NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

Megan Hunt

Sen. Megan Hunt

District 8

The content of these pages is developed and maintained by, and is the sole responsibility of, the individual senator's office and may not reflect the views of the Nebraska Legislature. Questions and comments about the content should be directed to the senator's office at mhunt@leg.ne.gov

Community Vaccination Clinics
January 28th, 2021
The Douglas County Health Department (DCHD) and its community partners will host four community clinics beginning in February in an effort to provide Douglas County residents 80 years of age and older with the COVID-19 vaccine. The four sites are being coordinated by the DCHD in partnership with Nebraska Medicine, CHI Health, Creighton University, and Methodist Health System. The clinics will continue to operate until further notice. To register for the COVID-19 vaccine, visit https://vaccinate.ne.gov.

The locations and times for the clinics are:

  • Christ Community Church – 404 South 108th Street, Omaha
    • Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. beginning on February 2nd.
  • CHI Immanuel Medical Center – 72nd Street and Sorensen Parkway, Omaha
    • Wednesdays and Fridays from  9 a.m.-5 p.m. beginning on February 3rd.
  • Nebraska Medicine Testing & Vaccination Clinic – 144th and Millard Avenue
    • Thursdays from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
    • Sundays from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
    • Begins February 4th
  • Creighton Universit’s Rasmussen Center – 702 North 17th Street
    • Saturdays from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. beginning on February 6th.

Douglas County residents will have the opportunity to visit the clinic that is closest to them. This is the beginning of Phase 1-B of the vaccination rollout and will provide the first dose of the vaccine for this group.

In addition to the four community clinics, beginning on Monday, February 1st, DCHD will provide vaccines on a limited basis at OneWorld Community Health Center in South Omaha, Charles Drew Health Center, and the Fred LeRoy Health Center. Kohll’s Pharmacy will provide vaccinations to independent living and retirement communities, while the Nebraska Methodist College mobile diabetes unit will be serving vulnerable populations. 

Vaccine Registration

The DCHD Vaccine Registration Line will go live on Friday, January 29th at 9 a.m. DCHD’s Information Line at (402) 444-3400 will be taking reservations beginning Friday at 9 a.m. for those who do not have computer access. There is NO advantage to calling early or trying to register if you are not 80 years old. Vaccinations will be by appointment only.   

Those who have registered with the DCHD vaccine notification system can expect to be contacted about the next step in the process. You can register online for notifications here. Please wait for further information on that next step. These clinics are limited to Douglas County residents who are 80 years of age or older this year. If you were not born in 1941 or earlier, please do not attempt to attend a clinic. You will not receive the vaccine if you show up.

Age-based eligibility will start with over 80 years of age which has the highest mortality rate and then move down through lower age groups. This will be based on the year of birth in order to simplify the process. For example, people who were born in 1941 or before (or will turn 80 at any time during this calendar year) will be the first group to make appointments. Depending on demand and appointment availability, we will add groups in 5-year increments throughout the month of February.

Additional Information

Until much more vaccine is available, healthcare providers and clinics will not be able to order it for their patients. Future clinics will address more tiered groups of residents over 65 years of age, a group that has suffered 82% of the COVID-19 related deaths in Douglas County

If you have any questions regarding the vaccine, the DCHD website has a comprehensive information page. If you would like to volunteer to assist with vaccination efforts, you can register with the Medical Reserve Corps here.

If you missed an opportunity to be vaccinated during phase 1a, you can call the DCHD COVID-19 Information Line at (402) 444-3400 for an appointment.

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,

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,

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

Dear friends and neighbors,

In my last newsletter, which you can read here, I shared that I had filed a Freedom of Information Act request for information about TestNebraska.com, the website that the Governor has been promoting for COVID-19 health assessments. I previously requested this information from both the Governor’s office and the Department of Administrative Services, but my requests were ignored. I received the contracts, which you can view here, and I expect the rest of my request for all correspondence about TestNebraska to be fulfilled in the next two weeks.

Here are my concerns today.

The service agreement with the software company behind TestNebraska says that they may sell deidentified, aggregated data. I don’t think that’s the biggest sin—the problem is that 1. Nebraskans aren’t told this up front before they opt in to take the assessment, and 2. The contract wasn’t even shown to the legislature until I FOIA’d it.

The tech and entrepreneurship community in Nebraska deserved to have $27 million invested in them for an effort like this. This could have been a massive stimulus for jobs and industry in our local entrepreneurial communities, and an opportunity for collaboration between university researchers, state public health departments, and the Silicon Prairie.

To fix this, Nebraska should add an explicit message to the first page of the assessment explaining that data you share may be deidentified, aggregated, and sold. I also believe Nebraska should get a share of any sales from the exploitation of this data, and that all of those sales and transactions should be public.

