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Two new programs increase early childhood care in Lincoln

Two new programs — one made possible by a federal grant and the other from gifts from the Lincoln Community Foundation — will expand childcare in Lincoln, especially to low-income families.

A new three-year grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement will help refugees start preschools and day care businesses — providing startup costs and training to help refugees learn about business startups as well as the state and local early childhood education rules and regulations.

A second initiative — thanks to gifts from the Lincoln Community Foundation — has allowed Dimensions Education Program to open a second preschool at 7700 A St., where 30 percent of its enrollment is dedicated to low-income families.

Michelle Suarez, who heads the early childhood education arm of Prosper Lincoln, said both programs help fulfill the goal of the community initiative.

Helping refugees

Midlands Latino Community Development Corp., an Omaha company that began to help Latinos start their own preschool and child care businesses and later expanded to other commercial enterprises, got the grant to expand its services to the refugee community.

The grant, $187,000 each of the next three years, will ultimately help refugee communities in Omaha, Bellevue and Lincoln, but will begin its work in the capital city, Suarez said.

“Really, it’s about entrepreneurship, following your passions, helping people find the means to do it,” Suarez said.

The grant will help people from the refugee community learn what it takes to start businesses — funding, insurance, marketing, developing a mission — along with teaching the rules and regulations required to become licensed day care providers.

“There’s a cultural proficiency part of this work,” Suarez said.

Lincoln has large Arabic- and Karen-speaking communities that may be able to take advantage of the opportunities, Suarez said.

Zainab Al-Baaj, the Middle Eastern/North African hope coordinator for the Good Neighbor Center in Lincoln, said she has previously worked with families to open home child care businesses and hopes this grant will allow them to work more in-depth with families starting businesses.

As more people from different cultures enter the workforce, having access to day cares or preschools run by those who know and understand their food, culture and religious practices is important. Al-Baaj said.

The grant will provide startup costs and training both in business practices and child care, but there will be a need for translators to help and for some transportation.

One of the challenges will be finding locations: The grant requires that the day cares be located in homes or businesses, not apartments, where many refugees live, at least initially.

Suarez said they may be able to work with families to create cooperatives so they can share commercial space, and they’ll be investigating ways to help prospective business owners to find homes.

Affordable childcare

The Lincoln Community Foundation and donor Mae Whitmer gave donations that allowed Dimensions, which has run a preschool program at First Plymouth Church for many years, to open a second program.

The foundation gave Dimensions its first “mission investment” — a second mortgage loan for the space.

A mission investment is money or loans provided from the community foundation’s endowments for projects that benefit the community, and the preschool program was a perfect fit, said Barb Bartles, president of the Lincoln Community Foundation.

A donation from Whitmer, whose husband was a third-generation owner of ABC Electric, allowed them to get more space and increase enrollment from about 80 to 150. The expanded space will be for babies and toddlers, and will be called the ABC room in honor of Whitmer, Bartles said.

Early childhood education is a passion of Whitmer, Bartle said, and she gave a second gift that will help pay tuition for low-income families, which will comprise 30 percent of the enrollment.

Suarez said that model — using community donations to help subsidize quality early childhood education to more low-income families — is a something Prosper Lincoln officials are working to expand.

House Republicans lose farm bill battle on new work requirements

WASHINGTON — Federal food aid recipients won’t be faced with major new work requirements. And changes in forestry policy that made environmentalists furious are gone.

House Republicans gave up Thursday on trying to include those provisions in a massive farm policy bill, clearing the way for a vote in Congress next week.

The concessions will likely help draw Democratic votes to the bill in the House. Democrats indicated support would be more bipartisan and follow similar numbers on past farm bills, which tend to pass comfortably.

The farm bill will reauthorize the nation’s nearly $900 billion in food and agriculture programs for another five years. That includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, which helps low-income families pay for food. The bill also deals with crop insurance, a program that protects farmers against financial losses due to disasters and droughts.

Out is the House Republicans’ plan, which aimed to expand work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries. The GOP wanted the work rules to apply to able-bodied adults up to age 59 and to people with young dependent children, an unpopular prospect to Democrats. Leaving that out will mean more support from House Democrats but will alienate some Republicans.

