. This fall, voters will decide the future of Medicaid expansion through ballot initiatives in Utah and Idaho. With your signature, Nebraska has the opportunity to do the same and improve the quality of life for all residents.

Expanding Medicaid in Nebraska would bring more than $1 billion in federal money back to the state, sustain more than 10,000 jobs, and provide a lifeline for rural hospitals at risk of closing. A study in Health Affairs Journal found that Medicaid expansion was, “...associated with improved hospital financial performance and substantially lower likelihoods of closure, especially in rural markets and counties with large numbers of uninsured adults….”

Hospitals provide critical services in rural areas and their closure could devastate the communities they serve. According to the National Rural Health Association, hospitals are one of the largest employers in rural areas and can represent up to 20 percent of the community’s employment and income. The same organization reports that 674 rural hospitals were at risk of closure in 2017. With skyrocketing health insurance premiums, many hard-working Nebraskans are unable to pay their bills even after they manage to gain access to health services.

Back in rural Burt County, Delgado moves from Loretta’s door to the next, and says, “We need to keep hitting the pavement. The public ballot is our way of cutting through the politics and making our voices as Nebraskans heard.”

The issue will have lasting implications on rural regions of the Cornhusker State. However, as proponents push forward one door at a time, one signature at a time, they are working to make “The Good Life” a reality for 90,000 more of their neighbors.

Find out where you can be part of the effort at InsureTheGoodLife.com/events.

Feature photo (top): Center Policy Assistant Corbin Delgado knocks on doors in Lyons, Nebraska, gathering signatures to put Medicaid expansion to a statewide vote in the November election.

Inset photo (top): Nicole Crabtree, a Lyons, Nebraska, resident, signs the petition.

Inset photo (bottom): Delgado pauses to double check the petition before knocking on the next door while canvassing in Lyons, Nebraska. Read more about You can make “The Good Life” a reality for all Nebraskans

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Petition drive underway to expand Medicaid

Nebraska is seeking to join 32 other states and the District of Columbia in expanding Medicaid. A petition drive is underway to pose the question to voters in the November general election.

The Midwest state is following Maine’s lead. In November 2017, Maine was the first state to expand Medicaid by ballot box, passing with 59 percent approval. The circumstances surrounding Maine’s referendum mirror concerns in Nebraska with similar rural and aging populations and ardent opposition to expansion from the executive branch.

Additionally, Idaho and Utah are in the midst of Medicaid expansion ballot initiatives.

Insure the Good Life, a collation of stakeholders, residents, and organizations, including the Center for Rural Affairs, leads the effort to gather 85,000 signatures by July 5, adding Medicaid expansion to the ballot.

Furthermore, the Center’s Board of Directors voted to back the ballot campaign at their recent quarterly meeting.

Medicaid expansion in Nebraska will extend coverage to nearly 90,000 Nebraskans who have fallen into the health insurance coverage gap.

These neighbors – seniors, parents, and hard-working residents – are employed on farms and ranches or in local businesses and nursing facilities. Yet, they earn too little to qualify for subsidies to purchase insurance from the Health Insurance Marketplace while also earning too much to qualify for Medicaid.

This increased coverage is critically important. More than a quarter of Nebraska’s uninsured residents who would qualify for the expanded health care coverage reside in rural counties.

People in rural communities are already at a disadvantage. The limited availability of health care providers and facilities, greater travel distances, and limited financial resources make access challenging.

Rural Nebraska’s economy is built on small businesses. Of businesses with 50 or fewer employees, only 18.8 percent offer insurance coverage. The majority of workers pay premiums and other out--of--pocket costs, or forego coverage altogether.

Failing to expand access to insurance forces health care providers to offer uncompensated care. Providers and insurers ultimately shift this cost to all patients and policyholders, and place the viability of rural hospitals and clinics in peril.

As provided under the Affordable Care Act, expansion of Medicaid protects health care services of all Nebraskans and benefits our state, our communities, and our residents.

