NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

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Sen. Megan Hunt

Sen. Megan Hunt

District 8

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Dear friends and neighbors,

Today I requested State Auditor Charlie Janssen to perform a financial audit and investigation of the operation of Test Nebraska in order to ensure that the state funds are being properly and judiciously spent.

TestNebraska is comprised of a number of out of state companies with little prior experience in mass testing, contact tracing, or pandemic treatment. TestNebraska promised to administer 3,000 tests a day. However, throughout June, the average daily test rate has been 1,200 – considerably less than half of the stated goal of 3,000 daily tests.

I appreciate that we are in an unprecedented time in our state with respect to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. But in our current budget situation, a $27 million award with barely any debate and no competitive bidding needs to be looked at closely. In short, I want to know whether Nebraskans are getting their money’s worth and whether the millions we are paying these companies are actually going to testing Nebraskans for COVID-19.

A report generated by the Iowa State Auditor of their similar TestIowa program, which is administered in partnership with the same companies behind TestNebraska, found that TestIowa took “pointless risks” and increased liabilities to the state. Related to the claims of accuracy, in mid-June of 2020 a number of investors sued one of the TestNebraska companies (Co-Diagnostics) in Utah federal court alleging that executives had misrepresented their Logix COVID-19 test as being “100% accurate” and that company directors, officers and scientists “made continual, knowing and willful misstatements” about their COVID-19 test to inflate the Co-Diagnostics’ stock price.

I have urged the State Auditor to consider these areas of focus in any audit performed of Test Nebraska:

  • Is the quantity, or rate, of testing sufficient to justify our state spending this kind of money to TestNebraska
  • Is the quality, or accuracy of the testing similar to or consistent with other testing being done in Nebraska by area hospitals or clinics?
  • What is the actual rate of accuracy of the testing of TestNebraska?
  • What measures or efforts were taken to protect Nebraskan’s private health information that is collected by TestNebraska?
Read the Request to the Nebraska Auditor
 

As always, please let me know if I can be of any more assistance. Email is the best way to get in touch with me, at mhunt@leg.ne.gov. Please continue to wear a mask, maintain a 6′ social distance between others, and stay home as much as possible. I will continue to do everything I can through policy to keep you and your family safe, but without wider government leadership, you must choose to do what’s best for your own health.

Keep safe,
Meg

Changes to Unemployment
July 12th, 2020
Dear friends and neighbors,

Last week, Governor Ricketts announced that he was bringing back job search requirements for unemployed Nebraskans earlier than planned. Is that great? No — during this pandemic, this is not what’s best for Nebraskans. In the most economically robust of times, many people make convincing arguments for the need to ensure that the unemployed are motivated to continue to seek jobs, but that is not where we are today. My office has been contacted daily by Nebraskans who are confused and distraught about these new requirements. For example, many workers who are temporarily laid off with the expectation that they will be rehired do not want to waste time searching for jobs they do not intend to keep. On the flip side, employers don’t want the hassle of processing applications and training new employees who may not intend to stay. With this order, Governor Ricketts has introduced unnecessary friction into an already anxious economy. It doesn’t help.

But it’s where we are. And here is no hope for the Legislature to do anything to stop this. So let me help you understand it.

The Department of Labor has put together a helpful FAQ for workers who have been furloughed or have been working intermittently for their employer during this pandemic. It also includes Q&A for employers on how they can let the department know if they have employees on furlough that they want to bring back, and includes a form that employers can use to ask for an extension if needed.

Work Search FAQs for Workers
Form for Employers to Request an Extension
 

As always, please let me know if I can be of any more assistance. Email is the best way to get in touch with me, at mhunt@leg.ne.gov. Please continue to wear a mask, maintain a 6′ social distance between others, and stay home as much as possible. I will continue to do everything I can through policy to keep you and your family safe, but without wider government leadership, you must choose to do what’s best for your own health.

Keep safe,
Meg

Community Cares Act Grants
June 29th, 2020

Grants Available to Community Orgs

Dear friends and neighbors,

The Department of Health & Human Services is pleased to announce three funding opportunities for charitable organizations and providers. Please share this information with anyone who you think could benefit from it. The first grant application opens on Monday, June 29.

