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As we continue to work together through the unprecedented circumstances of the virus in our area, I want to provide some information on various issues and programs that might be helpful. Health recommendations and tips can be found easily, so I am going to focus on current events and resources for support.
We had a conference call this past week to get an update from the chairman of the Appropriations Committee on which I serve. We do not yet know what the total financial impact on the state and the many sectors of our economy will be from the virus; or how much federal aid flowing into Nebraska will help reduce these impacts. Nor do we have any idea when the Legislature will be able to reconvene.
In this current session, the appropriations committee introduced adjustments to our 2019 biennium (two year) budget, which had passed first round debate before our recess. During our three day session in late March the legislature passed $83.6 million to be used for the states coronavirus funding needs.
The budget came to the floor with $731 million in the so called rainy day fund, based on the forecasting board’s revenue projections. They had their most recent meeting on February 28th. At the start of this fiscal year there was $455 million in the rainy day fund. With the forecasted revenue increases, above projections for this fiscal year, the fund grew to that $731 million figure. We also had $130 million in funding to be used on the floor for appropriation bills, such as property tax relief. The $83.6 million in Covid-19 funding will come out of the rainy day fund, bringing that total down to $647.4 million.
What happens as we go forward? The state gets revenue data out for the previous month on about the 15th of the following month. February data was released on March 15th; March data will be known about April 15th, and so on. The further we go along the more information we will have on the decrease in revenue due to the Covid-19 slowdown. Most likely much of the increase in the rainy day fund will be gone, because of having less revenue than what was projected. If the legislature doesn’t meet until June or July we will have two or three months of data on which to base our budget adjustments.
Budget items such as property tax relief, 2019 flooding issues, and appropriation bills on the floor will all be affected by our revenue stream. The greater the loss of revenue the more effect it will have. Also delaying Income tax filing deadline from April 15 to July 15 will have an effect on timing of the revenue The flow of income taxes into revenue will mean less revenue in April and more in July, which puts it in to the next fiscal year. It will need to be accounted for in another fiscal year and will have an impact on decisions for this fiscal year. It is safe to say the work of the Appropriations Committee, and the entire Legislature, has increased exponentially.
Every spring our district experiences reduced air quality from the smoke coming from Kansas. I contacted the Governor’s office about this, in light of the respiratory virus heightening our concerns. The following information was provided:
“Thank you for sharing your concerns over prescribed burns in the Flint Hills in Kansas. In 2016, the State of Nebraska worked with both the federal Environmental Protection Agency and State of Kansas to revisit concerns over this issue and Kansas developed a Smoke Management Plan. Since then, the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy and Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services regularly work with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment regarding the impact prescribed fires and wildfires have on air quality. In 2018, DHHS implemented a public smoke advisory system for the Flint Hills burns and activated the system again this year when the 2020 prescribed burn season began on March 5. Smoke advisories are issued to the public when conditions make it likely that the smoke from the burns could affect air quality in parts of Nebraska. Advisories use data provided by the state of Kansas, smoke plume modeling, and information from air quality monitors located in Bellevue, Lincoln and Omaha.
On March 26th, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas Department of Agriculture sent a letter strongly encouraging all land owners and managers to voluntarily reduce the number of acres that they intend to burn this spring due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Prescribed burns in Kansas are a part of their rangeland management strategies and, when done according to its smoke management plan, do not violate federal air quality requirements. Nebraska is working to minimize impacts and provide relevant and timely information so individuals can take steps to protect their health when Nebraska’s air quality is affected.”
A number of government divisions and organizations are providing assistance related to their areas of expertise. Here a few that have come to my attention:
Reminder to request a ballot for the primary
If you have not contacted the county election commissioner or received a form in the mail, applications also may be completed at https://sos.nebraska.gov/elections/early-voting. You must request a mail-in ballot by May 1, 2020.402-471-2620
For caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s
The Alzheimer’s Association.has online resources, virtual community programs, telephone support groups, caregiver tips and a 24/7 Helpline are all available.
Helpline: 800.272.3900 https://www.alz.org/nebraska
For people who have Diabetes and at higher risk for COVID-1
The American Diabetes Association is providing support and guidance to constituents impacted by diabetes, who are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. You can access helpful resources, understand your risk, know your legal rights, and connect with community at https://www.diabetes.org/coronavirus-covid-19. Make sure you know how to reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19 and what to do if you or a loved one develops symptoms. In addition, many people are now facing unexpected financial hardships. If you are struggling to pay for insulin, the ADA has resources to help – visit InsulinHelp.org. Questions? The American Diabetes Association is here to help during this challenging time: click here or call their Center for Information at 1-800-DIABETES (800-342-2383).
Federal emergency allotments will be used to increase the amount of funds SNAP recipients receive for the months of March and April 2020. No action is needed from SNAP recipients to receive the supplemental support. SNAP recipients will be issued increased benefits on their current EBT cards. Supplemental benefits for March will be issued April 11 and supplemental benefits for April will be issued May 7.
Help for Small Businesses
The dominant programs to help our small businesses will derive from the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the CARES Act. Please know, there are additional programs that can help, such as the CDBG program listed above, to micro-lenders such as the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP) and Nebraska Enterprise Fund. I would ask that you direct your constituents to our website at www.opportunity.nebraska.gov and click on the COVID resources link. They may also call 402-471-3111 and our receptionist will direct them to one of our business specialists for personal assistance. Links and more information can be found at the US Treasury website: https://home.treasury.gov/
https://www.nebraska-dining.org/ The Nebraska Restaurant Association is partnering with a national ad agency to assist local businesses in promoting their menus and take out/delivery options. Find more information on their website.
For Rural Development programs
Go to https://www.rd.usda.gov/coronavirus to learn more about the opportunities USDA Rural Development is implementing to provide immediate relief to our customers, partners, and stakeholders.
For Health Providers
The Department of Insurance along with the major insurance companies, has compiled information about coverage for telehealth. Find more information at: https://www.doi.nebraska.gov/
Contact my office at any time with your concerns and we will get back to you as soon as we can. firstname.lastname@example.org 402-471-2620. Follow the guidelines and stay well!