Now is the time for Nebraskans, and residents of the 17 states that have not expanded Medicaid, to have a voice in deciding the future of health care. The job is not done until all 50 states have expanded Medicaid.

To learn more or to get involved in the Insure the Good Life ballot initiative, visit insurethegoodlife.com.

Feature photo: Failing to expand access to insurance forces health care providers to offer uncompensated care. Providers and insurers ultimately shift this cost to all patients and policyholders, and place the viability of rural hospitals and clinics in peril. | Photo by Rhea Landholm Read more about Petition drive underway to expand Medicaid

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Staff spotlight: Center welcomes chief administrative officer

Newly hired as chief administrative officer for the Center for Rural Affairs, Linda Butkus is no stranger to rural life.

Though she grew up in the city, she’s spent many years taking hunting trips to Knox County, Nebraska, where her family owned a one-room schoolhouse. Her family also goes on camping trips in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, and South Dakota. Linda says the rural lifestyle has always held a special place in her heart.

“I have always felt that rural America is the fabric and backbone for all that we are, no matter where you live,” she said. “Rural America is where we all find our roots, and we should not forget that. There is so much beauty to be found in these areas if we all stop and see, smell, hear, and experience it.”

Connecting with her rural roots drew Linda to the Center. She hopes to become acquainted with those in small communities to gain experiences that will help her grow in her work.

“I have a great love for small towns, the great outdoors, open spaces, and farmers,” she said. “The scope and breadth that the Center for Rural Affairs reaches has impact in all of these areas, and very much interests me.”

In her role, Linda contributes in many ways, including assisting with strategic planning; maintaining the Center’s operating manual and employee handbook; addressing human resources issues; managing grant writing activities; and coordinating organization-wide events.

“My goal is to use my skills and talents to be a support to all staff in their work, and to learn from them at the same time,” she said. “I hope to leave my imprint on the Center for future leaders, providing them with a path to continue moving the organization forward.”

Though she faces a long list of responsibilities, and has ambitious goals for herself, Linda comes to the Center well-prepared, with 32 years of experience in the nonprofit world.

“With a growing staff and growing budget, I am really excited for the capacity that adding a chief administrative officer to the team will bring,” said Brian Depew, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs. “Linda brings seasoned expertise in operations, program, and executive leadership to the Center. This investment in our backbone capacity is ultimately an investment in all of the work we do on the ground in Nebraska and across the nation.”

Linda says she’s excited to get in touch with the people of rural America, and see where her new role takes her.

“I have so much to gain by working for the Center,” she said. “This work offers an opportunity for me to grow and be enriched by not only great people, but great places in our rural communities. I look forward to building relationships, learning about new programs, and seeing impactful work in action.”

Linda and her husband live on seven acres outside of Blair, Nebraska, and love their space outside the city.

She can be reached at the Center’s main office in Lyons at 402.687.2100 ext. 1013 or lindab@cfra.org. Read more about Staff spotlight: Center welcomes chief administrative officer

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2501 program helps Hilda and Carlos gain access to valuable farming resources

Cora Fox contributed to this blog

Hilda Moreno and Carlos Alvarado dream of setting their children up for success through opportunity. They want to show their sons that it is important to work hard – it’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

Hilda and Carlos, along with their two sons, are in their third year of farming. Their family farm is small, but mighty – they raise layer hens, registered meat goats, exotic pheasants, geese, peacocks, corn, tomatoes, and a variety of chili peppers, on five acres. In the future, they hope to start beekeeping, sell organic eggs at farmers markets, and acquire another five acres.

Carlos always knew he wanted to return to farming, as he grew up on a ranch. However, farming on their own proved to be more challenging than expected. Carlos and his family faced barriers such as access to land, access to credit, and no knowledge of where to go for help and resources.

