Nebraska fails to overturn governor’s denial of rental assistance | Nebraska News
By GRANT SCHULTE, Associated Press
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – Nebraska lawmakers on Tuesday failed to override Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto of a bill that would have forced him to seek $120 million in federal pandemic rent assistance, leaving the state as the only flat refuse aid.
Supporters of the single-chamber legislature lost one vote out of the 30 they needed to overcome the Republican governor’s rejection of the money.
Lawmakers who pushed Nebraska to seek the extra aid said it made no sense to withhold the money, even if the state never used it all. Nebraska could invest unspent money, for example, and retain interest earned if the federal government demands that the state return what is not spent.
“If it can help one or two families in your communities, why not vote yes? said the bill’s sponsor, Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne. “There is no downside.”
Ricketts and other critics have argued that Nebraska still has $30 million in unspent money from a previous round of federal aid.
Ricketts argued in his veto letter that the money will encourage government dependency when the worst of the pandemic is over. He also pointed to Nebraska’s 2.1% unemployment rate, the lowest nationally, and the money still sitting idle.
“We cannot justify seeking federal assistance when Nebraska has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation and is no longer in a state of emergency,” Ricketts said in his veto letter.
The US Treasury Department announced in October that it would shift some of the money from programs that don’t need it to those with greater demand. In the case of Nebraska, lawmakers and housing advocates said it would mean extra money for Omaha and Lincoln, which have separate programs, but not for the rest of the largely rural state.
Nebraska will still have 40% of its $120 million available through 2025, or about $51 million. The remaining money, about $70 million, could be reallocated to Omaha; surrounding Douglas County; the city of Lincoln and surrounding Lancaster County.
States and localities have until September to spend their share of the first allocated $25 billion, called ERA1, and the second $21.55 billion, called ERA2, by 2025.
Under federal rules, the money can be used for housing assistance, eviction prevention services and affordable housing activities.
Other conservative lawmakers have questioned the long-term consequences of federal government spending in the event of a pandemic.
“At some point we have to stop,” said Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson. “There is no such thing as free money. When I hear that term, it annoys me. You take money from someone and give it to someone else, or you just print money. Either way, it hurts Nebraska.
Nonprofit housing advocates said many residents are still suffering from the pandemic and need help paying their rent.
“It’s incredibly disappointing that some of our elected officials are completely ignoring the voices of their communities asking them for help in favor of a purely political argument that helps no one,” said Erin Feichtinger, director of policy and advocacy for Together social services agency. .
Some said the housing assistance application process is cumbersome, which is why demand appears to be low in some parts of the state, but some tenants are still being evicted.
“Why are we turning our backs on people who could potentially use it?” asked State Sen. Mark Kolterman, of Seward. “It’s just a business decision that has a lot of upside and not a penny of downside.”
Associated Press writer Michael Casey contributed from Boston.
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