DHHS says they are committed to prioritizing funds for underserved communities, including areas of high poverty and areas disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Community CARES Stabilization Grant

  • One-time payment of at least $12,000 for charitable organizations and eligible provider organizations. Applicants must have sustained increased costs and/or lower revenue/income due to COVID-19. Total allocation: $40 million
  • Applications open: June 29-July 6, 2020
  • To apply: http://dhhs.ne.gov/CommunityCares

Community CARES Response and Recovery Grant

  • Competitive grant opportunity for non-profits and eligible provider organizations that will help children, families and communities respond to and recover from the impacts of COVID-19. Funding can be used for homelessness prevention assistance, shelters, meal delivery for individuals with food access barriers, telehealth resources, PPE, community health services, behavioral health services, sanitation of public spaces, and more. Applications must include measurable outcomes. Funding is subject to federal grant subrecipient requirements and must be expended by December 30, 2020.
  • Awards expected to be in the range of $50,000-$2,000,000.
  • Total allocation: $43 million
  • Applications open: July 1-8, 2020
  • To apply: http://dhhs.ne.gov/CommunityCares

Community CARES Healthy Places Grant for Child Care Centers and Places of Worship

  • Funds will be used for the purchase of PPE and cleaning supplies. These health and safety supplies will help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 across Nebraska. Total allocation: $2 million
  • Applications open: July 6-12, 2020
  • To apply: http://dhhs.ne.gov/CommunityCares
As always, please let me know if I can be of any more assistance. Email is the best way to get in touch with me, at mhunt@leg.ne.gov.

Keep safe,
Meg

Dear friends and neighbors,

Hello Nebraskans, and especially my friends in District 8. Are you looking for an opportunity to serve? In Nebraska, our Governor has the power to appoint leaders for many of the state’s agencies, boards, and commissions. Those organizations may be as large as DHHS or the Department of Education, and as small as the Brand Committee or the Boiler Safety Code Advisory Board.

Each appointment is confirmed by the Legislature during a confirmation hearing. In my committees of Government, Military, and Veteran’s Affairs, Urban Affairs, and General Affairs, we have held confirmation hearings for several appointed positions. These hearings go through the same process as bills: the appointee answers questions from senators on the committee, and then members of the public are invited to testify in support, opposition, or in a neutral position on the appointment. The committee then votes on whether to send the appointment to the full Legislature, which debates the appointment and then votes on final confirmation. Most appointees are very well-qualified and well-vetted and sail through the process to begin serving the public.

These appointments on commissions and boards are an important way for citizens across the state to bring their expertise to policies and decisions made by our state government. I encourage you to consider serving, and to occasionally check the Governor’s webpage to see if there is an opening that is a good fit for you or someone you know. A list of current vacancies and the application form can be found at the following link! I would love to see more of my constituents, and more Nebraskans statewide, active in their local governments.

Please check this list out! See a complete list of the openings currently seeking applicants here.

Complete an online application for a board or commission here.

As always, please let me know if I can be of any more assistance. Email is the best way to get in touch with me, at mhunt@leg.ne.gov.

Keep safe,
Meg

Dear friends and neighbors,

Today brings us historic news from the Supreme Court. In a landmark ruling, our nation’s highest court affirmed the rights of LGBTQ+ workers by finding that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is a form of sex discrimination prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. That means that a person cannot be fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is a big deal.

Today is a victory for LGBTQ+ workers all over our country, especially in Nebraska where we have fought for years at the state level to enshrine these protections into law. We owe our gratitude to Aimee Stephens, Donald Zarda and Gerald Bostock, the LGBTQ+ workers who brought these cases all the way to the top. Sadly, only one of the three plaintiffs is still with us today — Don passed away in 2014 and, just this May, we lost Aimee, too. They deserved to be a part of this moment and we owe them so much thanks.

This much-needed win also comes in the midst of two epidemics: COVID-19, and racial violence, answered by the Black Lives Matter movement. A guarantee of employment protections like these couldn’t come at a better time, but it is not enough. I find myself happy about this Supreme Court decision, but not resting and not even really relieved. This is one long-overdue step in the fight for equality and fight against violence toward the LGBTQ+ community, which disproportionately affects Black people and people of color. We have to recognize and dismantle all policies that embolden those who stand on the side of inequality, and that work is not done.