Beginning Latino farmers face more obstacles than a non-Latino beginning farmer would. In general, the Latino community is not well-informed regarding resources offered by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). For example, Hilda and Carlos were not aware of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices before participating in the Latino Farmer Project. Additionally, many Latino farmers struggle to communicate with staff in these offices due to language barriers. While the USDA offers resources to Limited English Proficiency (LEP) farmers, bilingual staff are limited and not available in every office. This can be a challenge when trying to apply for a loan, or participate in a program.

Through the USDA’s Outreach Assistance to Socially-Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Competitive Grants Program, otherwise known as the 2501 Program, Hilda and Carlos were able to get the help they needed. The Center for Rural Affairs was awarded $305,263 through the 2501 Program, which allowed staff to assist rural Nebraska Hispanic and Latino farmers and ranchers in accessing USDA programs. Thus, the Center’s Latino Farmer and Rancher Outreach Project was started.

The Latino Farmer and Rancher Outreach Project helped Hilda and Carlos access valuable resources as beginning farmers and ranchers. They now know where to go to get financing, and have qualified for loans to help them continue growing their successful farming operation. Through the Center’s project, they connected with more experienced farmers who mentored them. Today, Hilda and Carlos help others by hosting meetings, classes, and learning circles for fellow Latinos interested in farming and ranching.

The current farm bill expires on Sept. 30, 2018, and the 2501 Program is at risk of expiring right along with it. Despite increased demand to assist socially-disadvantaged and veteran farmers and ranchers, the program remains underfunded. To continue valuable work like the Latino Farmer and Rancher Outreach Project, it is important that Congress take action to reauthorize and provide additional funding for the 2501 Program.


Update: The Senate draft of the farm bill includes a proposal that would provide permanent funding to the 2501 program and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. The bill proposes the combining of the two programs to create the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program, which would better provide support to socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers and ranchers. We support this action and encourage representatives to include this in the final draft of the farm bill. Read more about 2501 program helps Hilda and Carlos gain access to valuable farming resources

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Your stories

Chatterbox flies again: from skies in WWII to a soaring business venture

Every small town has that one place locals love to hang out; that business where everyone gathers. There’s something about the comfort of being in a home away from home that draws people in and keeps them coming back for more.

In Tekamah, Nebraska, that business is Chatterbox Brews.

“When you walk out onto our back patio, you feel like you’re walking into someone’s backyard – it feels like home,” said Cindy Chatt, one of the owners of the business.

This June, Chatterbox Brews celebrates its first anniversary. Within their inaugural year, Chatt, along with co-owner, Britney Hansen, have enjoyed success while also helping bring a town together.

“We’ve become the gathering place for the community,” said Chatt. “Whether that’s for meetings, or going out to dinner, it’s really become a little bit of the heartbeat of the town in a short time.”

Before opening Chatterbox Brews, Chatt worked in New York, in the consulting field. She wanted a change and hoped to open a business back home. Similarly, Hansen was living in Chicago, and thinking about opening an event venue in Tekamah, their shared hometown.

After meeting, the two decided to collaborate on a business venture combining several components in one building – a bar, restaurant, event space, and a brewery.

Through this ambitious idea, Chatterbox Brews was born.

Chatt found the perfect location for their business, but the building needed help. The business owners were able to make the necessary renovations with a loan from their local bank, and gap financing from the Center for Rural Affairs Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP).

“We worked with Gene [Rahn], and the process went very smoothly,” said Chatt. “Having our business plan figured out beforehand made everything very easy.”

Gene Rahn, senior loan specialist for the Center, also felt the process went smoothly, though he was hesitant at first due to Chatt and Hansen’s lofty aspirations for their business.

“Getting financing to combine all those features into one business initially made me cringe a little,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was contacted about financing for their business.”

Rahn was pleasantly surprised, however, upon receiving a completed business plan, including market research and analysis, a marketing plan, operations plan, and well-thought-out financial projections.

After review, Rahn discovered Chatt and Hansen’s combined backgrounds and experiences in marketing, advertising, the food service industry, and general business knowledge to be a huge bonus.

