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Economic Stability

On the Backs of Children: Medicaid

Voices for Children believes that successful stewardship of our state is not just about looking at where we are today, but thinking about where we want to be tomorrow. Cutting funding to programs that have been extremely beneficial to children is concerning to us. In the first of a series of posts, we will examine the devastating impact that federal cuts to Medicaid will have for Nebraska children.

Consistent and preventative health care gives children the best start to grow up to be healthy and productive adults. Since its implementation over 50 years ago, Medicaid has ensured children in low-income families receive proper health care, including preventative treatments. Children who are covered under Medicaid see improved health outcomes as adults, are more likely to finish high school and graduate from college, and are more likely to be financial stable.

The recently proposed American Health Care Act (AHCA) would fundamentally change the structure of the Medicaid program, which currently ensures that over 160,000 Nebraska children– nearly a third of all children– are on track to become healthy and productive adults. Cost estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimate Medicaid funding will fall as much as $880 billion in the next decade, a decrease of 25%. As it currently operates, Medicaid is designed to be flexible and respond to economic or demographic changes, providing more funding to a state if their eligible population grows to ensure that those who are eligible receive funding. It also helps states respond more quickly to a crisis as we have seen with the opioid epidemic or the lead poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan.

74 million low-income Americans currently receive health insurance through Medicaid, and approximately half of those recipients are children. Children’s health insurance coverage has made historic gains in recent years, and is now at an all-time-low in Nebraska, with 94.8% of all children covered last year. In addition to keeping our youngest Nebraskans healthy, Medicaid is extremely cost-effective when compared to private insurance, and per-beneficiary costs have grown more slowly over the years.

The AHCA would implement a per capita cap on Medicaid spending where each state would get a pre-determined amount of funding for Medicaid, making the program much less flexible. This will mean that states with be faced with a tough decision: find extra state funds to fund Medicaid or make significant changes to eligibility and coverage. Considering the budget deficit Nebraska currently faces, it is likely that many current Medicaid recipients would lose coverage. The passage of the AHCA and its provisions concerning Medicaid would take vital health care coverage away from Nebraska’s youngest and most vulnerable citizens.

We believe that children’s health insurance coverage must be a priority, and that Congress should not reform health care on the backs of children. If you share our concerns, we urge you to contact your US Senators and Representative.

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Left Behind By Justice: Children of Incarcerated Parents in Nebraska

Voices for Children in Nebraska’s recent report, Left Behind by Justice: Children of Incarcerated Parents in Nebraska, highlights the devastating and long-term impact parental incarceration has on children and families. The report considers the existing body of research on parental incarceration and includes findings from a number of “community conversations” held in Nebraska with formerly incarcerated parents and their loved ones to better understand the ripple effects of our justice system.

It is estimated that 41,000 Nebraska children, or nine percent of our total child population, have had a parent in jail or prison at some point in their childhood. Incarceration of a family member is one of a number of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), which are stressful events or circumstances that activate a significant, oftentimes persistent triggering of the body’s stress response system when a child does not have adequate, supportive adult relationships. This psychological and physiological response can produce lifelong outcomes if left unchecked by caring relationships and environments, known as protective factors.

Unfortunately, neighborhoods that have suffered large losses of residents to incarceration are often also heavily under-resourced to offer such protective factors. Studies also show that communities with disproportionately high rates of incarceration, many of which are predominately black communities, are also often burdened by concentrated poverty, unemployment, and poor health.

During the community conversations held with formerly incarcerated parents and their families, Voices for Children found that overwhelmingly, families identified financial strain as a principal challenge of familial incarceration. “When they lock a parent up, somebody’s got to pick up the slack,” a formerly incarcerated father stated. When a parent is incarcerated, families are faced with tough decisions: new caretaking arrangements, moving to more affordable housing or to a city that was closer to the placement facility, or taking on a second or third job. “[My father] going to prison put a bunch of people in poverty—it put a strain on my grandparents because they had to raise us. It put a strain on us because we no longer had a dad,” another participant said.

Through the community conversations, Voices for Children policy associate Julia Tse gathered important perspectives on the many implications of parental incarceration, including the disproportionate effects on children and families of color, the challenge to meet basic needs, strained family relationships, and the cycle of intergenerational interaction with the justice system. Tse says, “Left Behind by Justice offers multi-pronged recommendations for family-focused justice reform, including strengthening family relationships during incarceration, supporting successful re-entry, and minimizing the effect on families and communities. The conversations with former inmates and their loved ones confirm our belief that more needs to be done on the state level to ensure all Nebraska’s children are adequately supported. By enhancing each of these important component of child well-being, our systems can effectively ease some of the burden borne by the children of incarcerated parents in Nebraska.”

Read the full report here.

