Higher welfare payments, more time for trial requests based on new evidence passed by Legislature


April 24th, 2015

Higher welfare payments, more time for trial requests based on new evidence passed by Legislature (Photo Courtesy Fred Knapp)

Higher welfare payments, more time for trial requests based on new evidence passed by Legislature (Photo Courtesy Fred Knapp)

Low income parents could get higher welfare payments for the first time in 30 years, and time limits would be eased on how long after new evidence is discovered convicted criminals could ask for new trials, under bills passed by the Nebraska Legislature Thursday.

Lincoln, NE – For the last 30 years, the most a single mom with two children could get under the Aid to Dependent Children program has been $364 month.


That would rise to $465 next year, and $542 a month four years from now, under LB89, sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell. Campbell says the idea is to help families she calls among the poorest of the poor stay together. “Right now we pay foster families more money to have children than we do to aid families to stay together. And what LB 89 does is begin to address that issue – keeping families together,” she said.

Payments for foster families vary according to the age of the children and other factors, but generally range between $600 and $1200 a month. Campbell says increasing Aid to Dependent Children should help.

“Under this program you have to either be working in a job or looking, and meaningfully looking for a job, or education – you can be going back to school. And this helps families who are really struggling to keep their children in their home and the whole effort here is to make sure that children in poverty have a little bit more to help their families on those basics that every family should have,” she said.

The change should benefit about 6200 Nebraska families, according to the legislative fiscal office, at a cost of about $8.3 million a year. That money will come entirely from federal funds that the state has been collecting, but not spending, in a fund that now totals about $69 million. Last year, then-State Auditor now Lt. Gov. Mike Foley recommended that the Department of Health and Human Services “work with the Legislature to develop a comprehensive plan to use these fund s and when possible, reduce the Nebraska taxpayer burden.”

During debate, some senators questioned whether the increased spending of federal funds would be sustainable. Campbell says it should be, based on the history of the program, and the program will be studied by a task force that will look at all Nebraska’s antipoverty programs. Senators voted 30 to 15 to pass the bill and send it on to Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Also Thursday, senators passed a bill that could give people convicted of crimes more time to ask for a new trial based on new evidence. Currently, that time limit is three years. The bill by Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks increases that to five. It also says there should be no limit if a judge finds the new evidence is so substantial that a different result may have occurred if it had been introduced at the original trial. The bill also allows additional DNA testing if it was not tested previously or if current technology is likely to produce more accurate results. Pansing Brooks said her intent is to prevent situations like that of the so-called Beatrice Six. That was a group of people convicted of a 1985 murder in Beatrice who were exonerated 24 years later when DNA evidence implicated another person. Senators voted 42-4 to pass the bill.

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