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We have passed the mid point of April, and have received a report from the Department of Revenue about tax receipts in Nebraska for March. March 2020 General Fund receipts were $41.3 million higher than the certified forecast. While the amounts were above original projections, there are some important points to keep in mind when looking at those figures.
March receipts do not yet show the economic slow down due to the virus, and the significant increase above projection continued the trend we had seen for the previous eight months (July through February). The April report will no doubt be much different due to the time lag in reporting which I discussed in last week’s update.
Another consideration is that the current “certified forecast” for April was based on the traditional April 15 income tax filing deadline. Extending the filing date to July 15 could shift $385 million from FY2019-20 (April, May, and June) into FY2020-21 (mostly July and August).
The combination of the virus and the new tax deadline could cause April receipts to be much lower than the certified forecast when that report comes out in May. It will be a challenge to determine how much is due to the change in the income tax filing deadline and how much is due to the COVID-19 outbreak and economic conditions.
At this point, all we have are some estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that 70% of the jobs lost due to the pandemic are in lower wage industries such as hospitality and retail. Their models show an impact of about $63 million in lost economic activity in Nebraska for March. Nebraska state and local sales tax receipts are estimated to have declined by $924,469 in the month of March. State personal and corporate income tax receipts are estimated to have declined $794,501 over the same period. Again, we won’t be able to verify these estimates until mid May.
Turning to the COVID-19 situation directly, we are seeing a wide variety of needs in our district’s population. Thankfully, there are many different resources available where we can find assistance.
A one-stop-shop of federal programs that can be used by rural communities, organizations and individuals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic is the:. The COVID-19 Federal Rural Resource Guide (PDF, 349 KB). This is a first-of-its-kind resource for rural leaders looking for federal funding and partnership opportunities to help address this pandemic.USDA has taken many immediate actions to assist farmers, ranchers, producers, rural communities, and rural-based businesses and organizations impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information on these actions, visit www.usda.gov/coronavirus.
Another resource for rural areas has been developed by UNL Extension. Extension educators from across Nebraska have compiled a variety of resources for rural Nebraskans including information on managing COVID-19-related stress; University of Nebraska Medical Center COVID-19 resources and guidelines; online mental health screenings; and videos, podcasts and other resources to aid Nebraskans in helping their children complete their schoolwork and learning at home. Access this site at: https://ruralwellness.unl.edu/
Additionally, the site includes the numbers for two important hotlines: the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and the Nebraska Rural Response Hotline, 1-800-464-0258. The Rural Response Hotline can connect farmers and ranchers and their families with attorneys, financial counselors, mediators and other farmers, offering no-cost vouchers for counseling to eligible rural Nebraskans, among other services.
The University of Nebraska is also offering resources to all kinds of businesses through an online platform—SourceLink. This connects Nebraskans with University services that support entrepreneurship, business, and economic development. You can explore SourceLink at: nebraska.edu/sourcelink.
In Lincoln, a new app, myLNK, is free and available on Android and Apple app stores with over 12,000 downloads to date. The website, https://mylnk.app/home, provides the same information and translates into Arabic, Spanish, and Vietnamese. People using the app can search for services, “diapers,” organizations, “Legal Aid,” or view by category for a Food and Health Calendar with daily information. myLNK is a community effort including the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, Center for People in Need, and is developed by Don’t Panic Labs. myLNK and the United Way collaborate with 211 serving as the voice call solution for resources and myLNK as the tech-focused solution.
Foodnet is a group of volunteers from many different churches and other non-profit organizations trying to stop the waste of food and provide for those in need. Foodnet collects food from donors for distribution at sites around the Lincoln area each day. Foodnet provides mostly perishable foods such as fruits, vegetables, dairy products and bread. Foodnet distributions sites are continuing to serve those in need in Lincoln, Crete, Denton, Milford, and Seward during the COVID-19 outbreak. Each site is taking precautions to handle food in the safest way possible.
People in need of food can check out the Food Bank of Lincoln distribution schedule at: https://www.lincolnfoodbank.org/get-food/food-distribution-schedule/
To donate, Nebraskans can visit: https://www.lincolnfoodbank.org/donate/
Last week, Governor Ricketts extended waivers to August 1 for COVID-19 unemployment insurance claims. These include the waiver of the requirement to search for work, the waiver of the requirement to serve a waiting week between claim processing and the first payment, and the waiver of employer benefit charges.
Any worker in a non-paid status due to COVID-19 may file a claim for unemployment insurance benefits. Unemployment claims in Nebraska are filed online at NEworks.nebraska.gov. The NEworks mobile app is available to download for free. After filing a new initial claim, applicants must certify their eligibility every week that they continue to be unemployed by logging into their NEworks account. These weekly certifications must be completed even while a new claim is still being processed.
Remember to be alert to scams, send in your mail-in ballot before May 12, and follow the recommendations to stay safe and healthy! Contact me any time at mdorn@ leg.ne.gov or call 402-471-2620.