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Helping poor helps state, report says
[January 29, 2009]

Helping poor helps state, report says

(Omaha World-Herald (NE) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Jan. 29--Help the working poor and you'll help the state's economy, the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest argues in a report to be released today.

With one in four Nebraska families struggling to meet basic needs, the Appleseed Center is calling for Nebraska to beef up its existing public benefits programs and to expand educational and work force opportunities.

"I'm hoping this draws attention to the importance of low-income working families in our state (and) the vital role they play," said Kate Bolz, community educator for the Appleseed Center.

The Appleseed report, titled "Building 'The Good Life,' " will be the subject of an event at 10 a.m. today at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Experts in rural affairs, postsecondary education and career development will weigh in.

The report is the product of a national initiative that seeks to assess how state policy helps working poor families find economic success.

Bolz said the Appleseed Center hopes the report gives policymakers at least one measure of how programs -- ranging from cash assistance to corporate tax incentives -- are working.

She noted that one-third of Nebraska children are being raised in low-income working families. Such families are those with recent work histories and annual earnings of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold -- currently $44,100 for a family of four.

Increasing opportunities for these families, the Appleseed Center argues, would help the state as a whole by injecting money into the economy -- through higher wages and public assistance benefits -- while improving the chances for long-term success.

The 44-page report is far-reaching in its to-do list, and it does not specify how much the changes would cost or how the state would pay for them.

Jen Rae Hein, spokeswoman for Gov. Dave Heineman, said the governor had not seen the report yet and could not comment.

The Appleseed Center is focusing on these goals:

Quality jobs: Making sure employers, especially those getting Nebraska tax incentives, are creating jobs that offer decent wages, health care benefits and training opportunities.

According to the report, more than one-fifth of Nebraska's jobs pay wages that, if annualized, would put a family below the poverty level, which this year is $10,830 for a single person and $22,050 for a family of four.

On top of that, the Appleseed Center counted 137,300 Nebraska workers ages 18 to 64 who have no health insurance, either from their employer or the government.

Adult basic education: Raising the current $8.39-per-person state expenditure The national per-person average state expenditure is $60.62.

Two-thirds of working Nebraskans lack an associate's degree or higher. And few of the 104,680 Nebraska adults without a high school diploma or GED certificate are enrolled in any adult basic education program.

The Appleseed Center wants Nebraska to improve recruitment and retention of adults in education programs across the board.

Career pipelines: Nebraska could capitalize on proposals included in pending federal stimulus legislation to fund science, technology and environmental initiatives by building training and incentive programs tied to those industries.

Unemployment insurance: Nebraska pays one of the lowest benefit amounts in the nation. The state could alter its system to pay more.

Some may question asking the state to open its wallet during a bleak economy. But the Appleseed Center's Bolz said the state would not have to foot the entire bill -- the federal government and business, education and nonprofit sectors could help as well.

She said the investment would pay off in the long run by helping stabilize working families, making them less reliant on government programs.

"This report," she said, "has answers for your neighbor who just got laid off."

--Contact the writer: 444-1136, [email protected]

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