Chairperson Sen. Mike Hilgers and Executive Committee Board Members
District #21, Room 2108 State Capitol
PO Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
February 12, 2020
Dear Senator Hilgers and Executive Committee Board Members,
My name is Jasmine L. Harris. I am the Director of Public Policy & Advocacy for RISE. We are a non-profit that works with people who are currently and formerly incarcerated. We run a six-month program that focuses on employment readiness, character development and entrepreneurship. We serve people incarcerated at seven of the Nebraska Correctional Facilities with this program and offer reentry case management services as people return home.
I thank Senator Vargas for introducing LB1157. This bill was a result of a conversation that many people had which focused on the upcoming redistricting of Nebraska’s legislative districts based on the 2020 Census numbers. According to the United States Census 2020, the results of the census are also used to determine how billions of dollars in federal funding are distributed to states and communities. This funding shapes communities’ public services like schools, health clinics, and even roads. Even though the conversations focus on the drawing of district lines, there are more implications that should be considered when looking at how we count individuals in Nebraska.
Everyone living in the United States is required by law to be counted in the census. This includes our incarcerated population. Currently, the practice is to count individuals incarcerated at the facility they are currently located. Those numbers are used in the counties of those facilities when determining the census numbers and therefore included in determinations for those communities to receive funding for services. About 90% of individuals incarcerated in our correctional facilities will be released. Working with the graduates of our program on reentry plans and providing support with employment and housing, what we see is that the majority of them plan to return to their hometowns. Our Reentry Team also works to connect individuals with essential wrap around services when they are returning home. These essential services include access to healthcare and mental and behavioral health services.
The barriers that we encounter with connecting individuals to community wrap around services is that they are limited. Many of the organizations that offer the services are not accepting new clients and don’t have the funding to continue essential programs. As an organization that understands grant funding, community services and working with populations that need more assistance that are crucial to being able to succeed when coming home, we see the direct impact that occurs when funding is not available for the most essential of services. We see the correlation between having individuals counted for the census in a community where they will not receive those services and returning to their home community to underfunded services.
Some of the programs and services that receive federal funding that are dependent on census data includes (but not limited to): Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), rent supplements for rental housing for low income families, state community development block grant, continuum of care program, WIOA adult activities, work opportunity tax credit, family violence prevention and services, block grants for community mental health services and many more. These are programs that people coming out of incarceration are more likely to access if they are not banned by law. In FY 2017, Nebraska was distributed almost $7.8 billion in census guided federal spending.1 Majority of these dollars were used for Medicare and Medicaid, but almost $2.1 billion were used on other programs which more than likely included services that I just mentioned.
An essential resource needed for communities to be prepared to receive people home after incarceration is the proper amount of funding that is needed to provide the necessary services that individuals can access. We are currently looking at underfunded community services and believe that counting incarcerated individuals in their home communities during the census will provide for those communities to receive the adequate amount of federal funding distributed to the state to offer those much needed services.
We are in support of LB1157 and ask that the Executive Committee advance this bill to general file.
Jasmine L. Harris, MPH, CHES
Director of Public Policy & Advocacy, RISE
1 GW Institute of Public Policy (2020) Counting for Dollars 2020: The Role of the Decennial Census in the Geographic Distribution of Federal Funds - https://gwipp.gwu.edu/sites/g/files/zaxdzs2181/f/downloads/Counting%20for%20Dollars%202020%20-%20Comprehensive%20Accounting_Report%207B%20Feb%202020%20rev.pdf