House Republicans lacked enough clout to push for the stricter work requirements after Democratic victories in this month’s House elections.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the lead negotiator for the Senate, was vague about the specific provisions in the compromise. But when asked if the bill would be closer to the Senate’s plan for SNAP, Roberts replied, "I would say, yes."

The Senate plan included incentives for states to expand work training programs and added new accountability measures to the program.

"It’s more comprehensive and focuses on program integrity," Roberts said.

A senior Democratic staff member said while SNAP provisions did mostly reflect the Senate version, there were certain "concessions" given to House Republicans. But those concessions will be "tweaks and tightening" to work requirements, not "big sweeping increases," the staff member said.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said that the House would largely have to accept the Senate’s position on the nutrition program.

"I don’t think we can get a single Democrat to vote for some of the requirements in the House nutrition title," Thune said.

Some House Republicans are already signaling the changes mean they won’t support the final bill.

Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., said on Twitter that he couldn’t support the new version of the farm bill after the concessions on some key issues.

"House conservatives, the president and the vast majority of Americans support policies that encourage work and help lift people out of poverty. As I’ve said for months, those provisions have to stay," Walker said.

But Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., a House Agriculture Committee member, said, "I think we can get it passed," but added, "For me to sit here and say we’re not going to lose some Republican votes, I can’t say that." Marshall supports the bill because it preserves crop insurance, a top priority for his district.

Thune said Republicans would also make concessions in the debate over forest fires, an issue that had been elevated to the Senate and House leadership teams after negotiators reached an impasse on the issue in the wake of deadly wildfires in California.

President Donald Trump’s administration and House Republicans advocated for new rules that would expedite forest-thinning projects, but Democrats and environmental groups successfully protested the measure, warning it would be an ineffective tool against fires. Those controversial provisions will be completely stripped from the final version.

The bill will also include a provision that makes it legal for farmers to grow and market hemp products, Roberts confirmed.

"I think it’s going to be a good crop everywhere," Roberts said. "There’s all sorts of industrial use for that. We’re not talking about cannabis. We’re talking about industrial hemp, so it’s another crop that we’re very hopeful can be a real income producer."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had strongly advocated hemp legalization. His home state was once a major producer of the crop before its production became outlawed. The 2014 farm bill had included a provision that allowed states to make limited hemp cultivation legal.

Senators from both parties indicated the final bill would widely resemble the Senate version of the bill rather than the House version, which passed without a single Democratic vote. The Senate requires at least 60 votes to pass the bill, which means the 51 Republican senators need Democratic support to pass it, unlike in the House, where Republicans currently have a majority.

The deal came together Wednesday, nearly two months after the Sept. 30 deadline to pass the bill.


Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., speaks with reporters on the farm bill in June on Capitol Hill in Washington. Roberts on Thursday was vague about specific provisions for compromise with the House on the farm bill.

KAYLA WOLF, Journal Star file photo 

Nebraska's Lexi Sun (center) celebrates match point and a win over Penn State with her teammates on Nov. 2 at the Devaney Sports Center.

editor's picktopical
Tecumseh prison was primed for rebellion before riot, previously undisclosed report finds

Experts asked to look into the causes of a destructive and deadly Mother's Day riot in 2015 concluded conditions at the Tecumseh prison left it primed for a rebellion, according to a previously unreleased report.

"The prison was under stress; inmates were unsettled; the 'barometric pressure' was high and rising," wrote Dan Pacholke, formerly responsible for operations at the Washington State Department of Corrections, and Bert Useem, a Purdue University professor who has published two books on prison riots.

Their report came to light in this week's civil trial in which a former inmate at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution sought damages against the state for the post-traumatic stress he has experienced since he witnessed a beating and was left without food or his diabetic medication for 18 hours.

It's unclear why the 12-page report, which was commissioned by the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services to take a broader look at the factors that led to the riot and recommendations to improve the prison system, wasn't released publicly back when it was completed.

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In 2015, Corrections Director Scott Frakes released a final report about the riot by the Critical Incident Review Team, which concluded the riot had happened as a matter of chance.

Pacholke and Useem said in their report that they saw it differently.

