Nebraska Legislature unanimously passes emergency pandemic funding

LINCOLN, Neb. -- On Wednesday, Nebraska lawmakers unanimously passed an amendment that would provide emergency funding to combat the coronavirus pandemic in Nebraska.

The legislative session was suspended earlier this month in response to growing public health concerns regarding spread of the virus. Speaker Jim Scheer called senators back into session this week for the limited purpose of approving emergency COVID-19 pandemic funding.

“It is truly a historic time in our country and for us to be here—to be able to do something to help the residents of the state of Nebraska,” Scheer said.

Offered by Gering Sen. John Stinner, the amendment would replace the contents of his LB1198, which senators previously had advanced to the second round of debate. The amendment would appropriate a total of $83.6 million to bolster the state’s response to the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Funds will be transferred from the state’s Cash Reserve Fund to the Governor’s Emergency Cash Fund. Dollars will would be directed to a newly created program to be known as the Governor’s Emergency Program – COVID-19, housed within the state’s Military Department.

Stinner said using the new program as the single funding source for the state’s efforts to combat COVID-19, rather than making separate appropriations to individual agencies, will simplify the process and allow adaptability and flexibility.

Among the funding priorities outlined in Gov. Pete Ricketts’ request to the Legislature were:
• $38.2 million for personal protective gear and other supplies and support for local health departments;
• $13 million to maintain staffing at veterans’ homes and state Department of Health and Human Services care facilities;
• $4 million for additional staffing and overtime costs for the DHHS Division of Public Health;
• $2.5 million to the University of Nebraska Medical Center for lab equipment, software programming and personnel;
• $515,000 to UNMC to facilitate COVID-19 testing; and
• $344,000 to establish a statewide communication system to share information related to response efforts.

Stinner said the amendment also will provide $25 million in unobligated funds. The current situation is fluid, he said, and the additional funds would be held in reserve for unforeseen needs that may arise.

“We’ll get through this,” Stinner said. “But now it’s our turn to lay down our partisan politics and pass this bill for the state to protect the safety and well-being of all Nebraskans.”

Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz said she hoped to see the unobligated resources prioritized for vulnerable populations served by nursing facilities and federally qualified health centers.