I am the first openly LGBTQ+ person elected to the Nebraska Legislature in its 165-year history. To me, that is a dubious honor, because that much time should not have passed before we had a single person offering representation to our community at the state level. In 2020, we must elect more people from our LGBTQ+ community and continue to expand the diversity of representation across all intersections of identity and experience at the state and local level. The government doesn’t work for all the people until it reflects all the people.

In Nebraska, we must still pass LB627, Senator Patty Pansing Brooks’s priority bill to enshrine LGBTQ+ workplace protections at the state level and mirror federal law. This will be my expectation of my colleagues in the Nebraska Legislature.

Every person should have the freedom to work hard, earn a decent living, and provide for their families. Those aren’t just Nebraska values – they are American values.

As always, please let me know if I can be of any more assistance. Email is the best way to get in touch with me, at mhunt@leg.ne.gov.

Keep safe,
Meg

Dear friends and neighbors,

It’s hard to believe that we are now in our fourth month of social distancing. It is extremely important that we continue to follow the guidelines put forth by public health experts as we slowly begin to re-open parts of our state. By following these health directives with continued social distancing and the wearing of masks in public, we can prevent more infections and death.

Nebraska is currently in Phase II of reopening. Is that great? No, but it is what it is, and that’s the Governor’s choice. I’m emailing you today to update you with the most current directives and guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Governor for COVID-19 in Nebraska. Please feel free to share this email and any of these resources with caregivers, business owners, workers, and anyone else who may benefit.

Besides the health impacts of the Coronavirus, we know that the economic devastation will not only be lasting, but it will affect the health of Nebraskans as well. Omaha has record unemployment, nearly 50,000 people without healthcare, and families and workers are facing hardship like our community has never seen. There are resources available for workers, families and small businesses to help deal with the financial insecurity that has impacted so many Nebraskans.  Below are links to resources available to help people in need of assistance.

The Speaker announced that we will be returning to complete the final 17 days of our Legislative Session on July 20. The Lancaster County Public Health Department has worked with capitol staff to make the Chamber as safe as possible for our return, including spreading out our seating arrangement, plastic dividers, and masks.

My colleagues and I have spent a lot of time over this legislative suspension discussing how to move policy concerns forward when we return, especially given the drop we expect in revenue for the year and the likelihood that we will experience at least two years of economic downturn from this pandemic. I am learning a lot from the experience of my senior colleagues and doing everything I can to make sure we do not forget about marginalized groups and how they will be impacted.

While we are not in session, the Governor has addressed several issues related to the pandemic through executive orders. He also has broad discretion to spend CARES Act dollars. Consequently, much of our efforts to directly address pandemic concerns in the immediate term have been through advocating the Governor to act. Ongoing conversations have also been occurring over how CARES Act funding could be used including helping to fund front line services in our cities and counties and provide relief to small business owners and families who have been hardest hit economically. I signed onto a letter sent by Senator Kate Bolz recommending more public input and transparency with how CARES Act dollars will be spent. There will be opportunities for legislative oversight when we return to session.

When we return, the same bills will be up for discussion. New legislation cannot be introduced unless we suspend the rules (which is unlikely, but possible). Nebraskans can expect several amendments to be introduced addressing new needs brought to us by both COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement.

I know that working together we will get through this pandemic and be stronger for it.

As always, please let me know if I can be of any more assistance. Email is the best way to get in touch with me, at mhunt@leg.ne.gov.

Keep safe,
Meg

Dear friends and neighbors,

“It’s up to you to talk to your brothers and your sisters and persuade them that they have a responsibility. We’ve assumed ours for over four hundred years and we’re tired of this kind of stuff now. We’re not going to suffer patiently anymore.”
-Senator Ernie Chambers, 1966

The iconic clip of Senator Chambers speaking about racial injustice as he barbers in North Omaha, in the Oscar-nominated 1966 documentary A Time for Burning, has gone viral over the last few days. It’s been shared hundreds of thousands of times on Twitter by famous writers and producers and professors all over the world, including Chuck D of Public Enemy, actress Yvette Nicole Brown, and Jarrett Hill of NBC.

Film Streams currently has A Time For Burning available to stream for free online. If you haven’t seen this film, watch it soon with your family. Its message is important, because until we acknowledge and understand our history, we will continue to repeat it.

