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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.
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!
We have experienced the effects of the corona virus very close to home here in District 30 this week. Yet, the resources and responses continue to expand, which is good news for us all as individuals, and for our economy and communities. I will touch on a few of those below. But first I would like to call to your attention some important items which can be handled from home.
Wednesday was Census Day. Households across Nebraska have already received or will soon receive a letter in the mail with information about how to be counted. The Census is vitally important to our state. Federal grants make up one-third of state budgets and 95% of these rely on census-derived data to distribute funding.
The survey is short, about eight questions per member of your household. Responses are required by law. Persons should be counted where they live most of the year and/or on April 1, 2020, Census Day. Representatives of the U.S. Census Bureau are able to help over the phone and offer language assistance.
If someone does not complete their form, a U.S. Census Bureau representative will have to visit the household to make sure everyone is counted. This costs the government more money, so I encourage you to respond as soon as possible.
By law, the Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about you, your home, or your business, even to law enforcement agencies. That’s protected under Title 13 of the U.S. Code. So you can be confident in doing your part to ensure Nebraska gets all the federal funding we should. Thankfully, for the first time ever, households can complete the census online, by phone, or by mail. Go to my2020census.gov to be counted, or 2020census.gov for more information from the United States Census Bureau.
Another important thing you can do by mail is vote! The primary election will take place in May, but any and everyone can request a mail-in ballot. This will help every voter and every person who volunteers at the polls to stay safe during the virus pandemic. Please, contact your county election commissioner if you have not yet received an application for a mail-in ballot. https://gagecountynebraska.us/ or https://www.lancaster.ne.gov/314/Election-Commissioner
Turning to information specifically about COVID-19, the state maintains a dashboard with updated information and statistics. It can be found here: https://nebraska.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/4213f719a45647bc873ffb58783ffef3
The distribution of economic impact payments from the congressional stimulus package will begin in the next three weeks and will be distributed automatically, with no action required for most people. However, some seniors and others who typically do not file returns will need to submit a simple tax return to receive the stimulus payment. For more information, go to the Internal Revenue website, https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus.
In line with federal recommendations, Nebraska has issued an executive order changing requirements for unemployment insurance (UI) claims filed between March 22 and May 2, with an understanding that the timeframe could be extended if needed.
For individuals who are not eligible for unemployment insurance, we now have Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, PUA. An example of those who can take advantage of PUA include, for example, independent contractors, sole practitioners, or those unable to work due to COVID-19. This program is 100% federally funded.
The loss of employment must be due to COVID-19, but the parameters include a number of reasons for being unable to work. Contact the Department of Labor for complete information. Please keep in mind that you must
must apply for unemployment insurance through the Nebraska Department of Labor to obtain PUA, but your application will be denied, because you are not eligible for regular unemployment benefits. However you will then automatically be pulled into the PUA system. This is how the system works so just be aware that denial of UI benefits is not the same as PUA. Go to: https://neworks.nebraska.gov/
The state emergency management system (NEMA) has been activated much like it was a year ago, to take care of the massive flooding across eastern Nebraska. In this instance with the corona virus, they are working closely with public health entities to monitor the supply chain and staffing of essential needs and industries. We are also fortunate to have UNMC and Nebraska Medicine located in our state, as they are on the front lines of the pandemic on a global scale.
As you are aware, things have been changing rapidly, so be sure you are checking ahead on restrictions and recommendations. If you have any specific questions or concerns please contact me directly at email@example.com or call my office and leave a message at 402-471-2620. My staff and I are working through your communications as they come in and we will respond as quickly as we can. Please follow the guidelines for staying safe and well, and we will get through this together.
This week the Legislature moved very quickly to pass an emergency funding measure of around $86 million. This will allow the state to respond to the unprecedented demands of the COVID-19 virus on a number of levels. The two main targets of funding are health and the economy.
I encourage everyone to keep taking all the recommended precautions! If you have any medical questions, please go to the Department of Health website: dhhs.ne.gov. The Nebraska COVID-19 Information Line is (402) 552-6645. It is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. CST – every day. State agencies are sharing information using the #NECOVID19 Hashtag. DHHS has produced COVID-19 Public Service Announcements which are available in English and En Español.