“This was undoubtedly one of the most complete loan applications ever received,” said Rahn. “Cindy and Britney were super to work with throughout the process.”

With financing in hand, Chatt and Hansen completely gutted the space. Major renovations took place, and a new roof was added and extended for a covered patio.

“The interior of the building looks completely different besides the actual layout,” said Chatt. “We designed it to look like something you might see in the Old Market in Omaha.”

Family history was also incorporated into the business. The lumber used to build the tables, bar, and other items came from a corn crib, which the Chatt family built by hand in the 1940s or ‘50s. The name of the business itself came from Chatt’s grandfather, who flew B-25’s in World War II. His plane was named the Chatterbox. Several of the medals he received for his service hang in the restaurant today.

Chatt and Hansen not only wanted to try something new and honor family history, they also strive to give back to Tekamah.

“We saw an opportunity to invest in our rural hometown and to give back to the community by offering a new type of establishment, a brewpub serving craft beers and homestyle food,” said Chatt. “We also want to be ingrained in the community, so we host fundraising events at Chatterbox Brews.”

The owners have opened their doors for farmers markets, Christmas tree sales, a spaghetti feed for a family who lost everything in a fire, the participants of an alumni basketball tournament, and a scavenger hunt for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, among others.

Chatterbox Brews has been successful so far. According to Chatt, they’ve had customers come from towns miles away.

“We get great support from the town of Tekamah, and we see people coming from out of town every day,” she said. “We thought we’d need to add the brewery to begin with to draw people in, but we offer enough variety as it is that things are going great, so we’re going to stick with what works for now.”

Chatt also says it's encouraging to see community members get excited about investing in the future of their small town.

“There are other businesses starting to gain momentum in Tekamah besides us, and when people see the possibility of what our town can be again, it’s inspiring,” she said. “Chatterbox Brews helped start this momentum, and it’s so heartwarming to know the town wants us to succeed.”

At a glance

Chatterbox Brews
203 S 13th St., Tekamah, NE 68061
402.374.2013
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m.; Friday, 4 p.m. to midnight; Saturday, 4 p.m. to midnight (winter) and noon to midnight (summer); Sunday, 11 a.m to 9 p.m.
Online: chatterboxbrews.com/ and Facebook Read more about Chatterbox flies again: from skies in WWII to a soaring business venture

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Farm bill proposal would leave rural businesses behind

Anyone familiar with rural communities knows that locally-owned businesses are the jewels that make them vibrant. However, in many rural communities, entrepreneurs can struggle to establish new businesses. Often, needed resources and training in business planning are unavailable to aspiring, rural business owners.

A farm bill program, the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP), helps small business owners bridge those gaps. RMAP awards grants to community organizations, who in turn offer rural entrepreneurs crucial support ranging from composing business plans to accessing loan capital.

Although RMAP represents a small piece of the farm bill, it impacts rural communities in a huge way. Unfortunately, this program is on weak footing: if the current farm bill drafts are finalized, RMAP’s funding will vanish. Renewing this funding is crucial for not only for rural entrepreneurs, but also for their local economies and the communities they serve.

Small business entrepreneurship is a vital economic development strategy for many rural communities. Locally-owned and owner-operated small businesses are particularly important as large employers in rural areas diminish and take their employment opportunities with them.

Facilitating the development of small businesses puts the economic future of rural communities in the hands of its own members – people committed to its future.

The unique approach of RMAP provides important tools to entrepreneurs and offers an important economic development strategy for rural communities – a big bang for the taxpayer’s buck. We urge legislators in the Senate and the House to include funding for this proven program in the renewal of the farm bill. Read more about Farm bill proposal would leave rural businesses behind

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This week: Senate vote on farm bill, your calls are needed

The farm bill is on the move. This week, the Senate will vote on a draft farm bill, but it is still missing very important changes: policy to address abuse of commodity farm programs and close major loopholes.

We’re expecting TWO important amendments to be introduced to make these needed changes.

