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. That’s why 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.
Last updated: April 29, 2020
Congress has already worked quickly to advance three federal relief packages and continues to work on the next step. Two of the three packages have a significant impact on children and families.
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. Thus far, we have urged state leaders to take action immediately to:
- Protect 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 and youth 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. On April 3, we joined youth advocates in a renewed call for action after a staff member at YRTC-Kearney tested positive for COVID-19 with a second letter to Chief Justice Heavican and Administrator Steele and a letter to Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services CEO Dannette Smith.
- Increase 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.
The state and federal response to coronavirus is changing on a near-daily basis, and we’re keeping track of the policies and resources that will help Nebraska families navigate this crisis.
Parents who are in need of child care can search the Nebraska Child Care Referral Network for licensed providers in their area. Child care providers are subject to the statewide Directed Health Measure (DHM), including limiting spaces to 10 people at a time. Parents and providers should review the CDC’s guidance for child care facilities.
Families may be eligible for financial assistance for child care costs. Apply for child care subsidies through ACCESSNebraska.
- Providers can apply to bill families receiving subsidies for days when the child absent from care because the parent kept the child home or is unable to utilize care due to the COVID-19 emergency. Read more in this DHHS FAQ.
- Families should not experience a loss of child care assistance before the end of their 12-month eligibility period if they have experienced a temporary job loss or change in participation in a training or education activity as a result of the CARES Act.
Families experiencing a loss of income and work during this time may be eligible and apply for food assistance. The state of Nebraska has adopted a number of policy changes to be more flexible during the crisis.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Households will receive an emergency allotment on April 10 and May 6. The amount will be the maximum allowable benefit for the size of their household and the benefits will be made automatically available on EBT cards.
- Households will have an extended period of eligibility if they are due for recertification in the months of March, April, and May. DHHS will also adjust reporting during the same months.
- Individuals will be granted a “good cause” exemption for not meeting work requirements if their business has closed due to the pandemic.
- Individuals who are otherwise time-limited to three months of benefits and unable to meet the work or volunteer requirements due to the pandemic will be able to continue receiving assistance.
- Households will be able to use their EBT benefits to make online food purchases through a new pilot program. Participating retailers are currently limited to Amazon, as well as Wal Mart in limited locations.
- Apply for SNAP through ACCESSNebraska.
- Read more about SNAP and COVID-19 in this DHHS FAQ.
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
- Households will no longer be required to be physically present to be certified for eligibility.
- Households will be able to receive benefits remotely and without an in-person visit to WIC clinics.
- Households will be able to substitute whole wheat or whole grain bread and other items in larger sizes when 16 ounce packages are not available.
- Apply for WIC through a local WIC clinic.
School Meal Programs
Schools around the state are closed, but school staff are working hard to distribute food to kids in their communities. Find a local pick up site near you using this map.
Our friends at the Food Bank for the Heartland are distributing food throughout the state and have lists of locations for families available here.
Nebraska workers who have lost job-based health coverage due to the crisis may be eligible for Medicaid or for financial assistance to purchase coverage through the Marketplace. Apply for Medicaid through ACCESSNebraska or check to see if you qualify for enrollment through the Marketplace.
- Workers who are receiving COVID-19 relief, such as unemployment benefits can check to see what counts as income for Medicaid or Marketplace subsidy eligibility here.
- Immigrant families who are concerned about accessing health care during this time can and should still continue to seek health care. The U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services recently confirmed that testing, treatment, or preventive care related to COVID-19 would not be considered under the new public charge rule, even if those services are covered by Medicaid.
The state of Nebraska has received approval for a Medicaid Section 1135 waiver, which creates additional flexibility within the program, mostly for health care providers. The waiver extends fair hearing timelines for enrollees that have filed an appeal with Medicaid.
Workers may be eligible for benefits and job-protected leave for health and family caregiving reasons under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The new law applies to those working for employers with fewer than 500 employees, government workers, most federal workers, and self-employed workers and independent contractors.
Emergency Paid Sick Leave
- Up to 80 hours of job-protected leave
- Can be used for own illness or for family caregiving related to the coronavirus (including school closures) if the employee is unable to telework
- Workers receive their regular pay up to $511 per day if they are caring for themselfs
- Workers receive two-thirds of their regular pay up to $200 per day to care for someone else
- Workers do not have to use existing employer-provided paid leave benefits before using emergency paid sick leave
Emergency Paid Family Leave
- Expands the existing federal Family Medical Leave Act
- Up to 12 weeks of family leave for parents to care for a child whose school or place of care is closed if the worker
- Workers receive two-thirds of their regular pay but workers are not required to pay more than $200 per day or $10,000 total
Unlike many other states, Nebraska does not have paid sick or paid family leave protections for workers who are not eligible for federal emergency leave. Many low-wage workers in “essential” industries may find themselves ineligible for the new federal leave protections. More information about emergency paid leave is available from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Workers who are furloughed, laid off, or otherwise unable to find work as a result of the coronavirus pandemic may be eligible for unemployment insurance (UI). Governor Ricketts ordered that a number of existing requirements for UI benefits be waived through May 1, 2020, including the one week unpaid waiting period and the work search requirements for recipients. Apply for UI benefits through the Nebraska Department of Labor.
Some immigrant workers may not be eligible for UI benefits, including undocumented workers. For immigrant families concerned about the new public charge rule, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has clarified that receipt of UI benefits would not be considered as public benefits under the public charge rule. Learn more about eligibility for UI for immigrant workers here.
- United Way of the Midlands – 24/7 helpline (2-1-1) and searchable database for immediate assistance or resources for families
- Legal Aid of Nebraska – Disaster Relief Hotline (1-844-268-5627) and additional legal information about employee rights, housing, domestic violence, and debt
- Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services – COVID-19 information line (402-552-6645) and online updates
- Immigrant Legal Center – Information for immigrant families and those serving immigrant families
- Lutheran Family Services – Coronavirus updates translated in multiple languages
- Nebraska Family Helpline – 24/7 helpline (888-866-8660) for parents and families to connect with counselors
Research and Analysis
We’re monitoring what leaders can do to best support Nebraska kids and working to ensure that our state’s response puts Nebraskans with the greatest needs first. Our collective emergency relief and long-term recovery efforts must take steps toward rebuilding more equitable systems for Nebraska kids. Keep up with our COVID-response research and analysis here:
- April 29: “Over 170,600 Nebraska children eligible for $53.5 million in federal pandemic food assistance” – Nebraska is leaving millions of federal dollars on the table by not submitting a plan to provide food assistance to low-income children
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.