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In reaction to the COVID-19 virus outbreak the Federal government threw together a $2.2 trillion aid package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. It is another perfect example of out of control government spending personified by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s famous Obamacare quote, “but we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.”
CARES (which adds 9.3% to our already unsustainable national debt) is a hodgepodge of something for everybody. The $2.2 trillion works out to be approximately $6,700 per every man, woman and child in America. We all know about the $1,200 dollars per adult and $500 per child direct payments for families making $150,000 and individuals making $75,000 or less. Much, much more is being handed out; 12.5% of it is directed specifically towards state and local governments’ COVID-19 response.
One section of local interest in the CARES Act that affects our state and local tax dollars is the $30.75 billion Education Stabilization Fund (ESF). The federal dollars (I hesitate to use the term tax dollars since federal spending, by the baby boomer generation, has very little to do with taxes collected) are divided into three emergency relief funds distributed to each state based primarily on the ratio of a state’s student population to the national total.
-The Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEERF) ($2.95 billion nationally). Governor Ricketts will have $16.4 million at his disposal to spend as he sees fit on education in Nebraska.
-The Higher Education Relief Fund ($13.95 billion). Nebraska’s 46 higher education institutions will receive $66.2 million total. Mid-Plains Community College is estimated to receive $842,000 in aid, UNL $16.2 million and UNK $4.2 million.
-The Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Fund ($13.2 billion). Nebraska’s public schools’ share will be approximately $60.8 million. Each school district will receive 83% of what they received this year from the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Title 1-A grants. Based on the $942,987 in Title 1-A funds North Platte schools received this year, they should receive $782,679 in aid. Likewise, Maxwell will receive in thousands $48.4, Hershey $37.1, Sutherland $25.4, Brady $24.6 and Wallace $19.4.
The ESF federal dollars distributed through the CARES Act will be sent directly to each of the recipients designated in the law. The Legislature and, except for the dollars he receives from the GEERF, the Governor have no say in the distribution of the federal dollars. But we do have control over state funding and I believe we must take into account this newly printed federal money when we look at state and local education funding. We would hope that local school districts would use the additional money to pass it on through property tax relief for those hurting most economically from the virus scare.
Considering that overall, Nebraskans have already invested in the technology needed for remote education opportunities in their schools, school budgets should have decreased expenditures due to the physical closing of school buildings. Savings should be garnered from unused substitute teachers, out-of-school-activities, utility bills, custodial cost, employee travel expenses, etc. Those unused tax dollars should be able to offset expenses in next year’s budgets. Therefore, I plan to look at legislation that transfer this newfound federal money into local property tax relief.
A freedom loving society needs a strong government infrastructure. Those public servants working for us need to be supported, but the opposite is true too. This is not the time for local elected boards to be passing out pay raises, benefit increases or adding programs. This is a time for government to be seen doing its job and not heard. Unlike some on the national and state level who beat their chest and point to themselves, I have been impressed at the quiet dedication and hard work put in by local public service employees, medical professionals, senior living facility workers and public safety personnel.
Contact Sen. Mike Groene: email@example.com or 402-471-2729.