Nonprofit Celebrates 25 Years of Common Sense Solutions

The staff of Nebraska Appleseed, shown here gathered before the pandemic, are celebrating the group’s first 25 years advocating for justice and opportunity for all Nebraskans. (Appleseed)
David Golbitz
The Daily Record

Nebraska Appleseed is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year as one of the state’s strongest advocates for justice and opportunity for all.

Since 1996, the Lincoln-based nonprofit organization has gone to court and lobbied local politicians on behalf of Nebraskans across the state so that everyone who lives here can enjoy “the good life.”

“The focus from the beginning of the organization has been to look at, what are some of the toughest challenges that Nebraskans face? And what can we do about them from a law and policy perspective?” Nebraska Appleseed Executive Director Becky Gould told The Daily Record.

“A lot of the issues that we’ve worked on over the years have been around poverty and access to health care and the way the immigration system is structured, and the way children and families are served in our public programs,” Gould said. “Across all of the different work that we’ve done has really been to focus in on, what are we hearing from folks all across Nebraska as big issues that are making it difficult for them to make ends meet?”

One of the biggest issues that Nebraska Appleseed has focused on over the years is making sure everyone in the state has access to healthcare. Gould, who has worked at Appleseed for nearly 20 years and has served as executive director since 2007, points to a 2006 class-action lawsuit that restored $18 million in Medicaid health benefits to more than 10,000 low-income working mothers who had been wrongly denied access required by federal law.

Nebraska Appleseed was also at the forefront of the fight for statewide Medicaid expansion, which passed as a ballot initiative in 2018, providing access to health care for 90,000 low-income Nebraskans.

“Although we got Medicaid expansion passed, we still have some work to do to make sure everyone can access the full array of benefits under that program and that everyone gets enrolled,” Gould said.

Nebraska Appleseed recently filed a lawsuit challenging the two-tier benefit system that the state imposed on Medicaid recipients. Currently, all adults in the state are eligible for the “basic” benefits package, which provides access to physical and mental healthcare, and covers the cost of prescription drugs. Only certain individuals, however, are granted full Medicaid benefit, or what the state calls “prime” benefits.

Prime benefits — which include everything in the basic package, plus vision, dental and over-the-counter medication — are available only to adults who are pregnant, ages 19 and 20, or who have been deemed “medically frail,” which can refer to a mental health disability or a chronic substance use disorder.

“We’re going to continue that work until folks get what they voted for, which in our view is a straight Medicaid program with a full array of full Medicaid benefits and no work requirement,” Gould said.

Another big win for Nebraska Appleseed came in 2015 when the organization won a class action lawsuit on behalf of children with developmental disabilities who were being denied the necessary behavioral health treatments under Medicaid.

Crystal, the mother of one of the two plaintiffs in the case, first contacted Appleseed in 2012 after she had received letters from Medicaid denying her son, who at age 4 had recently been diagnosed with autism, the behavioral therapy he needed. (The Daily Record has agreed not to publish Crystal’s last name to protect her son’s privacy.)

“I have always tried my best to be an advocate for my son and I felt like this battle with Medicaid was something I couldn’t do on my own,” Crystal told The Daily Record via email. “If I couldn’t get him the help he needed, would he be able to function in a normal classroom in school or would he be able to hold a job as an adult if the behaviors continued?”

Before he was able to start behavioral therapy, Crystal’s son, referred to as K.D. in the lawsuit, engaged in self-harming behavior and was unable to remain calm at restaurants, stores or in school.

“I can recall quite a few times when people yelled at my son or me for my son’s behaviors because he was disturbing them,” Crystal said. “My son struggled in Head Start at school and was aggressive to others before he was able to get behavioral therapy.”

K.D. started to receive the behavioral therapy he needed shortly after the lawsuit was won and the state of Nebraska declined to appeal the ruling.

“We started seeing positive results just months after starting these therapies,” Crystal said. “Today my son is 13 years old and able to go to the store or restaurants without having behaviors that bother other people.”

While K.D. still has behavioral problems, Crystal said “he is no longer aggressive towards others and doesn’t have self-harming behaviors.”

Nebraska Appleseed’s legal victory removed a great weight not only from Crystal and her family’s shoulders, but the shoulders of hundreds of other families across Nebraska who would now be able to access behavioral therapy for their children.

“When I received word that Appleseed had won our case, I was ecstatic and relieved!” Crystal said. “I felt happy and hopeful knowing that we finally had the opportunity to see if behavioral therapy could help him.”

In addition to health care, Nebraska Appleseed has advocated on behalf of the children of undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers, helping to pass legislation that allowed those with DACA status to get driver’s licenses in 2015 and professional licenses the following year.

Gould, who was raised on a farm north of Lincoln near Valparaiso, credits Nebraskans “appreciation for practical solutions and common sense” as being instrumental in getting much of this legislation passed.

“Those things can really transcend political barriers,” Gould said. “I think (Nebraska is) a space where there’s a lot of opportunity for unlikely allies to work together.”

Gould thinks some of the next big challenges the state faces are immigration reform, child poverty and child hunger, none of which have easy answers. Nevertheless, she remains optimistic that real change is possible.

“One of the great things about Nebraska, and why it’s been such a privilege and honor to do this work here in my home state, is that it’s a small place,” Gould said.

“Things are really possible here. There’s a lot of energy in wanting to work together and you don’t find that everywhere,” Gould continued. “But there’s definitely a sincerity to it in Nebraska and something that we always are inspired by and work toward at Appleseed as we find new ways to work together, even with folks we might disagree with on certain things, to help make progress for the state as a whole.”


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