One from Sen. Grassley will close loopholes with farm program payments that allow non-farmers to receive large amounts of taxpayer dollars.

The other, from Sen. Durbin, will ensure that the government stops over-subsidizing crop insurance for the wealthiest operations.

But, these amendments won’t do any good unless your two senators vote for their passage.

Do you have five minutes to call both of your senators to ask for their votes on these amendments?

You can reach your Senator by calling the congressional switchboard: 202.224.3121

Here is a script you can use:

“Hello, my name is ____. I’m calling to share my SUPPORT for farm bill amendments that level the playing field for all farmers, close farm program loopholes, and stop over-subsidizing crop insurance for the largest operations. I’m asking my Senator to vote in SUPPORT of Sen. Grassley and Sen. Durbin’s amendments to the farm bill.”

Every call makes a difference. Thank you. Read more about This week: Senate vote on farm bill, your calls are needed

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From the desk of the executive director: immigration reshaping small towns

Rural America is often characterized as mostly white and a place with few immigrants. Those of us who work in small towns across the country know this generalization is slowly being swept aside. Across the country, small towns are being reshaped by new waves of immigration. 

Take Schuyler, in east central Nebraska, for example. This town once struggled to attract new residents, but the population is now more than 6,000 and is 65 percent Latino. As Mayor David Reinecke says, “Schuyler would be dead without Latinos.” Newcomers are breathing renewed life into the business sector and enhancing the cultural vibrancy of the town.

With these changes come challenges. Front and center for new immigrants today is a turbulent political landscape. Policies such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) are threatened. This despite a recent NBC poll that found 66 percent support for the policy, and a Washington Post poll that found 87 percent support for the policy.

Comprehensive immigration reform continues to draw bipartisan support from the public, the business community, and lawmakers. Nevertheless, it cannot find political traction in D.C. 

The Center continues to call on Congress to take action to address immigration policy. At the same time, we have recommitted ourselves to making progress in local communities. Our work is three-fold.

As demographics shift, we are working with both the receiving community and the new immigrant community to create more welcoming and inclusive towns. We embrace the change because we know that diversity makes us stronger and more resilient.

We are also building local leadership capacity. Our staff work with local leaders (both new immigrants and long-time residents) to build skills and confidence for newcomers to serve as leaders within their community. We know our work must take root at the local level to be successful. 

Finally, we are working with new immigrants on small business and new farm development. To be full participants in their community, new immigrants must have the opportunity to start their own enterprises and become part of the local business fabric. We have expanded our business and farm training, coaching, and lending to serve new immigrants. 

Throughout our work with new immigrants, our values guide us to come together despite our differences, and to work together for a better future. We invite you to join us in this shared work to create strong, welcoming, and vibrant small towns.

Feature photo: As the dynamics of rural America shift, we are working with both the receiving and the new immigrant communities to create more welcoming and inclusive towns, like Hastings, Nebraska. | Photo by Rhea Landholm Read more about From the desk of the executive director: immigration reshaping small towns

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Newsletter

Signature gatherers making final push to expand Medicaid

By Eric Galatas, Public News Service - Nebraska

Groups across Nebraska are working to gather enough signatures by the state’s July 6 deadline to put Medicaid expansion onto the November ballot. 

Jordan Rasmussen, a policy associate with the Center for Rural Affairs, says if approved by voters, some 90,000 Nebraskans could finally access health coverage. 

She notes the policy would be especially helpful for rural residents employed by small businesses.

"A large number of employers have 50 or fewer employees and they don't provide benefits or insurance coverage as part of their compensation,” she explains. “Because of their size, they're not able to provide those benefits. And so those are the people that are often falling into that gap."

Rasmussen says expanding Medicaid would help workers currently stuck in what she calls a health coverage gap. They don't earn enough to get subsidies to buy insurance through the federal marketplace, and earn too much to qualify for standard Medicaid coverage. 

