With a unanimous 45-0 vote on Wednesday afternoon, Nebraska state senators approved $83.6 million in emergency funding to help battle the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in the state.
District 48 State Senator John Stinner of Gering, who sponsored the legislation, said the Legislature added another $25 million in unobligated funds to the bill, to be held in reserve for any unforeseen expenses. If unused, they would be returned to the state’s Cash Reserve Fund.
“It’s a significant number,” Stinner said. “A lot of people are concerned about getting the appropriate funding and also the equipment we need to fight this virus.”
The legislation is a revision of Stinner’s original bill that dealt with discretionary spending items that might not have made it into the state budget.
The emergency funding will be transferred from the state’s Cash Reserve Fund to the Governor’s Emergency Cash Fund. From there, dollars are directed to the newly created Governor’s Emergency Program – COVID-19. The program is housed within the state’s Military Department.
Stinner, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, reviewed the state’s cash flow with the budget director.
“It looks like we have enough resources to get us at least through this year, although delaying some of the filings might cause a bit of a problem. But it looks like we have plenty of cash to get through this.”
Stinner said the senators, called back into session to deal with this one bill, all want to do the right thing by allocating sufficient funding to provide the needed resources to the state’s healthcare providers.
A few of the major provisions in the emergency funding will help maintain staffing at the state’s veterans’ homes and Health and Human Services care facilities, personal protective gear and supplies to local health departments and more COVID-19 testing through the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
District 47 State Senator Steve Erdman of Bayard said the funding is flexible because they don’t know how much spending would be necessary, so they left it to the governor’s discretion.
“We’ll also need some help in distributing the resources, so the National Guard might be able to help,” Erdman said. “We don’t want to have another emergency session, so we included the extra $25 million in case it’s needed. Some of the new drug treatments have had good results, so hopefully, we’ll be back sooner than later.”
Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer had suspended the legislative session on March 16 in response to growing health concerns over the coronavirus. Senators were called back this week to deal with the emergency funding package.
The Legislature will also need a special session to complete its work for the session, including the passage of a budget. Scheer told senators to be ready when he calls them back into session, although that date is still to be determined.