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In Case You Missed It: February 6-10

The legislative session is in full swing and we had a busy week, testifying in committee hearings on eight bills. In case you missed anything, a summary of our week at the Nebraska Capitol is below.

Child Welfare

We submitted a letter of support for LB 107, which would close a gap in Nebraska’s statutory rape law and protect all of Nebraska’s children when they are in vulnerable positions.

Policy Associate Julia Tse testified Wednesday in support of LB 108, a bill to create the foundation for child-focused policy and practice when a parent is arrested and incarcerated. LB 108 would encourage necessary stable and loving relationships between children and their parents/guardians.

The Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony on LB 456, a bill to strengthen the rights of parents with disabilities. We support this bill because children do best when they are part of a supportive and loving family and this bill reaffirms that the focal concern of our state remains with child well-being and safety.

Policy Coordinator Juliet Summers testified Tuesday in opposition to LB 595, a bill that would allow teachers to use physical force or restraint against students. We oppose LB 595 because it is at odds with best practices for improving classroom culture and keeping students engaged, and is likely to disproportionately affect students with disabilities and students of color.

Economic Stability

We submitted a letter of support for LB 260, a bill to increase healthy food access across Nebraska. Food insecurity is detrimental to a child’s health, behavioral functioning, and academic performance. We support LB 260 as a measure that would work to provide proper nutrition to more of Nebraska’s children.

On Monday, Policy Coordinator Kaitlin Reece testified in support of LB 305, a bill to extend paid family leave in Nebraska, stating: “A paid family leave program would level the playing field, provide a way to retain and attract workers, and provide a systemic solution to the current patchwork system that isn’t working for families or businesses.”

She also provided testimony in support of LB 372. This bill would support workers who are experiencing a high amount of family/work conflict and protect them from discrimination.

Proposed income tax cuts will leave Nebraskans in the future less able to respond to community needs. Policy Coordinator Kaitlin Reece provided testimony in opposition to LB 337 because we are concerned about the effects tax cuts will have on children, families, and education.


Take a look at our 2017 State Policy Agenda for the full list of our priority legislation.


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Cutting Our Future: ACCESSNebraska

Every two years, state agencies in Nebraska publish a biennial budget proposal outlining potential priorities for funding and budget cuts. This year, in light of projected reductions in state revenue receipts, Governor Ricketts has asked state agencies to identify general fund budget cuts amounting to 8 percent in laying out a 2017-2019 budget. Our state investment in systems that support children have a lasting and widespread effect on our future and our community. Because of this, Voices for Children in Nebraska reviews budget proposals issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to explore the impact that cuts will have on the well-being of children in our state.

The proposed changes in funding for programs that have been incredibly beneficial to children is concerning to us at Voices for Children. In this post in our series on the DHHS proposed budget, we will examine the consequences of budget cuts to AccessNebraska.

ACCESSNebraska was created in 2008 to modernize and streamline processing for public programs including Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Prior to the implementation of this program, program participants worked with a case manager in one of five independently operating service areas; the absence of a state-wide system led to inconsistencies, lack of transparency, and inefficiency. In creating ACCESS Nebraska, a state-wide online and phone-based system, the state hoped to rectify these issues and provide more efficient assistance to participants. However, the program immediately saw many problems, leading to Nebraska ranking last of all 50 states in timeline processing of SNAP applications at the end of 2014.

In the past 2 years, the Legislature and DHHS have focused on improving ACCESSNebraska and, as a result, 91% of applications are now processed on time, exceeding the federal goal of 85%. Caller wait times have decreased and application processing takes an average of 8 days, down from 40 days in November 2014. Just last week, the special legislative committee on ACCESSNebraska, formed to correct the program’s inefficiencies, announced they are disbanding due to “notable improvements” in the program. Despite these improvements, DHHS suggests closing Customer Service Call Centers in Lexington and Scottsbluff, a move that will decrease staff, increase barriers to access, and place Nebraska at risk to lose federal funding.

As the Legislature begins to make its final budget cuts next month, it is vital that they keep the well-being of children and families in mind. We have previously advocated for various improvements to the ACCESSNebraska system, including employing an appropriate number of staff to handle call volume quickly; cutting the budget on a successful program would undo years of progress. Lawmakers should consider the benefits that investments in programs like ACCESSNebraska will provide for children and families for years to come.

The budget is a complicated document and we’re sure to miss issues that are important to some of our readers.  If you’re concerned about a particular proposed cut in the budget, let us know in the comments below.  We may not cover everything on our blog, but we still want to know what challenges you see in the upcoming budget. If you are concerned about any of the cuts outlined above we urge you to contact your senator about your concerns before the legislature begins to decide on the final budget in January.

