Nebraska lawmakers took more steps Wednesday toward increasing child care subsidies and changing the way the state handles juvenile offenders.
The child care initiative would partially restore subsidies that Nebraska cut when an economic downturn a decade ago reduced state tax revenues. At that time, families were eligible for child care subsidies if they had incomes up to 185 percent of the federal poverty line – in today’s dollars, that would be about $35,000 for a single mother with two children. Nebraska reduced that to 120 percent of poverty – that’s about $23,000 of income for the same family. The proposal would raise that over two years to 130 percent -- a little more than $25,000 in today’s dollars.
Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad called it important support for people who want to work. "No one’s getting a free lunch. We’re talking about working poor families. You have to be working or in a qualified work activity in order to even be eligible for this program," she said.
Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion disagreed that the program would be a support for the work ethic. "No it’s not. It promotes the value of more government regulation and more government spending and more government do-gooders sniffing around your business," he said. "It doesn’t …say ‘Go out and work hard and achieve your dreams.’"
Columbus Sen. Paul Schumacher, a supporter of the proposal, had a different take. He said the need for it reflects Nebraska’s economy. "Financially speaking, we are a fairly unsophisticated economy. And we have a lot of business activity that conducts itself at very, very low wages, yet expects people to be available for work…and really does not want and maybe cannot pay the kind of wages for them to have decent childcare," he said, terming the measure a "business subsidy" bill.
The proposal is part of a larger bill that sets up a system for rating the quality of the state’s largest subsidized childcare providers – those that receive more than $250,000 a year in subsidies. The bill also provides for higher reimbursements for higher-rated providers, and training for staff to improve quality ratings. It’s expected to cost a little over $4 million over the next two years.
The bill dealing with juvenile offenders would transfer jurisdiction over them from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Office of Probation. At least 77 new probation officers would be hired, and more services would be made available to juveniles and their families in their homes. Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha said the bill would be an improvement over the current system. "There is a tendency to place an inordinate number of juveniles outside the home. We’re going to change that system. It has not worked," Crawford said. "It has taken juveniles away from their families in an inordinate manner, and we have not had the monitoring or the accountability that is necessary to make sure that these juveniles are progressing."
Both the child care and the juvenile justice bills received second round approval on voice votes. They both need one more approval before being sent to the governor.
In other news, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning says the only nurse at Dr. LeRoy Carhart's abortion clinic in Bellevue should lose her license because of substandard care there.
Bruning said Wednesday he had filed a petition with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to revoke Lindsey Creekmore's license.
Bruning says Creekmore failed to accurately follow patient medication orders and improperly delegated some patient care to unlicensed staff.
The case against Creekmore is based partly on information from another nurse who used to work at the clinic.
Neither Creekmore nor Carhart was immediately available to comment Wednesday.
Carhart is a prominent defender of abortion rights and has both won and lost cases challenging abortion laws before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the past, Carhart has denied allegations of poor care at his clinic.