Recommended Allocation of Remaining CARES Funds
Recently, Governor Ricketts announced another round of CARES funded grant programs to help address the ongoing disruptions caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. This round of funding includes $48.5 million in support for non-profits and direct service providers, as well as another $25 million for businesses and ag producers who have not yet received assistance. Notably absent from the over $500 million in CARES funding allocated thus far is assistance flowing directly to ensure all Nebraskans can meet their basic needs, including food, shelter, health care, and utilities.
With at least $149 million of remaining CARES funding that must be allocated or disbursed by December 31st, we should act quickly to address the most pressing needs in our communities. Below, we provide a blueprint for direct assistance that would significantly impact the safety and well-being of our communities across the state. The proposals are divided into two categories: (1) health care and (2) economic and community supports.
Recommended Allocation of CARES funds to support Health Care
- Public Health Funding
- Increase the number of community-based contact tracers in the state and to support an increase in what they are paid. Additional funding support should also be used to improve tracking the disparate racial and ethnic impacts of COVID-19, purchase additional medical equipment, allow for better cleaning and sanitization of facilities, including public spaces and prisons and jails, and provide for tribal and local level COVID response funding.
- Direct Assistance to Cover Medical Bills
- Pay medical bills and costs for COVID related testing and treatment so that the bill does not land on patients, including providing direct assistance to patients and supporting public hospitals and clinics with treatment costs.
- Public Outreach Campaigns
- Support outreach for Medicaid, especially to those newly eligible and in conjunction with Medicaid expansion. Funding should also support additional public health campaigns to increase awareness of public health measures and to disseminate important COVID-19 information.
- Enhance Language Access for COVID-19 Related Services (testing and other programs; enhanced contact tracing with language capacity)
- Current efforts to provide COVID-19 related services fail to account for language barriers many Nebraskans face. Funding should be allocated to improve language access to these services, including COVID-19 testing. Additionally, the state should enhance contact tracers’ language capacity and ensure communities can access the services through technology.
Recommended Allocation of CARES funds for community and economic support
- One-time increase to ADC benefits for Nebraska families
- A one-time disbursement of supplemental cash assistance to Nebraska families participating in our Aid to Dependent Children program (ADC) would help ensure families can meet short-term needs.
- State supplement to Unemployment Insurance
- There is CARES funding remaining in our Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. We should use some of the remaining funds to offer a supplement to the existing UI benefit amount. Our low unemployment rate does not take into account people who have dropped out of the workforce altogether and are no longer looking for work. A supplement to unemployment income would help people who are looking for work make ends meet.
- State Rental Assistance Program
- Evictions are an ongoing issue during the pandemic. For many reasons, it is in our best interest to make sure Nebraska families can remain in their homes during a public health emergency. The economic impact of COVID-19 has made it much harder for families across the state to make their rent payments each month. The current CDC eviction moratorium expires at the end of this year and will not protect people from being evicted for non-payment thereafter. We must direct funding to a rental assistance program to help tenants offset rental costs during the winter months and avoid eviction at a time when being displaced puts everyone in our communities at risk.
- State Utility Assistance Program
- With COVID cases on the rise as we move into the winter months, it is vital to ensure that Nebraskans can avoid utility shut-offs. Funding should be allocated directly to utility providers on behalf of individuals who are unable to make their monthly payments. Utility providers would receive the support they otherwise would not, and Nebraskans can continue to heat their homes during the coldest months of the year.
- Nebraska Meatpacking and Poultry Plant Health Inspection and Enforcement to Mitigate Spread of COVID-19
- Support comprehensive health inspections of meatpacking and poultry plants to ensure they comply with public health measures and mitigate risks related to the spread of COVID-19. This funding should also build up enforcement mechanisms when a plant is noncompliant. To that end, we should make the Meatpacking Coordinator position, currently only half-time, into a permanent full-time position.
- Increase Funding for Vocational Rehabilitation Services to Help Employ Nebraskans Displaced from Work due to COVID-19
- Funding should be allocated to support VR services, including technology literacy training for those in especially vulnerable industries affected by the pandemic, such as hospitality.
- Sick and Safe Leave Program for COVID-19 Relief
- Provide paid sick leave coverage for people who work for large employers. The federal legislation addressing paid sick leave did not include employers with more than 500 employees, which left out most meatpacking plants. People who work for larger employers and currently don’t have access to paid sick leave must be able to take time away from work, if needed, without risking their livelihood.
- Nebraska Household Relief Measures for all Nebraskans Regardless of Immigration Status
- Ensure relief measures include all Nebraskans, regardless of immigration status. For example, the state should provide relief checks for mixed immigration status families left out by federal stimulus checks. Additionally, the state’s efforts to assist with affording rent payments, utilities, food, or transportation must include all Nebraska families, regardless of immigration status.
- Resources for Education to Help Nebraska Students and Classrooms
- Support Nebraska students by providing resources for classrooms to be meeting the needs of all students. Specifically, resources should be used to increase technological literacy, provide technology so that low and low-middle income students and teachers can participate fully in online classrooms and manage remote learning. Additionally, resources should support ESL classes, particularly with parents helping their kids with online education in English.
- Moratorium on youth aging out of foster care during the pandemic
- Support a moratorium on youth aging out of foster care during the pandemic. Aging out of foster care during a public health crisis places former foster youth at risk and complicates access to programs and services that they need.
- Technology for youth and families in the child welfare system
- Provide needed technology to youth and families, including devices with internet access are needed to facilitate family visitation and provide access to services, such as telehealth.
As we head into the winter with COVID-19 cases rising across our state and country, our state’s remaining federal funding must support Nebraskans who are struggling to meet their basic needs, including Black and Latinx communities who have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. This proposal lays out a blueprint for ensuring that Nebraskans have access to food, housing, utilities, health care, and education in the coming months.
COVID-19 resources available to you
This pandemic is impacting our neighbors in vastly different ways. We know that social distancing and economic uncertainty are difficult and even more so for many community members. In response, we have created a COVID-19 Resources page that reflects the most pressing needs in our communities right now.
We hope you and your loved ones find the resources you need on our page. We are continuously updating these resources as we learn more.