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The Ordinance, or the Little Town that Could

Thanks to all who attended the film screening of “The Ordinance” on Wednesday evening.  “The Ordinance” is a documentary about the efforts of faith leaders and service providers in small town Temple, Texas to rein in the worst abuses of payday lending in their community.


After the film screening, Traci Bruckner of the Women’s Fund of Omaha led the audience in a panel discussion featuring James Goddard of Nebraska Appleseed, Nick Bourke from Pew Charitable Trust, John Kotouc of American National Bank and Pastor Tony Sanders, Koinonia House of Worship and Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance.

The film and panel discussion made clear that payday loans can be devastating to families in crisis who become trapped in cycles of debt and highlight the power communities have when nonprofits, churches, and local leaders stand together to fight special interests and affect change.

Please contact me at kreece@voicesforchildren.com if you’d like to join us in payday lending reform efforts here in Nebraska and stay tuned for additional opportunities to take action on this issue.

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Let’s Put Nebraska Kids First

At Voices for Children in Nebraska, we advocate for policies that help make our state the best place to be a kid. Guided by research, we seek to remove barriers to opportunity for all children by engaging the public and elected officials on the issues of child welfare, economic stability, health, and juvenile justice


Regardless of the results of this election, child well-being remains a non-partisan issue. As our state’s greatest resource, children serve as a unifier across the political spectrum. The decisions our leaders make about them impact our collective future. Now that you have voted, we encourage you to reach out to your newly elected officials to find out how they will work to make children a priority. To find your current state senator, click here.

With this in mind, we present our Pro-Kid Policy Plan for the upcoming year. This plan represents our vision for a Nebraska where strong communities allow all children to lead healthy, secure, and fulfilling lives.

Pro-Kid Policy Plan

Voices for Children works to ensure that:

Child Welfare: Children grow up in safe, permanent, and loving homes. An effective child welfare system strengthens families and minimizes trauma through timely and appropriate action.

In October, we testified at an interim study on LR 513 about workforce issues within the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Next week, we will share information with the Legislature during a hearing on LR 523 about the gap in child protective response for 18 year olds, who have not yet reached Nebraska’s age of majority.

Economic Stability: Families are able to achieve financial security, and children’s basic needs are met. State economic policies support families in trying to build a better future and balance work and family life.

Last month, we collaborated with other community partners on, “The Cost of Being Poor” a panel discussion on small debt lawsuits in Nebraska, and how they disproportionately burden low-income Nebraskans.

On December 7, we invite you to join us for a film screening of The Ordinance, a film highlighting a community’s successful efforts to take on predatory lending practices. This industry often prevents families from achieving financial security. Register for free here.

Health: Children and families have access to affordable, quality physical and behavioral health care. Consistent and preventive health care gives children the best start to grow up to be healthy and productive adults.

We are working to ensure the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is re-authorized by Congress and that the over 15,000 Nebraska kids currently eligible for Medicaid or CHIP but not yet enrolled get access to care.

Juvenile Justice: Youth are held accountable for their actions in developmentally appropriate ways that promote community safety and allow them to grow into responsible citizens.

Last month, we testified on LR 514 an interim study to examine the availability of transition services for youth who will leave or have left the juvenile justice system while in an out-of-home placement.

With the Pro-Kid Policy at the core of all that we do, Voices for Children will continue researching and advocating to make Nebraska the best place for everyone to be a kid.

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The Cost of Being Poor

cost-of-being-poorThanks to all who attended the event on Friday,”The Cost of Being Poor:  How Small Debt Lawsuits are Hurting Nebraska Families.” At the event, speaker Paul Kiel from Propublica shared the findings from him research for the article “For Nebraska’s Poor, Get Sick and Get Sued” and local panelists State Senator Adam Morfeld, Willie Hamilton of Black Men United and Kate Owen from Legal Aid of Nebraska shared local perspectives on this issue. The event made clear that Nebraska stands out nationally in the extent that small debt lawsuits are used to drain resources from families and communities and that these practices have a disproportionate impact on communities of color.  Power point presentations from the event are below:



Stay tuned for details about a film screening coming up on December 7th that will look at another practice that creates additional challenges for working families:  payday lending.

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National School Lunch Week

CC by 2.0 via flickr user USDA.gov

CC by 2.0 via flickr user USDA.gov

This week, we are joining President Obama, schools, communities, and advocates across the nation in celebrating National School Lunch Week. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) was created 70 years ago as lawmakers recognized that child nutrition, particularly throughout the school day, was a top national priority. Most importantly, the NSLP and its newer counterparts, such as the School Breakfast Program and Summer Food Service Program, provides free or subsidized meals to children from low-income households. School nutrition programs, alongside other federal nutrition assistance programs, are crucial in mitigating the adverse outcomes associated with childhood hunger.