As always, please let me know if I can be of any more assistance. Email is the best way to get in touch with me, at mhunt@leg.ne.gov.

Many thanks,
Meg

Dear friends and neighbors,

Black lives matter. This obvious truth has to be said because day after day, Black lives are taken by the hands of the state. We know their names, we’ve seen their faces, and we’ve shared their stories. George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, and countless others murdered by those we entrust to protect and serve the public.

Last night, peaceful protesters took to the streets in Omaha. That didn’t stop officers from using tear gas and rubber bullets against the crowds gathered to protest the very thing law enforcement brought to them: violence.

In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist. And white people can and must do more to push their capacity for rejecting, challenging, and dismantling the violent racist structures that our silence allows to persist. We built this system and we have a duty to tear it down to build a better, safer future for our brothers and sisters. We must show up to these protests in solidarity; not as allies but as accomplices. The problems we face today can only be solved if white Americans comprehend the rigid social, economic, and educational barriers that have prevented Black Americans from participating, and succeeding in the mainstream of American life. For more than 400 years, Black Americans have protested against oppression and have persistently sought equality in our society. Yet patterns of prejudice and systems of white supremacy have continued to push back, creating barriers for peace and justice every step of the way.

For the white folks protesting, remember: This is not about you. Show up. Carry signs and participate in chants that challenge white supremacy. Call in the white people you see causing harm. Be mindful that the action is being organized and led by Black-led organizations. Follow the leadership of the organizers as it relates to the march route and social distancing. Don’t start your own chants, don’t grab the mic. Be mindful of your body, as a white person, and the privilege your body carries. Also understand that some people will use these protests strategically as an opportunity to create mayhem and chaos, but we can’t let that deter us from showing up peacefully to express outrage at racist violence and demand accountability for law enforcement. Be very mindful that you are there in support of the organizers and not contributing to chaos or pulling focus by unnecessarily escalating. White allies, read more suggestions from Black Lives Matter here.

I represent a diverse group of Nebraskans as a State Senator. But there are moments when it is not my job to lead or make decisions, but to step back and follow the lead of my constituents. My role is to listen to Black Nebraskans to learn how they want to be helped and how the state legislature can work better for them to stop these systemic cycles of violence. A few of the key priorities that have been shared with me include fighting against voter suppression, ending the failed war on drugs, address housing discrimination, and reform our unfair labor laws. These policies and countless others have disparate impacts on Black communities. We also must keep our anger about prosecutorial decisions in mind when we go to the voting booth. Law enforcement officers have substantial protections under state and federal law when they kill or harass someone while they are acting within their scope of duties. We must give prosecutors the tools they need to hold violent law enforcement officers accountable, and state laws play a significant role in that. If we want our culture to improve, we need to recognize that much of that is shaped by laws, which are shaped by the people we elect statewide. We need to elect better people. Donate to black empowerment organizations and candidates, as I am committed to doing every election cycle. This includes progressive county attorneys and prosecutors. As I say, if you can’t change the people, change the people!

If you are outraged when someone is murdered, you can’t just say “What an outrage,” or “That’s so sad,” you must take action to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Because, you know what? It keeps happening. When an officer puts his knee on the neck of a Black man, puts his hand in his pocket, and cavalierly murders another human being; we know there is something larger at work. That kind of disregard for another person is systemic, it is learned, and it is normal. It’s been normal. But this shouldn’t be normal. Donate, vote, show up physically, and believe that things can be different if we change the balance of power within this broken system.

As always, please let me know if I can be of any more assistance. Email is the best way to get in touch with me, at mhunt@leg.ne.gov.

Many thanks,
Meg

Dear friends and neighbors,

From the May 21st press briefing:

Reporter: As we reopen, won’t we have more cases?
Governor Ricketts: As I’ve said, it’s a virus, we can’t stop it from coming.
Reporter: But how does that weigh on you, that we will have more deaths?
Ricketts: We have traffic deaths every year, but still allow people to drive.

It is so disappointing to listen to these briefings every day, as deaths and infections continue to climb, and not hear any sensitivity, empathy, or recognition for Nebraskans who are suffering and dying. There is no effective leadership without compassion. This is too bad.

