March 5, 2015

Study gauges impact of Nebraska’s “safety net” programs

AECF photo

AECF photo

The private philanthropy group that puts out the “Kids Count” survey every year is releasing a new report detailing the state-by-state impact of so-called “safety net” government programs on children.

Laura Speer, with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, says their findings indicate programs like food stamps and housing subsidies are significantly improving lives in Nebraska and nationwide.

“We looked at the child poverty rate which we know is one of the most critical indicators we check,” Speer says, “not only because it has a major impact on kids, it can affect their health and their educational achievement, but really has an impact on the country as a whole.”

In Nebraska, she says the impact of government safety net programs is very evident.

“Without any government intervention, about 22% of children in Nebraska would be living below the poverty line,” Speer says. “With intervention, it’s 11%, so, the rate has actually been cut in half in the state of Nebraska. That means about 48,000 children in the Nebraska were lifted above the poverty line.”

In addition to food stamps, government interventions being gauged by the report include the Earned Income Tax Credit and the child tax credit parents can claim annually on their tax returns.

She admits the findings aren’t a big surprise, however: “It’s important to know that and to understand that those programs are making a difference and they need to be sustained,” Speer says. “Also, we know these programs are helping families keep their heads above water and filling the gap that low-wage jobs are leaving for families to make ends meet.”

Speer is the foundation’s associate director of advocacy and public policy.

See the full report at the Annie E. Casey Foundation website.


Suspended UNK professor faces child porn charges

GavelA federal court judge has denied a request that medical testimony be allowed in the case of a University of Nebraska-Kearney professor accused of engaging in child pornography in 2013.

Defense attorneys for Joseph Benz argue that prescription medication may have contributed to his involvement in illegal activity.

Federal Judge Richard Kopf won’t allow defense attorneys to offer psychiatric and phychological testimony at Benz’s trial, which was previously scheduled to begin Monday in U.S. District Court in Lincoln. The trial now is scheduled for April.

Benz is charged with two counts of receiving and distributing child pornography between January 1st and May 20th of 2013.

A search of Benz’s home in May 2013 alledgedly uncovered more than 20,000 questionable image files, according to the State Attorney General’s Office.

Benz was arrested, later posted bond and is now free.

Defense attorney’s claim medication Benz was taking to combat complications of Parkinson’s disease led to his unorthodox behavior. However, federal prosecutors objected to Benz’s diminished capacity defense and asked Kopf to prevent Benz’s attorneys from offering the testimony.

Benz was suspended from his teaching duties at UNK in May 2013 and has not returned to campus.

By Brent Wiethorn, KKPR, Kearney


UNK’s Safe Ride program runs out of financial fuel

UNK logoThe Safe Ride program that offered students at the University of Nebraska-Kearney a literal safe ride home has run out of money and is being suspended until further notice. The program offered free rides to students on campus during the overnight hours.

Wendy Schardt, UNK’s director of health services, says they evidently did too good of a job letting students know about the option.

“We sort of marketed the Safe Ride program more than it had been in the past, which is a good thing, we want students to be aware of it,” Schardt says, “but of course, the more students who are aware of it, the more quickly you run through the funds.”

The service had been offered on the Kearney campus for several years without interruption.

“Most students make very good decisions when it comes to being responsible,” Schardt says, “but we really want to be able to provide a program that just provides a back-up plan should someone’s options run out and it’s the middle of the night and they don’t really have any other option.”

The service was designed with the intent of providing a safe transportation option for students, but she says that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best option for every occasion.

“We don’t want this program to be the first choice for students because we know most students make wise decisions about drinking,” Schardt says. “We want this to be a sort of last resort because many students make prior arrangements and have designated drivers. On the occasion when their plan falls through or the designated driver decides to have one drink, they need to have a back-up plan.”

H & H Distributing, a beer distributor based in Grand Island, has funded the UNK Safe Ride program in the past for one-thousand dollars per semester.

Schardt says campus officials will carefully review all available options in order for the program to be reinstated as a long-term asset for the university.

By Brent Wiethorn, KKPR, Kearney


Nebraskans honor their agricultural roots and the future of farming

FFA LogoThe 7,000-plus FFA members in Nebraska are celebrating FFA Week. The program teaches high school students about the world of the ag industry.

FFA spokesman Kurt Veldhuizen doesn’t see any letting up in the program that’s nearly 90 years old.

“I think it’s very strong and when you look at ultimately FFA’s tie to agriculture, that’s what we’re rooted in, the future of agriculture is very strong,” Veldhuizen says. “Agriculture has and it will continue to evolve. Today we do things way different than we did 100 years ago.”

He tells students there will always be careers in agriculture available.

“When it comes down to it, as long we’re on earth, as long as there are humans on earth, we will need agriculture in one form or another and that’s really the exciting things for these kids,” Veldhuizen says.

He also tells students the advancing technology is constantly changing agriculture and there may be new jobs available by the time they enter the workforce that weren’t around when they started school.

“With young kids looking for careers and jobs I always tell them what great job security,” according to Veldhuizen. “We are always going to need to feed people. By 2050, we are going to need to feed nine billion, that’s the big push in agriculture right now. You know, what great job security to be a part of that industry.”

There are some 600,000 FFA members nationwide. Learn more at


School website back after hackers take over, post porn

A northeast Nebraska school district is rebuilding its website after hackers took it over.

North Bend Central manages the website Those who logged on Monday were greeted with pornographic images. Once school officials were notified, the website was taken down.

The website now reads, “We are back…but under construction.” It asks viewers to return for updates.

North Bend Superintendent Dan Endorf apologized for the incident, calling it “embarrassing”.

Connie Green, KHUB, contributed to this report.