There will always be people who say, “I don’t care what the government knows about me, I have nothing to hide.” There are people who say, “Everyone acts like big corporations don’t have all of your personal data already.” There will also always be people who say, “I’m happy to participate in this so that people can be healthy and we can do research based on the data.” That’s fine–frankly, I’m one of those people. But it’s wrong when we don’t give people the opportunity to opt into that by making an educated choice. And it’s unconscionable when that choice is taken away from you by government.

At this link you can view the contracts for yourself. I also recommend that you read this excellent reporting by Lincoln Journal Star reporter Chris Dunker.

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,

Today I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for information about TestNebraska.com, the website that the Governor has been promoting for COVID-19 health assessments. I previously requested this information from both the Governor’s office and the Department of Administrative Services, but my requests were ignored. I included a copy of the request below.

There are several reasons for my concerns around TestNebraska.com. I’m concerned about Nebraskans sharing sensitive personal information like email addresses and birthdates that aren’t subject to HIPAA (federal law which protects sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge). According to the privacy information on TestNebraska, data shared through this website may be shareable or sellable. The federal government is also doing a lot of relaxing of HIPAA for COVID positives, which heightens my concern. In addition, the Nebraska Health Information Initiative (NEHII), our statewide health information exchange, has not been involved in the creation of this website.

TestNebraska cost taxpayers $27 million, but the State has kept both the Legislature and Nebraskans totally in the dark about any contracts signed. The contract matters.

When taxpayer dollars are spent on a new initiative, taxpayers deserve to know how that money is being spent. Nebraskans should not be encouraged to share personal information without full understanding of how this data will be used. My FOIA request is intended to uncover what should have been public information in the first place.

Until we get some more information about TestNebraska and are able to look at the contract signed between the State of Nebraska and the private companies behind this website, I cannot encourage constituents to submit their information through TestNebraska.

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,

Expanding access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) and food assistance for Nebraska families has been a personal priority of mine since I joined the Legislature. I’m glad that through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the CARES Act, Congress has granted states additional flexibility within SNAP, and that Nebraska has taken advantage of these opportunities for families facing food insecurity.

The USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has a website to track the options each state has taken up and which waivers have been applied for and approved. Nebraska’s options and waivers can be found here.

My colleague, Senator Sara Howard, compiled the following summary of what options Nebraska is pursuing:

Enhanced SNAP Allotments

The CARES Act provides enhanced SNAP allotments to SNAP recipients. Nebraska’s Department and Health and Human Services (DHHS) has received approval from FNS to provide enhanced allotments for families who were eligible for SNAP in March and April. The enhanced allotments would bring all SNAP households up to the maximum allotment for that family size. For example, if a family is receiving $300 a month, but the maximum allotment for that family size is $409 a month, that family will receive an additional $109 for the months of March and April.

The March enhanced allotment was issued to the EBT cards of SNAP families on April 11, 2020. The enhancement for April will be issued on the EBT cards of SNAP families on May 7, 2020.

It is important to note that all SNAP benefit dollars are federal dollars returning to the state.

Waiver of Work Requirements

The Coronavirus Response Act temporarily waives the work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) in order for them to receive SNAP for more than three months. DHHS has interpreted this waiver to mean that ABAWDs who cannot meet their work requirements will not lose their SNAP benefits unless such person is offered employment and refuses to accept it. If a person were to refuse to accept a job, then that person would be limited to 3 months of SNAP.

For other SNAP recipients, a loss of job due to COVID-19 will not result in a work requirements sanction. You can find DHHS’s Frequently Asked Questions on SNAP here.

Online Shopping

Nebraska is one of seven states to join an innovative pilot program to allow SNAP recipients to use their SNAP benefits and EBT cards to purchase food online. At the moment, Amazon and Walmart are the only two participating retailers but states can work with retailers locally to add them to the pilot.

Extended Recertification Periods

Nebraska also took up the option under the Coronavirus Response Act to extend certification periods for families who would have been scheduled to re-certify for SNAP during the months of March, April, and May. This means these families will not have to go through the recertification process at this time and their SNAP eligibility will automatically be extended for six months. This will allow DHHS to focus on processing applications for new families needing SNAP.

Extension of Reporting Requirements

This option provides DHHS with additional time to report to FNS with Quality Control case data. At this time, it is harder to receive timely verification from employers and to conduct their quality reviews. States are being given an additional 45 days to complete these Quality Control review

Nebraska is NOT pursuing the option to expand eligibility for children on reduced price lunch.

The Coronavirus Response Act also creates temporary SNAP eligibility for children who qualify for free and reduced lunch and whose schools have been closed. This is referred to as “Pandemic EBT.” In Nebraska, this option would mainly benefit children who receive reduced priced lunches as those families are generally over the SNAP income threshold in Nebraska.

In conversations with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department has said they do not believe they have the capacity to deal with the operational challenges of extending eligibility to these children. It is an option they may reconsider in the future.

Again, thank you so much to the office of Senator Sara Howard for compiling this resource. 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
(402) 471-2722
Email: mhunt@leg.ne.gov
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