And to speak to the traffic deaths comparison — we can’t compare causes of death that aren’t contagious to an extremely contagious novel virus that we are still trying to understand. It’s an insensitive and inaccurate comparison. Furthermore, Nebraska’s COVID-19 deaths from the past three months have already surpassed our average annual number of traffic fatalities. We should not give up on working to stop preventable deaths.

As I frequently remind us, “Don’t overwhelm the healthcare system” is not the right goal, especially with 90,000 Nebraskans in the Medicaid gap and over 141,000 completely uninsured. If they get sick, how will they pay? The goal has to be to decrease infections and death.

Many people also ask me a question like, “If you don’t want to reopen now, then when? When will you know?” My general position is that public health and pandemic researchers need to be moved into the lead on strategy, not politicians. We need to listen to them. That hasn’t happened at the state level or at the federal level.

And what *have* the health experts said? John Hopkins’s Guidance for Governors suggests reopening when new cases have declined for 2 weeks, we can test and contact-trace everyone, the hospitals aren’t overwhelmed, and there is adequate PPE for everyone. (Reopening Guidance for Governors)

Dr. Birx, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, suggested states begin to reopen after two weeks of declining cases, as long as they develop containment plans should infection rates increase. We aren’t following that plan, either. (Opening America)

Another very respected public health policy expert, Andy Slavitt, has a recent piece with more guidance on opening safely. As he says, Americans don’t need to choose between a good economy and the public’s health. They go together.

Public health officials and pandemic experts I talk to in Nebraska say that reopening *could* work if we would *all* accept a social contract to follow strict practices of masks, social distancing, fever checks, telework. But would Nebraskans follow that strict directive? Have they had the chance? Even getting Ricketts to allow state employees to telework was like pulling teeth.

There’s no way to avoid making reopening an at least partly political decision. But my concern is that Nebraska has chosen to make it a *completely* political decision instead of balancing expert guidance with the need to grow economic activity. It’s not either/or, we can do both!

To back up my concern, here’s an example: Officials at UNMC–you know, the place in Nebraska with all the pandemic experts–have said they are not providing recommendations to the state; they’re “just providing data” for politicians to “interpret.” That’s not great!

Coordination at the government level is very chaotic, communication is disjointed, and the fact that most of us are not working in our offices together doesn’t help. We need a leader who can earn trust, unify us around a public health goal, and convey a clear strategy.

As always, please let me know if I can be of any more assistance. Email is the best way to get in touch with me, at mhunt@leg.ne.gov.

Many thanks,
Meg

Dear friends and neighbors,

In a previous newsletter, I shared all the ways Nebraska is helping support people who are experiencing food insecurity during this pandemic. While the state has taken many actions to help people experiencing hunger, including allowing SNAP recipients the ability to order groceries online, expanding allotments, and waiving work requirements, we have the authority and the capacity to do more.

When Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, it created the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program. P-EBT allows states to provide EBT cards to kids on free and reduced-price lunch whose schools have closed. Several weeks ago we were optimistic that Nebraska was going to take advantage of this opportunity. Health and Human Services staff and the Department of Education said the plan was sitting with the higher-ups to decide how to move forward.

I am dismayed that, unfortunately, the state has now “suspended work” on P-EBT. This federal option, to ensure students do not go hungry, was a no-brainer.

Nebraskans are struggling and in desperate need of food assistance. More than 10,000 Nebraskans have filed for unemployment insurance since the beginning of the pandemic. The unemployment assistance provided through this program, as well as the federal funds provided by the CARES Act, assist Nebraskans with paying rent or utility bills. However, this financial assistance does not provide enough for people to secure all the necessities of life.

When people are in need and we can do more, we should do more.

Over 170,600 children in Nebraska rely on free and reduced lunch. With schools closed, children are missing out on those meals. Other states have taken advantage of the P-EBT option. So why isn’t it good enough for Nebraska’s hungry children?

During a declared emergency, Nebraska should take up all SNAP options made available by the federal government. To not do so puts our families and workforce at greater risk, and puts our state at an economic disadvantage. One frustrating lesson here: It may require legislation to fix this.

As always, please let me know if I can be of any more assistance. Email is the best way to get in touch with me, at mhunt@leg.ne.gov.

Many thanks,
Meg

Sen. Megan Hunt

District 8
Room #1523
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2722
Email: mhunt@leg.ne.gov
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