Another Red-Blue Divide: Money to Feed Kids in the Summer

The governor was firm: Nebraska would reject the new federal money for summer meals. The state already fed a small number of children when schools closed. He would not sign on to a program to provide all families that received free or cut-rate school meals with cards to buy groceries during the summer.

“I don’t believe in welfare,” the governor, Jim Pillen, a Republican, said in December.

A group of low-income youths, in a face-to-face meeting, urged him to reconsider. One told him she had eaten less when schools were out. Another criticized the meals at the existing feeding sites and held a crustless prepackaged sandwich to argue that electronic benefit cards from the new federal program would offer better food and more choice.

“Sometimes money isn’t the solution,” the governor replied.

A week later, Mr. Pillen made a U-turn the size of a Nebraska cornfield, approving the cards and praising the young people for speaking out.

“This isn’t about me winning,” he said. “This is about coming to the conclusion of what is best for our kids.”

After meeting with young people, Gov. Jim Pillen of Nebraska reversed himself and accepted federal money for summer meals.Credit…Kenneth Ferriera/Lincoln Journal Star, via Associated Press

Mr. Pillen’s extraordinary reversal shows the conflicts shaping red-state views of federal aid: needs beckon, but suspicions run high of the Biden administration and programs that critics call handouts.

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