While many normal activities have been disrupted, we still need to look ahead. The deadline for requesting an absentee ballot or early ballot for the May primary election is just a few weeks away, I would strongly encourage everyone to apply to vote by mail. In Gage County, you may have received an application form in the mail. In Lancaster County, you must get the form from the election commission. Here’s the link: https://www.lancaster.ne.gov/331/EarlyAbsentee-Ballot
Unfortunately, there are always those who look to take advantage of others in a crisis situation. State Attorney General Doug Peterson urges caution, and wants consumers to be aware that fraudulent scams often occur during such times. You can contact that office online (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) or file complaints through the state website: https://protectthegoodlife.nebraska.gov
Another service that might be needed is legal advice. Nebraska Free Legal Answers is a website where individuals can ask civil legal questions which are answered by Nebraskan attorneys for free. This is a resource designed for low-income Nebraskans, but it is also appropriate for people who are facing hardships due to COVID-19 and cannot afford an attorney https://ne.freelegalanswers.org/
Several state divisions are working on ways to ease the hit to our economy. The Small Business Administration has details on emergency loans. Eligibility for Economic Injury Disaster Loans is based on the financial impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). The interest rate is 3.75 percent for small businesses. The interest rate for private non-profit organizations is 2.75 percent.
The SBA offers loans with long-term repayments in order to keep payments affordable, up to a maximum of 30 years and are available to entities without the financial ability to offset the adverse impact without hardship.
Applicants may apply online, receive additional disaster assistance information and download applications at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela.
Small business site: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/disaster-assistance
Applicants may also call SBA’s Customer Service Center at (800) 659-2955 or email email@example.com for more information on SBA disaster assistance.
Individuals who are deaf or hard‑of‑hearing may call (800) 877-8339. Completed applications should be mailed to U.S. Small Business Administration, Processing and Disbursement Center, 14925 Kingsport Road, Fort Worth, TX 76155. The deadline to apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan is Dec. 21, 2020.
The Department of Economic Development is working to inform and assist businesses during Nebraska’s ongoing response to COVID-19. Information for businesses is available on the DED website. DED is committed to serving Nebraskans facing financial challenges during this time, and understands that local economic leaders will play an important role in creating regional solutions for businesses and their workforce. The department’s Field Services Team is working with business leaders in these regions to address ongoing COVID challenges. https://opportunity.nebraska.gov/nded-covid19/
The National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA) is working with the National Business Emergency Operations Center (NBEOC) to assist the interagency crisis action task force. NAIFA’s consumer site provides individuals and businesses with information to avoid scams, tips on who to contact regarding health claims/questions, as well as how to find licensed, knowledgeable, ethical professionals to assist with financial security planning. https://security.naifa.org/covid-19
There is no question this is a stressful time, but help is available. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Talk with a counselor, a doctor, or a clergy member anytime of the day or week. Help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Interpreters are available as well.
Hotline: 1-800-985-5990 Messaging: text TalkWithUs to 66746. More information: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/disaster-distress-helpline
Boys Town National Hotline
The Boys Town National Hotline is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and is staffed by specially trained Boys Town counselors. This is a great resource for parents/caregivers and families.
Hotline: 1-800-448-3000. Email for speech- and hearing-impaired: firstname.lastname@example.org. More information:https://www.boystown.org/hotline/Pages/default.aspx
The Nebraska Family Helpline
A great resource for families concerned about a youth experiencing mental or behavioral health issues. Assistance is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Helpline: 1-888-866-8660 More information:http://dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/Nebraska-Family-Helpline.aspx
Nearly every state agency has information on their website. You can find links to these agencies by going to Nebraska.gov. For some specific tips, keep reading.
The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy’s Wastewater Division would like to remind people that sanitizing wipes, baby wipes and even “flushable” wipes are not flushable — regardless of what the product states. Flushed wipes cause sewer system blockages, resulting in overflows from manholes and basement backups. This can lead to expensive repairs and damage to your municipal systems or homes. Please throw sanitizing wipes in the trash.