When the initial resistance took place in the prison yard on May 10, 2015, stress on the facility permitted small acts of resistance to spread quickly from the yard into two housing units and the gymnasium, they said.

The report pointed to staffing issues, apparent coordination among inmate gangs and a "somewhat disjointed" response.

The day of the riot, the Tecumseh prison was understaffed by four, so four program areas were closed. And the shift when it happened had a high concentration of relatively new, inexperienced staff, the report said.

At the time, 45 percent of the staff were hired on or after 2013.

When too many inmates ended up on the yard and too few staff, "the capacity to contain the initial assault diminished significantly."

"Once the disturbance started to grow and the need for additional staff was apparent, the facility had already maximized its response and exhausted staff resources. They were overwhelmed," Pacholke and Useem wrote.

The incident commander for the first six hours was the acting shift supervisor, a sergeant serving as an acting lieutenant. While he demonstrated a good command presence, they said, staff were implementing independent actions at critical times, like turning off inmate phones and cutting off calls with negotiators.

The report suggested the state consider changing the population of the Tecumseh prison to lower custody inmates "who would be better suited for supervision by more junior staff," and create separate housing units for different custody levels to give inmates incentives to work toward lower security levels and more opportunities for programming and activities.

Pacholke and Useem said the greater a prison's orientation toward rehabilitation through case management and programming, the safer it becomes.

"Giving inmates the opportunity to engage in activities they find meaningful (e.g. treatment, education, vocational training) reduces idleness and incentivizes desistance from violent and disruptive behavior," they wrote.

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Woman sues UNL fraternity over alleged sex assault

A former University of Nebraska-Lincoln student sued Sigma Alpha Epsilon last week for negligence after she was reportedly sexually assaulted following an off-campus party sponsored by the fraternity.

The complaint by an unnamed woman in Lancaster County District Court on Nov. 21 alleges that she attended a party Oct. 22 at a house located at 2845 Starr St. that was rented by members of the fraternity.

According to the suit, written by Elizabeth Govaerts of Powers Law, the woman said she was served alcohol by members of the fraternity to the point where she became incapacitated.

She awoke the next morning at Sigma Alpha Epsilon's chapter house at 635 N. 16th St., only "to find that she had been sexually assaulted by an unknown assailant" who she said was a member of the fraternity. She says she could not remember how she returned to campus.

The woman reported the incident to university police at 8:48 a.m. on Oct. 23, according to an incident report.

UNL Assistant Police Chief Hassan Ramzah said the police are actively investigating the report, but provided no further details.

The university declined to say if any administrative investigations were taking place into the alleged assault. Title IX investigations required by federal law in cases of sexual violence are kept confidential, and precede other administrative actions.

"We would always look into any violation of the student code of conduct or other university policies," a UNL spokeswoman said.

In the lawsuit, which names the UNL chapter, its local building association, and the national organization, the woman accused fraternity members of not taking action to prevent a sexual assault from occurring.

"The defendants should have realized that the unsafe condition involved unreasonable risk of harm" to the woman who reported the alleged sexual assault, as well as other women present at the party, the complaint states.

She also alleged Sigma Alpha Epsilon failed to have policies and procedures in place to protect women, and failed to hire, train or retain officers or staff tasked with protecting women from sexual assault at parties.

The woman, who is no longer enrolled at UNL, is seeking undisclosed damages for physical and mental injuries, as well as lost earning potential. She's also seeking $3,000 to cover her medical expenses following the reported assault.

Govaerts represents another former UNL student who sued the Chi Pi fraternity in May, saying the organization bore responsibility for not preventing a sexual assault committed after a woman became incapacitated at a party.

The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity was founded in 1856 and is one of the nation's largest fraternities with chapters on more than 240 college campuses. UNL's chapter, referred to as Lambda Pi, was chartered in 1893.

Following a string of nine deaths associated to the fraternity and its activities over seven years, Bloomberg named Sigma Alpha Epsilon one of the deadliest fraternities in the U.S. in 2013.

The next year, Sigma Alpha Epsilon ended its pledge process, replacing it with instant membership for selected applicants and requiring them to complete a certification program that includes education on the risks of consuming alcohol and partying.

A call to the fraternity board's president was not immediately returned.