Relief for renters, restrictions for more counties, $84 million approved in coronavirus fight

The Nebraska Legislature voted on coronavirus funding Wednesday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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March 25, 2020 - 5:50pm

Governor Pete Ricketts announced relief for renters but more restrictions in eastern Nebraska counties, as the Nebraska Legislature approved nearly $84 million to fight the coronavirus.

Responding to concerns about people being evicted during a public health crisis, Ricketts announced he’s signed an executive order to delay evictions until after May 31. At a news conference, the governor talked about who would and would not be covered.

“It applies specifically to people who have been impacted by the coronavirus, whether you've lost your job, or maybe you've been sick, or maybe you've got kids at home so you can't go to work…

And it's also important to note that this does not apply to people who are involved in a criminal activity, does not apply to people who are vandalizing the units, because that presents health and safety issues for the other tenants,” Ricketts said.  

In addition, Ricketts applauded action by the Apartment Association of Nebraska,  which includes owners and managers of 46,000 units across the state, which is recommending a 90-day halt on evictions due to financial hardship. Ninety days would extend into late June.

The governor also said he will sign a directed health measure imposing additional restrictions on Lancaster, Dodge and Saunders counties. Restrictions already in place in Douglas, Sarpy, Cass and Washington counties limit public gatherings to 10 people and require restaurants and bars to limit services to takeout, delivery and drive-thru service. In the rest of the state, those are recommendations, not requirements. They will now be requirements in Lancaster, Dodge and Saunders counties.

The governor also called for Nebraskans to donate blood. Waysun Dun of the American Red Cross talked about the need.

“If the need for blood exceeds available supplies, we will have yet another health care crisis on top of the COVID-19 emergency,” Dun said.

The governor was also asked, considering the situation, why the state shouldn’t expand Medicaid immediately. Voters approved Medicaid expansion in November, 2018, to cover an estimated 90,000 additional low-income Nebraskans, but the Ricketts administration has said it won’t take effect until October 1.  That’s because the administration wants to institute a two-tier system, with one tier of basic coverage, and another, including dental and vision coverage, if people are working, going to school, or caring for a relative.

Ricketts said the state is already a long way down the path toward implementing the two-tier system, having applied to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, for permission.

“If we wanted to go back and change that now we would have to go back to CMS to ask permission to do it. And assuming they were willing to do that, then we would have to start rewriting our entire systems all over again. That would push back the start date past October,” Ricketts said.

The governor also responded to critics who wonder why the state hasn’t ordered people to stay home, similar to what has happened in other states like New York and California.

“We're not making decisions based upon some emotion in the moment. What we're doing is based upon a plan that we are working, that we started working weeks ago. It focuses on limiting those big public gatherings. If you want to go out and go to a business with less than 10 people, that's going to accomplish that big picture goal of limiting the spread of the virus. If you want to go outside, go for a run, that's

great. We're not looking to shut down business because for our plan, it's not necessary to shut down business,” he said.

The governor’s comments came as the Legislature voted 45-0 final approval for a spending package to fight the coronavirus. The package include money for personal protective equipment, call centers, and computer needs for local governments and health departments, additional staff for veterans homes, care facilities and the Department of Health and Human Services. It also includes money for software, supplies, personnel and equipment for testing, communications software, and equipment to clean respirators.

Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer thanked his colleagues for meeting to approve the package, despite the risk to their health.

“We're doing what we need to do at a time that it needs to be done. And I thank you for the passage of the bill. We have provided not only what the governor's asked, but we have provided them with additional funds that will help him and the state to recover and minimize the damage done to our economy and our residents,” Scheer said.

The Legislature is now once again in recess, and Scheer said he doesn’t know when it will reconvene, except that it won’t be in the two weeks before the primary election, currently scheduled for May 12, which he said would allow senators who are running for reelection to campaign. When the Legislature does get back together, he said it will meet for the remaining 17 business days of the session over a period of three weeks.



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