Department of Labor
Unemployment Insurance Information https://dol.nebraska.gov/PressRelease/Details/141
Unemployment claims should be filed online at NEworks.nebraska.gov or on the free NEworks mobile app. For more information visit: Short-Time Compensation FAQ https://dol.nebraska.gov/stc
Department of Motor Vehicles
The DMV has generated a series of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) documents to assist customers with how the Governor’s recent executive order may impact them.
A virtual visitor system to keep veterans’ home members and their families connected while the facilities are limiting entry has been launched by the Nebraska Department of Veterans’ Affairs (NDVA). Access to the four state veterans’ homes is currently limited to NDVA teammates and medical professionals only, as a precaution against COVID-19 exposure.
The Lancaster County Veteran’s Service Center is closed to the public. The office is open but no longer accepting walk-ins for claims assistance and other in-person services. Veterans with claims specific or other questions may request information via email at email@example.com or by telephone at 402-441-7361. Veterans can continue to get information about benefits by visiting. https://www.lancaster.ne.gov/484/Veterans-Service-Center
Game and Parks
Nebraska Game and Parks’ public buildings are temporarily closed to public walk-in traffic until further notice.
All events and activities are cancelled through May 31 or until further notice.
State parks and recreation areas grounds remain open for day-use, fishing and recreation.
Park permits, fishing permits, and hunting permits should be purchased in advance online at http://outdoornebraska.gov/.
In a proactive state and national effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the health of its customers and staff, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is closing viewing blinds to public access. The commission aims to protect its staff and customers by removing opportunities for crowds to gather at facilities and events and by maintaining clean areas that are available to the public.
Enjoying the crane migration is available by using several driving routes from North Platte to Hershey. Buffalo Bill Ranch State Recreation Area has a scenic drive-through where cranes can be seen flying across the North Platte River and feeding in the adjacent meadows. Early mornings and late evenings, you can watch the cranes fly over the North Platte River at Cody Park in North Platte. The North Platte/Lincoln County Visitors Bureau has a self-guided Sandhill crane driving route brochure, which is available from their office located at 101 Halligan Dr. or online at https://visitnorthplatte.com/outdoor-recreation/
Blood drives are NOT covered by orders restricting travel or public gatherings of more than 10 people and are considered an “essential activity,” as outlined by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Eligible and healthy donors are strongly urged to make an appointment at redcrossblood.org to provide lifesaving blood products to patients.
County and city offices have a wide variety of adjustments to their programming right now. Remember to call ahead, or check websites.
A map of courthouse open/closures is available here: https://nacone.org/pdfs/COVID-19/COVID%20-%2019%20Map.pdf
The Beatrice Area Chamber has a dedicated page of information at http://www.beatricechamber.com/covid-19-resources
Main Street Beatrice also has information available on their site at https://www.mainstreetbeatrice.org/
Once again I want to remind you that my office is open 24/7 thanks to technology. Leave a message or send an email at any time, and we will respond as we are able. firstname.lastname@example.org 402-471-2620 Stay safe and well!
For many of us, the COVID-19 situation is the first experience of its kind in our lifetimes. Yet I am reminded there are many in our communities who survived historic, catastrophic worldwide events in years gone by. We can follow their example – and get through this even stronger.
I commend all those who are working on the front lines to keep medical facilities running at a high level, and the supply chain of goods flowing as needed. From shelf stockers to medical specialists, everyone is vital in this effort, and we appreciate the work they do more than ever.
Since the news changes so rapidly, I will simply go over some of the general issues that the Legislature and local governments are addressing. Besides strict adherence to health and hygiene precautions, there are many things we can be doing to mitigate the consequences of COVID-19.
The most important directive is to stay at home if at all possible! If we all abide by the restrictions and nothing happens, that is the best outcome we could ask for.
First, let me encourage you to support your fellow community members and small local businesses in safe and healthy ways. Please call ahead before visiting any government office or organization, to confirm their office hours and changes in operations. Our local news outlets are publishing lists of restaurants who have drive-through facilities or make deliveries. The local chambers of commerce are posting new procedures that local businesses have put in place.
