NE Legislature: Dozens testify on how to spend $1B in pandemic relief

Dozens testify on how to spend $1B in pandemic relief
Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 9:52 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - For almost eight hours Tuesday night members of the unicameral Appropriates Committee heard testimony on how Nebraskans think upwards of $1 billion in federal relief money should be spent.

LB 1014 was introduced on behalf of Governor Pete Ricketts and outlines how his office believes $1.7 billion should be spent. In total, the state has received $520 million in American Rescue Plan funding and expects to receive an additional $520 million by May.

In order to qualify as a valid use, allocations have to fit in one of five categories; support public health, negative economic impacts, replace revenue loss, premium pay for essential workers, and water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

“We would like to see more funds going towards the laws stated purpose,” said Laurel Sariscsany a policy analyst with OpenSky. “Addressing longstanding health and economic disparities which were amplified by the pandemic especially in disproportionately impacted communities.”

The hearing room at the legislature was packed with members from all different entities, many that spoke would benefit from the existing plan, or outlined where more needs to be done and what might be added in the future.

LB 1014 has all five of those categories outlined by federal statutes. Breaking down where the money would go if it were to pass as it currently sits a big chunk, $504.7 million, would essentially be used to stimulate the economy. That only would go towards things like workforce development and shovel-ready projects.

On the healthcare side, there is just shy of $200 million for public health response. Which does everything from replacing old ambulances, to building a joint UNK-HNMC rural health care facility.

It also proposes $36.7 million for front-line workers like corrections officers, DHHS employees, and those who work for veterans affairs.

“The governor’s proposed funding for public health response to COVID is absolutely critical for protecting hospital capacity,” said Jeremy Nordquist, the President of the Nebraska Hospital Association. “This should be expanded to support premium pay for our front-line nursing heroes who stayed with our hospitals during the pandemic.”

One of the hotter topics is ARPA money that would go towards education. The way LB 1014 is written now, low-income students would be eligible to get up to $2,000 a year to pay private school tuition, among other things.

“Students of all ages struggle with things like attention regulation, metacognition, and other learning skills but instead of addressing this we’re just giving people money to attend private schools and assuming they will have their needs met,” said Jared Wagenknecht, a public high school teacher.

LB 1014 and any others that come up in the appropriations committee aimed at using ARPA funds must now be voted out of committee to the full unicameral for a debate and a vote there. Before any more can be spent by recipients.

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