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Nebraska in line for about $10.8 billion in federal coronavirus relief money, Ricketts says

Nebraska in line for about $10.8 billion in federal coronavirus relief money, Ricketts says

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LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Wednesday that Nebraska is in line to get $10.8 billion in federal coronavirus relief money this year.

The total includes about $1.6 billion of stimulus payments that were sent directly to Nebraska households. Nearly two-thirds of the rest — some $6.4 billion — is going out through the Paycheck Protection Program to help small businesses keep employees on their payroll.

Money also is earmarked for various programs to help struggling families, unemployed workers, health care providers, schools, human service organizations, and state and local governments.

Ricketts said the federal support will be “significant” in helping Nebraska cope with the economic and social disruptions caused by the coronavirus and the steps taken to slow its spread.

“Whenever you have an emergency, the government does more than when you have normal times,” he said. “I think it’s appropriate when we have an emergency like this pandemic, which we haven’t had in over 100 years, the federal government takes steps to make sure that we can protect ourselves and recover.”

The governor said it is too soon to know how much of Nebraska’s financial toll will be covered by the federal aid. But he argued against any additional aid, saying that would further increase the national debt.

“I don’t believe the cost is worth the benefit,” he said.

Included in the total is $1.25 billion intended to offset coronavirus-related costs of states and local governments. Douglas County will get $166 million of that aid, based on a formula in the federal legislation.

On Wednesday, the governor outlined plans for using the remaining money to fill in gaps. He said state officials are talking with Douglas County about how they can jointly meet the needs of Omaha city government. City officials last month called on the two entities to share their money.

Under Ricketts’ plan:

  • State and local governments would get money for coronavirus-related expenses, such as temporary emergency staffing, sanitizing products, telework capabilities and COVID-19 medical leave. The state would get $80 million and local governments would share $100 million. To qualify, county governments would have to open their offices to the public by June 8. Ricketts said that requirement was included because governments are supposed to serve people.
  • Human service agencies, particularly nonprofits with limited funding sources, would share $85 million in grants. The money would go to groups providing critical services to needy communities, such as food, housing, telehealth resources and behavioral health care.
  • Small businesses and livestock producers could get $12,000 grants from a $330 million fund. The money would be more flexible than the Paycheck Protection Program loans and could be used by a wider variety of businesses.
  • Efforts to help businesses and workers recover would get $62 million. Those efforts include a push to expand digital access in small, rural communities; grants for worker retraining; and business stabilization and growth training by Gallup.
  • Remaining money, an estimated $427 million, would be set aside to shore up the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund or, if Congress allows, to fill holes in the state’s general fund budget. Current federal legislation bars states from using any of the relief money to replace tax revenues lost because of the coronavirus.

Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac, who heads the state’s emergency management agency, said the goal is to start distributing the money within the next month. Before that happens, though, the state plans to contract with a private firm to manage and track the dollars.

Ricketts said outside help is needed because it would be too much strain on existing state resources to oversee more than $1 billion in federal funds, along with managing the regular state budget. Bohac noted that state officials already have a big job to do in managing more than $400 million in federal disaster aid stemming from last year’s flooding.

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