Opponents of expansion say it could add to the federal deficit and warn that the state could be on the hook for Medicaid costs if the Affordable Care Act eventually implodes.

Rasmussen says Nebraskans' tax dollars already are paying for expanded coverage in other states, and argues the move could bring billions of federal dollars back into the state and create some 10,000 jobs. 

She notes Nebraskans also are responsible for costs passed along to consumers when patients without insurance can't pay. 

Rasmussen says people without coverage frequently put off treatment until they get really sick, which is far more costly.

"Preventative care, as opposed to coming into an emergency room setting,” she explains. “You know, if you've got a cold, if you can stop that before it becomes pneumonia, there is huge cost savings there."

Rasmussen says beyond the economic arguments, the effort is ultimately about making sure all of the state's residents can get the care they need. 

She urges anyone who sees signatures being collected at a local grocery store to consider helping get the measure onto the ballot, so that all Nebraskans will have a chance to vote yes or no this November.

For more information or to find a petition to sign, visit insurethegoodlife.com. Read more about Signature gatherers making final push to expand Medicaid

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Iowa farmers in conservation program decry House farm bill cuts

By Roz Brown, Public News Service - Iowa

Concerns are being raised about cuts to programs in the latest version of the Farm Bill that could undermine Iowa farmers' progress on sustainable agriculture. 

The controversial bill passed by only two votes in the U.S. House last week, with all Democrats opposed and 20 Republicans joining them. 

It would eliminate the Conservation Stewardship Program or CSP, and cut conservation funding by $5 billion.

Anna Johnson, a senior policy associate with the Center for Rural Affairs, says the CSP has been part of the Farm Bill since 2002. 

It helps farmers take steps to preserve water and soil, and maintain wildlife habitat.

"It allows farmers and ranchers to continue to be producing on their land, while also instituting the conservation practices that are most helpful and most relevant for their operation," she states.

The American Farm Bureau sees the bill as a "big win" for farmers, because it makes improvements to risk management and crop insurance programs. 

The Senate is expected to take up its version of the Farm Bill this week, and the two will be combined for a vote ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline. 

The Farm Bill is revised every five years, and the current debate comes at a time when farm income is at its lowest point in 12 years. 

Johnson says there also are concerns that the House version would reduce vibrancy and diversity in rural communities, by keeping loopholes in place for offsite or marginally connected landowners, who benefit from agricultural subsidies at the expense of working farmers.

"Farm programs and farm subsidies are really important and most farmers use them responsibly,” she states. “But these multi-million-dollar payments are a problem and the House bill did nothing to address that, and actually made the existing loopholes even bigger."

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa is pushing an amendment to the Senate Farm Bill that would close the loopholes he says cause taxpayers to lose $200 million annually in farm benefits paid to non-farmers. Read more about Iowa farmers in conservation program decry House farm bill cuts

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A signature of support for a healthier Nebraska

By Jean Thomas, Oakland, Nebraska

Everyone should be able to see a doctor when they need to. But too many Nebraskans can’t get coverage right now. That’s why I signed the petition to let Nebraskans vote this fall to help our neighbors who struggle to make ends meet afford health coverage through Medicaid.

Expanding Medicaid is the right move to help our neighbors get the health care they need, but it also would be an economic boost for our smaller towns. In the 33 other states that have expanded Medicaid, the addition of federal dollars have kept small-town hospitals and clinics open to serve the people who live there and remain an important source of jobs and community pride.

If a struggling clinic is forced to close, not only do we lose those jobs, but many people then have to travel even further to get medical care.

I hope you join me in signing the petition to expand Medicaid, then vote for a healthier future in November.

If you are a Nebraskan who wants to sign the petition or learn more, visit InsureTheGoodLife.org.


Feature photo: Jean Thomas lives in Oakland, Nebraska, which has a population of about 1,100. A hospital is located within Oakland that services the surrounding area. The hospital also has clinics in area towns. Read more about A signature of support for a healthier Nebraska

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