These changes vividly demonstrate that there are many services and industries that must continue, and ‘working from home’ is just not an option. At the same time, many people are affected by job slow downs and layoffs, although some companies are actually hiring additional workers due to excess demand, such as Walmart. The Department of Labor is an excellent source of information for the latest announcements about financial aid and relief sources. Again, the news here changes rapidly and I encourage you to access their website for the newest details. www.dol.nebraska.gov.
Another excellent source of information is the Department of Health and Human Services. You can access their page at www.dhhs.ne.gov. If you have questions about taxes or filing deadlines, go to www.revenue.nebraska.gov. For educational updates, your local school district is the best authority.
I really want to encourage you – if you need help of any kind – ask for it! Whether it be with health, finances or the uncertainty of everything happening, there are services available. In Nebraska, a primary resource is the Rural Response Hotline at 800-464-0258. Another good number to call is 211. Assistance is available 24/7 by phone or text all across the state, with the most up-to-date information about the virus and available community resources.
As far as the Legislature, we had a conference call with the Governor late Friday afternoon. The Governor updated the senators on the need for some emergency funding for issues the state is experiencing with the COVID-19 needs. They have asked for $58.6 million in funding for various agencies from public health to the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. The legislature will meet Monday, March 23 and also the following Tuesday and Wednesday to address this funding request. Speaker Scheer said that we would reconvene the session at a later date when the COVID-19 issue has settled down.
Remember my office always remains “open” around the clock – just leave a phone message or send an email. These are being monitored by my staff and I, and we will respond. 402-471-2620 email@example.com
From the office of Senator Myron Dorn, District 30
COVID-19 has forced our nation, our state and local communities to take unprecedented measures; closures, restrictions and quarantines are becoming more common each day. I have received a few emails encouraging the state to do more in the way of helping employees who are on limited income and will be impacted by these measures. I wanted to post some information for those who may be facing financial hardship during this unprecedented shutdown. It is not an exhaustive list but I hope it may offer some guidance.
If you are facing financial hardship, I would encourage you to contact any entity with which you have financial concerns. If it is regarding your mortgage, energy provider, loans, etc. contact your lender and see what options they have available. I have received information from Black Hills Energy and NPPD that they offer various assistance options such as payment arrangements and budget billing.
The Nebraska Department of Labor is waiving the required work search requirement and the one week wait period for unemployment benefits for those who are unable to report to work due to closure or illness. The employer fee charge for the short-term benefits is also waived. More information can be accessed on the Department of Labor’s website at: www.dol.nebraska.gov
Those in the Medicaid program who use one of the three managed health care MCO’s: regarding COVID-19 testing, UnitedHealthCare, Nebraska Total Care, and WellCare have all agreed to waive cost-sharing or co-payment for both the COVID-19 test and the provider visit in which the COVID-19 test is administered for their insured populations here in NebraskaCare. These providers will waive early refill restrictions for most medications for the duration of the emergency, with the only exception being narcotics and specialty drugs.
Schools across the state are transitioning from classes in the school house to e-learning. This presents challenges to many families. Every school should be providing their students and parents with information. In addition to the particulars of each school district, here is information from the Nebraska Department of Education: www.education.ne.gov
“Local school districts have been preparing for potential closures for weeks and many have already implemented closures to address recent presumed positive or confirmed cases of COVID-19. The NDE advises districts to continue student learning using available resources. The NDE Office of Teaching, Learning, and Assessment has compiled virtual educational resources that are available on the e-Learning Days web page, and will continue to add resources as they become available.
The NDE knows food insecurity for students who rely on school meals is a major concern when extended school closures become necessary. The NDE was granted approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for alternate meal service flexibility in the case of extended closures. This allows schools to serve students meals through USDA-approved meal service options, at approved sites within the community. All schools with a student population of more than 50 percent free and reduced priced lunch have the opportunity to provide meals through the Summer Food Service Program whether or not they have participated in the program. Those schools will first need to complete an application and questionnaire. Once approved, schools will be able to provide these meals to any student, regardless of their enrollment. Schools with a student population of less than 50 percent free and reduced priced lunch can provide meals to low-income students in their school on a limited basis through an application. For more information or to apply, visit the Nutrition Services page at: https://www.education.ne.gov/ns/.”
