Rebecca L. Gould is the executive director of Nebraska Appleseed. She has worked there since October 2001, first as a staff attorney specializing in poverty law for the economic justice program and then starting in 2007 as executive director. She has successfully litigated cases in state and federal court and engaged in policy advocacy at the state and federal levels on issues ranging from poverty to immigration. She is a past president of the Robert Van Pelt Inn of Court and serves on the board of directors for the Center for Rural Affairs, the Food Bank of Lincoln, the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands, and ISoft Data Systems. She received her B.A. in history with high distinction from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and her J.D. with distinction from the University of Nebraska College of Law. She lives with her husband, Jeff, and their two children near Valparaiso, Nebraska.
You are the executive director of Nebraska Appleseed, which is part of the Appleseed network. What issues does your organization take on in Nebraska?
We work on the root causes of some of our state’s most pressing problems, addressing poverty and creating economic opportunity for low-income families, strengthening our child welfare system for a strong future for Nebraska children and families, ensuring all Nebraskans can access quality affordable health care when they need it, and building strong, vibrant, inclusive, and engaged communities.
Nebraska Appleseed is part of the newly formed Legal Impact Network, and you lead its working group on public benefits in the federal budget. What is your goal for that group?
The goal for the group is to ensure federal public benefits programs are strengthened and improved to best support families as they move up the economic ladder. In some cases this means holding ground against possible cuts in existing programs. In other cases it means enhancing existing programs to improve outcomes for families.
If you could give a high five to one of your legal heroes (living or dead), who would get it and why?
I grew up on a farm outside a small town of about 500 people, and my husband and I decided to return there to raise our family, and so rural Nebraska is my Nebraska.
This may be cheating a bit, but I would say the women of the U.S. Supreme Court. In my lifetime I have seen the first four women appointed to the Court. I think having more women sitting on the high court has helped drive an increase in women on the bench more broadly. Ensuring our systems of justice reflect the value of equity that we all fight for in our work is critically important. These women are trailblazers in our field, and I would be very excited and honored to give them all a high five.
You are on the board of a rural advocacy organization in Nebraska. What challenges do you see that are particular to public-interest legal practice in rural areas?
I grew up on a farm outside a small town of about 500 people, and my husband and I decided to return there to raise our family, and so rural Nebraska is my Nebraska. I think resources are always a challenge. Nebraska is large geographically, but it has a small population. This means there is an ongoing tension between the resources it takes to be in all corners of the state and the size of the population to be served. Also, since rural communities are small and everyone tends to know one another, the stigma associated with not having a lot of money or needing help from public programs can be a significant factor for people seeking the help they need. It can also be hard for people to step out and become the public face of an issue, particularly a controversial issue, like Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. However, the great strength of rural Nebraska is found in the connections people feel to the land; the sense of neighborliness, fairness, and resilience that you find there on an ongoing basis and that are highlighted when a tornado or other disaster hits; and the ingenuity and innovation of communities as they tackle challenging situations, usually with limited resources. These are all great building blocks for positive change and are what we try to tap into in our work at Nebraska Appleseed.
What’s one of your guilty pleasures?
Ice cream, in particular cherry chocolate ice cream, is my go-to guilty pleasure. I will also jump at any opportunity to be on a boat on the water or to swim outdoors on a hot day. You also can’t beat watching a Nebraska sunset. I try to catch as many as I can.