When it comes to addressing with a large-scale public health crisis like the coronavirus, we are only as safe as our Nebraska neighbors who are most at risk. Now, more than ever, we must work together to demand the policies that we know will protect Nebraska children and families. The outbreak shows just how important it is to ensure that every family has access to affordable medical care, paid sick leave, and robust emergency savings. We know that the coronavirus and our community’s response to the outbreak will fall the hardest on the children and families that we have advocated for over the last three decades.
We’re committed to working on policy changes that will bring about the systemic changes that we need to support Nebraska kids. The crisis is a fast-changing situation, and we’ll do our best to update this page with new resources and ways to get involved.
The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act was signed into law on March 18 to address the growing emergency. The package provides emergency funding and creates new benefits intended to protect public health, including:
- Additional appropriations for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program and the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP);
- Flexibility to states in administering their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), including an option to provide emergency SNAP benefits to households who are missing out on free or reduced-price school meals due to school closures;
- Emergency paid sick time for workers under quarantine, workers experiencing symptoms, workers caring for a child in place of a school or child care closure, and workers caring for a family member under quarantine;
- An expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to include public health emergency leave with limited paid provisions after 10 days of leave; and
- Emergency Unemployment Insurance funding and limited expansion of eligibility.
Just a week later, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), was signed into the law. The package provides a significant funding boost for states, individuals, and small businesses, including:
- Emergency funding to states to boost child nutrition and child care programs;
- A one-time payment of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child phasing out for those with household incomes of $75,000 (or $150,000 for married couples);
- Three new federally-funded unemployment insurance programs for workers affected by the pandemic;
- Limited protections on evictions and foreclosures for properties that are funded in part by federal funds; and
- Loan programs for businesses and nonprofits.
We applaud the quick response out of Congress in recent weeks, but there is still plenty of work to do. Together, the packages still leave many workers behind in accessing paid family and sick leave, while also excluding immigrants from a number of the individual benefits provided in the CARES Act. If one thing is clear from this emergency, it’s that the only way for good public health policy to be effective is for protections to apply to every American worker.
Here in Nebraska, the Nebraska Legislature is suspended indefinitely, though many senators are working behind the scenes on emergency response proposals to consider when the body is reconvened. For the time being, we can expect that pending bills will be delayed, though senators reconvened briefly on the week of March 23rd to appropriate emergency COVID-19 funds. Speaker Scheer announced that the Legislature would reconvene later in the year for the 17 days remaining in this year’s session, but only to consider the budget and a select few priority bills.
We’re working hard to respond with policy recommendations to our state’s leaders in light of this crisis. Here’s what we are prioritizing for kids:
- Youth and young adults in congregate care settings. On March 19, we joined youth advocates in urging Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican and Court Administrator Corey Steele to act to protect youth who are incarcerated in congregate care group homes from the pandemic. Young people in such settings are uniquely vulnerable to the outbreak and our recommendations seek to minimize this risk. Read our letter and recommendations in full here.
- Supports for low-income families and protections for children under the care of the state. On March 20, we joined 25 Nebraska organizations in urging Governor Ricketts to immediately act to protect low-income Nebraska families and vulnerable children. We made a series of recommendations to administrative policy changes in the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services that would strengthen access to health care, food assistance, and income supports, while also protecting vulnerable children in the care of the state. Read our letter and recommendations in full here. Join us and contact Governor Ricketts in support of our recommendations at 402-471-2244 or https://governor.nebraska.gov/contact-form.
We’re closely monitoring the information and resources that Nebraska families can turn to during this difficult time and will update this list as more announcements are made:
- Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits for workers with coronavirus-related job losses. Many Nebraska workers may not have access to paid sick leave or may be dealing with temporary layoffs or job losses at this time. Governor Ricketts signed an Executive Order would waive a number of requirements to ensure that affected workers can receive benefits for claims filed between March 22 and May 2. To file a claim, contact the Department of Labor at 402-458-2500 or online: https://dol.nebraska.gov/UIBenefits.
- Access to food and nutrition for families. The closure of schools and loss of school meals means that many Nebraska families may be struggling to put food on the dinner table. Many schools are now offering bagged meals for pickup—we encourage you to contact your local school district for more information. Our friends at the Food Bank for the Heartland have mobilized to provide food assistance to those who need it. Governor Ricketts recently announced that some requirements for participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would be waived, but specifics have not been made available yet.
- Monitoring the outbreak in your community. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services offers statewide updates on the spread of the coronavirus through the state on their website: http://dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/Coronavirus.aspx and has opened a coronavirus information line at 402-552-6645, available 7 days a week from a 8 am – 8 pm.
At Voices for Children in Nebraska, we are taking steps to keep our staff healthy and do our part in preventing the spread of the virus by working remotely but our work continues. We are keeping up the fight for policies that prioritize Nebraska children and families and we hope you’ll continue to join us.
Last updated: March 31, 2020