If you have any questions about COVID-19, please visit the University of Nebraska Medical Center/Nebraska Medicine at: https://www.nebraskamed.com/COVID
Again, this is only a partial list of places a person may go to seek information or assistance. If you would like to have more information regarding the health aspects of COVID-19, I would recommend the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services website: www.dhhs.ne.gov
Please continue to follow the recommended guidelines as we all work together to contain the virus and return to our normal schedules as quickly as possible.
In all of our debate on the floor this week, regardless of the subject matter, conversations included the COVID-19 virus. It was a relatively productive week, moving through quite a few bills that were on first round debate. We still have a number of major issues before us, including the budget, which was taken up on Thursday, our last day of debate for the week.
Of course, the budget must now reflect the possibility that additional funds may be required to meet whatever needs arise from the virus and the effects of it. From a purely budgetary perspective, it is nearly impossible to predict what those needs might be at this time.
A briefing was held for senators and staff early in the week, bringing together representatives from Health and Human Services, Public Health departments, the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) and the Nebraska Department of Education. We are fortunate here in Nebraska to have one of the top centers in the country for handling contagious disease outbreaks. That expertise has helped our state be more prepared than others. Updates and advisories do change rapidly, and if you would like to access information about COVID-19 directly, I would recommend using either the Lincoln Lancaster County Public Health site: https://lincoln.ne.gov/city/health/ or the Public Health Solutions website: https://phsneb.org/. These websites will provide access to a wide variety of links, resources and information.
In the meantime, while we stay up to date and take precautions, work continues around District 30 on a number of fronts. This week I attended a meeting on the South Beltway project. You have no doubt seen the pre-construction projects underway between Highway 77 and Highway 2. Beginning in May, work will begin in earnest and road closures will begin to ripple across the construction zones. Once again, I would direct you to an informative website, which includes maps, a time line, announcements and contact information if you need to talk with someone in person: https://dot.nebraska.gov/lincoln-south-beltway/.
We moved several bills forward that outline a series of requirements for the state’s youth treatment centers (YRTCs). The bills address medical services; sleeping space, hygiene, education, programming, treatment, recreation and visitation; gender separation, sufficient staffing and better case management. Other requirements adopted include developing a five year plan, defining emergency situations and plans, and a study of costs.
LB911 is a bill that would enable the city of Grand Island to gift the former Nebraska Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery and adjacent land to the state in order to establish a new state cemetery for veterans and apply for funding assistance from the federal government. There is no state or national veterans’ cemetery in central Nebraska, so Grand Island is a good location with some existing infrastructure. This bill has an “e clause” – emergency clause – which would make the bill effective immediately upon passage.
The Legislature instituted a number of changes to attempt to reduce the possibility of spreading the COVID-19 virus. Any change in the legislative calendar will be posted at www.nebraskalegislature.gov . However, my office will continue to be “open” every day as always, thanks to email and phone messages. My staff and I will monitor communications and we will respond accordingly, should you contact my office. firstname.lastname@example.org 402-471-2620.
The latest report from the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board continues to show tax receipts coming in a bit above projections. The board met last week and projected tax receipts were adjusted up by $115 million. In the first seven months of the current fiscal year, which began last July, the state has already collected about $233 million in new revenue growth. The original forecast was for an increase of $160 million in revenue growth for FY 2019-2020. They have now increased that to $275 million for the fiscal year.
The forecasting board did not yet factor in the effects of COVID-19, the Corona virus which is having a global impact. In talking with the legislative fiscal analyst, I learned that the board did not feel they had a good enough grasp yet on the potential of the virus to interrupt supply chains and economic factors here in the state. So far there has not been a case in Nebraska apart from those individuals brought to UNMC in Omaha for treatment; and many regions of the USA are also unaffected at this time. The board members did say they expect to take another look at possible consequences of the virus at their next meeting in late October.
The legislature is now back to full day debate. One day this week we moved through eight different bills and another day, just two. Productivity cannot always be measured by the number of bills that are discussed, but we do have major issues still waiting in the wings. One of those, of course, is LB 974, dealing with property tax relief and school funding. I give a lot of credit to Sen. Linehan for the work she is doing to find proposals that will be acceptable to everyone concerned. But at this time, school officials I have talked with want to know how the state will meet funding obligations if the revenue does not continue to grow. Without amendments to address those concerns, I am not convinced the bill could pass. Hopefully we will get the opportunity to talk about it on the floor again next week.
