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Nebraska, Omaha and Douglas County to receive millions in new federal COVID 'rescue' funds
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Nebraska, Omaha and Douglas County to receive millions in new federal COVID 'rescue' funds

Gov. Pete Ricketts discusses how he thinks Nebraska will fare with the lessening of the pandemic.

LINCOLN — President Biden’s “American Rescue Plan” will send about $1 billion to the State of Nebraska as part of the federal government’s effort to bring back jobs and fill in revenue shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state and Douglas County each will get $111 million, with nearly $113 million going to the City of Omaha. Sarpy County is slated to receive $36 million, and the City of Bellevue, $8.4 million, according to a press release sent Monday by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

The $350 billion in aid is being distributed nationwide to states, cities and counties to “help turn the tide on the pandemic, address its economic fallout, and lay the foundation for a strong and equitable recovery,” the department said.

The aid is on top of the $10.8 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds granted to the state last year, which included Paycheck Protection Plan loans to businesses and direct checks to households.

The new aid, the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, was approved by Congress earlier this year. The funds can be used for COVID-19 response programs and for premium pay for essential workers, to help local and state governments retain employees and fill in for lost revenue caused by the pandemic, assist hard-hit industries such as tourism, entertainment and hospitality, and aid the hardest-hit, low-income families and communities.

Counties with high poverty rates, the Treasury Department’s press release said, have the highest rates of infections and deaths due to the coronavirus: 223 deaths per 100,000 compared to the U.S. average of 175 deaths per 100,000.

The new aid can also be used to improve water, sewer and broadband infrastructure, but cannot be used to provide tax cuts or bolster pension plans.

Just how the new money will be used was not immediately clear. But a year ago, Gov. Pete Ricketts used a good portion of the state funds to help farmers and ranchers, whose markets were disrupted by the pandemic, and to help cities and counties with COVID-19-related expenses. About $427 million of last year’s CARES Act funds were used to shore up the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund, which was depleted by the record-high number of workers who received unemployment checks.

Ricketts will recommend how the new money will be spent, and those recommendations will be vetted by the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee, according to State Sen. John Stinner of Gering, who heads that committee. He said the Appropriations Committee will then send its proposal to the full Legislature for approval, like other state budget proposals.

This will happen during the 2022 legislative session, Stinner said.

Taylor Gage, director of strategic communications for the governor, said in a statement Monday:

“We have received the guidance issued by the Treasury Department and are reviewing it. We will make additional announcements following our review.”

Ricketts said in March that “you certainly can question why we would need that much additional money.”

But, he added: “Now, having said that, that’s our tax dollars, right?” — a reference to the taxes Nebraskans pay to the federal government.

States that have increases in unemployment rates of 2% or higher will get their entire checks this year, but other states, including Nebraska, will get half now and the rest in 2022.

More guidance on how the money can be spent will be sent out next week, but preliminary plans call for prioritizing premium pay for low-income workers in essential jobs. Those include workers at nursing homes, food-processing facilities, health care and child care facilities.

Other amounts being distributed include $46 million to the City of Lincoln and $62 million to Lancaster County. Iowa is scheduled to receive $1.5 billion in total, with the state itself receiving $222 million and Pottawattamie County getting $18 million.

“Today is a milestone in our country’s recovery from the pandemic and its adjacent economic crisis,” said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. “With this funding, communities hit hard by COVID-19 will able to return to a semblance of normalcy.”

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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-670-2402

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