Research and conventional wisdom shows that hunger is a significant barrier to learning and academic performance.[1] There is much to celebrate about the NSLP as an invaluable fixture in Nebraska schools and communities; in SY 2013-14:

  • Nearly 45% of enrolled students eligible for free or reduced-price meals[2]
  • About 90% of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals participating in NSLP[3]
  • Almost 2.5 million lunches served to children from low-income families
  • Nearly $60 million in federal reimbursements for lunches served

The program provides vital enrichment and benefits to schools and local communities at a relatively low cost to the state, with state funds accounting for less than 0.3% of total program funding.[4] Federal reimbursements are higher for free and reduced-price meals served in schools, ensuring that robust meal programs exist in high-poverty schools that already face a number of day-to-day challenges.

The current body of research on childhood hunger suggests that breakfast is a particularly important tool in improving behavior and classroom performance in children.[5] Unfortunately, both the provision of breakfast in schools and student participation in breakfast in Nebraska is one of the lowest in the nation, with only about 40 free and reduced-price eligible students participating in breakfast for every 100 participating in lunch. This represents a major missed opportunity in supporting our classrooms in the state, and in the receipt of nearly $10 million in additional federal reimbursements across the state if the breakfast to lunch ratio increased by three-quarters.

The good news is that there are a number of options available to schools and districts that want to increase breakfast participation for the benefit of their students. The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), a new federal option, allows certain high-poverty schools to provide universal free breakfast and lunch to all students without collecting school meal applications. Learn more about CEP and find out if your school or district is eligible here.

[1] Howard Taras, “Nutrition and Student Performance at School,” J Sch Health 75, no. 6 (2005):199-213.

[2] Voices for Children in Nebraska, Kids Count in Nebraska Report 2015, 37.

[3] “Table 204.10,” Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics.

[4] Kids Count in Nebraska Report 2015, 37.

[5] Katie Adolphus, Clare L. Lawton, and Louise Dye, “The Effects of Breakfast on Behavior and Academic Performance in Children and Adolescents,” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 7(2013): 425.

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Voices Releases 2016 Vote Kids Candidate Survey

Child policy issues often receive little discussion within campaigns and elections. This is not because candidates and the public do not care about the issues. They do. But child policy issues often do not lend themselves to simple sound bites. They are not considered “hot button” issues that shape many campaigns. The result is that the pressing needs of Nebraska’s children have not been the subject of the type of political discourse required to reach consensus and make meaningful changes.

We developed Vote Kids to elevate that discourse. Vote Kids is based on the belief that raising child policy to greater prominence in elections is a way to re-orient our political process towards common concerns and practical solutions. Through Vote Kids, you will find survey results from our Nebraska legislative candidates. These surveys aim to help cut through the confusion and allow voters to learn more about politicians, their priorities, and the policy decisions they make on behalf of children.

Check out responses from candidates in your district and be a voice for children when you vote on November 8th!

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TANF Asset Limits Provide a Barrier to Financial Stability

Programs such as Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) should provide support to families as they work toward financial independence. Structured properly, these programs can greatly benefit children and their families.

However, programs do not always function as effectively as they could. A recent study by the PEW Research Center finds that low asset limits on public programs such as TANF make it more difficult for families to gain financial security. This ultimately results in families remaining on the program longer which leads to higher program costs. Asset limits are based on the amount of savings and material assets an individual applying for or receiving benefits holds. Asset limits range from $1,000 to $10,000, with several states removing limits altogether. In Nebraska, the current asset limit in our TANF-funded Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) program is $4,000 or $6,000 depending on the size of the household. Of the 40 states whose programs use asset limits, only two have higher asset limits than Nebraska. Many policymakers are concerned that higher asset limits or elimination of such limits will increase the number of families using TANF and incur higher state costs. However, PEW finds that raising or eliminating asset limits does not increase the number of applicants and results in fewer families later returning to the program. The majority of the states that removed asset limits saw a decrease in their caseloads because the programs resulted in long-term financial security for more participants. While Nebraska has a high asset limit compared to other states, removing asset limits completely would make ADC more effective in helping families reach financial stability.

In states with low asset limits, a family might reach the limit and lose program eligibility before they have accrued enough savings to be financially stable. The family is likely to fall below the asset limit again, oftentimes within a month, and return to TANF. The frequent movement of families on and off programs caused in part by low asset limits results in increased administrative costs for the state as they are forced to repeatedly process applicants. States with higher limits are less likely to see families return to public programs because participants are more likely to reach long-term financial stability. Programs consequently have fewer cases to process, lowering administrative costs.

When states set higher asset limits asset limits, or remove them completely, in programs such as TANF, families are able to become financially stable and are less likely to require future assistance. Low asset limits, on the other hand, do not result in long-term financial stability as families repeatedly cycle in and out of the program. Nebraska should consider removing this obstacle for families trying to build greater economic security.

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