LB 931 is a bill that clarifies some of the questions about transporting grain during the harvest season, or if it is taken from farm storage to final market later. This legislation would allow farmers to exceed truck weight limits by 15 percent to transport grain from field to farm storage, stockpile or market; and then from storage or stockpile to market later in the year – with a permit. County officials do have concerns about damage to the roads since trucks are bigger now and traffic counts for everyone in general are greater. I do want to emphasize that even if this bill passes, a permit needs to be obtained and must be carried in the truck, or a ticket can still be issued. I did vote to advance the bill even though I fully understand the concern of those charged with county road maintenance.
LB 803 is a bill that advanced this week and would create a check-off for pulse crops. In our part of the state we are familiar with corn, soybean and livestock check-offs; pulse crops are mainly grown in southwest and western Nebraska and include dry peas, lentils, chickpeas or garbanzo beans, faba beans and lentils. Having some funds to promote these crops could be very beneficial to farmers in our state, and the bill advanced on a 37-0 vote.
Thank you for sending your emails and calling my office with your views. Contact me any time at email@example.com or call 402-471-2620.
Governor Pete Ricketts and health officials announced Friday afternoon that the first COVID-19 positive patient has been confirmed in Nebraska.
A 36-year-old woman will be transferred from Methodist Hospital in Omaha to University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Biocontainment Unit in Omaha.
The source of the infection was not confirmed but, she had recently traveled with her father to the United Kingdom.
The session is now half done. Committee hearings are finished and we are returning to full day debate on the legislative floor. While it seems like that would help move things along, there are about 35 priority bills still sitting in committee, waiting to be voted out to the floor. Other major issues that are waiting for debate before the legislature e the budget, property tax, business tax incentives, the UNMC NeXT program and prison overcrowding. Some days we can get a lot accomplished and other days we get sidetracked in our discussion and move very few bills forward. So at this point in the session, there is only a small chance of discussing a bill if it has not been made a priority.
I am pleased that my own priority bill has already moved to the second stage of debate. I chose LB 1014 as my priority bill even though it was introduced by Sen. Lindstrom. The purpose of LB 1014 is to amend the Multiemployer Welfare Arrangement (“MEWA”) Act to allow self-employed individuals who are members of associations to participate in a multiemployer welfare arrangement in Nebraska. The practical result of this change allows farmers to obtain health insurance through entities such as their local cooperative at a lower cost than has been available to them in the market place.
A little history on this issue and LB 1014: Land O’ Lakes is a large farmer-owned cooperative and they offered farmers another avenue for health insurance. It was a group plan and so would be cheaper than what a farmer could find on the open market as an individual. Land O’ Lakes had a little over 1,000 people in the program. Late last fall, there was a federal ruling which said Nebraska was missing specific statutory language to allow this type of program. While the plan was able to remain in effect until the end of 2019, the Nebraska Department of Insurance has no independent state statutory authority to approve a MEWA for self-employed individuals so the cooperative farmer health plan could not be offered to Nebraska farmers in 2020. Hence the need for LB 1014. Senators Kolterman, Williams, La Grone and Lindstrom worked on language to address concerns raised at the bill’s public hearing and the bill advanced to Select File with 42 yes votes and 6 present and not voting.
One of the issues that was debated at length on the floor this past week was land banks. This allows government to revitalize properties that private investors do not want to tackle, because there is no financial gain for them. So land banks take these properties, fix them up and get them back on the tax rolls. Representatives from Hickman have talked to me about how this may help them clean up some of the more neglected homes in this city in our district.
There was also considerable discussion about “Pay for Play”. Senator Hunt introduced this bill to allow students to use their image to make money. The college or university would not be paying these players but players could capitalize on their ‘fame’. They would have to disclose to the school who they are working with, and it would be counted as income. Sen. Hunt believes that the federal government will step in and pass something so there would be uniformity in the law. If a national law is passed, then Nebraska law would be void. If passed, Hunt’s bill would not take effect until January of 2023.
Thank you for your calls and emails –keep them coming! You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office at 402-471-2620.
This week we began debate on a long awaited bill dealing with property taxes and school funding. The two issues are tied together since the state does not collect property tax; only counties, schools and other local entities collect property tax. The state only collects sales tax and income tax. So any bill that reduces the amount schools can bring in from property tax, must also address how the state will supplement school funding.
The property tax bill, LB 974, as introduced by the Revenue Committee has a couple of aspects that I like. One is adjusting the valuation of agricultural land from 75% to 65% to 55% over the course of three years. This change would only apply to the valuation for the purpose of school funding, and not the county or other local subdivisions. Residential valuations would drop to about 87% by the third year, for the same purpose, school funding only. I like the idea that we have the opportunity to do something that hasn’t been addressed for decades, and that is to change how valuations are used for taxing purposes.
Nearly every school in District 30 has contacted me with their concerns about how LB 974 will affect them. The premise of the bill is that foundation aid will replace revenue lost by the schools with the lower ag land and residential valuations. The question is whether state revenue streams and revenue growth will be sufficient and grow into future years. If it does not, how will the state fund their obligation; and how will tax rates and bases be adjusted if they become locked in under the provisions of LB 974? Another area of concern is the use of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in the bill, which correlates to the overall economy but has less relationship to the main expense incurred by school districts – personnel and wages. I agree that other economic indices might be a better fit.
The proponents of LB 974 support it for the property tax relief it is intended to provide. Opponents, mainly school systems, are left wondering how the funding shifts in the bill will affect their budgets. The Legislature’s Fiscal Office calculated the projected effect on each school and the state funding required. Their report showed 63 schools will be short about $56 million in funding by the end of three years. When you look at those numbers, you understand the school’s concerns.
As LB 974 stands right now, after three hours of debate and no consensus, the sponsors must show the Speaker they have at least 33 votes to continue debate. A compromise is needed in order to do this. Property taxes have become a significant expense for many families, farmers and businesses. As I visit with constituents in District 30 and other areas of the state, it is the number one concern they have. Property taxes are affecting our economic growth, especially agriculture. We need property tax relief. I am generally optimistic but we are not there yet. The issue is on hold until more agreement can be developed.
An important bill that did pass through to the next round of debate was LB 996, Sen. Tom Brandt’s priority bill. This bill will enable the Public Service Commission to accurately report broadband coverage in Nebraska in order to obtain some federal grant dollars to expand service. In what turned out to be a beneficial coincidence, the public Wi-Fi went down in the Capitol recently, and many senators were unable to access things on line. This was a good demonstration of what it is like in many rural areas of Nebraska, all the time. The importance of good broadband for economic development and education was discussed as well. I would also point out that I have talked with residents in District 30 who live within about ten miles of Lincoln and do not have good broadband or cell phone coverage. So this is not strictly a “rural” issue as most think of it, and the state could benefit from those federal grant monies. LB 996 passed first round debate on a 37-0-11 vote.
My office has received many calls and emails about a couple of “hot button” issues – motor cycle helmets and fire arms. Because of the short session and other big issues, bills that deal with these matters have a very small chance of making it to the floor for debate because they have not been designated as a priority bill (each senator can designate a priority bill and then the Speaker puts that bill on the agenda for debate ahead of non-prioritized bills.) LB 378 would repeal the motorcycle helmet requirement, but Sen. Ben Hansen did not make it his priority; he did indicate that he will introduce the measure again next year. LB 58, known as the Red Flag Law, was introduced by Sen. Morfeld. I do not support this bill – but again, it is not a priority bill so is not likely to be debated. LB 816 had a public hearing late in the week; and also has amendments to make it more neutral. However, it remains to be seen if that bill even comes out of committee. Again, it would have to be made a priority to get to first round debate, if the committee advances it.
As my own priority bill, I have adopted LB 1014. This bill was brought to the Banking and Insurance Committee. It would allow organizations, such as the Land O Lakes Cooperative, to offer health insurance to their farmer members. I will expand on the merits of this legislation next week.
In the meantime, please continue to contact me with any questions or concerns. Your opinions and insights are valuable to me as I listen to the debate on bills before the Legislature. email@example.com 402-471-2620
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