Bill would direct pandemic funds to North Omaha
A bill to aid COVID-19 recovery efforts in North Omaha was heard Feb. 1 by the Urban Affairs Committee.
LB1024, introduced by Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne, would appropriate $450 million of the federal American Rescue Plan Act funds allocated to Nebraska to North Omaha, an area he said has poverty rates persistently higher than the state average. Federal guidance has specified that such areas are presumptively eligible for ARPA funds.
The bill also would create the North Omaha Recovery Special Committee of the Legislature, which would direct funds to North Omaha through grants to public and private entities targeted at one of four categories: housing and homelessness, small business recovery, community well-being and community assistance and programming.
The special committee would include the chairperson of the Urban Affairs Committee, the Speaker of the Legislature and at least two additional senators who represent districts located in eligible areas of Omaha.
Wayne said ARPA funds were designed to assist low-income areas like North Omaha that have been affected disproportionately by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now is the time for big and bold ideas,” Wayne said. “For generations, the North Omaha that I represent, along with Sen. [Terrell] McKinney, has been neglected by state and local officials of all political stripes. The social and economic challenges that North Omaha has been dealing with for generations and generations, COVID has made worse.”
Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer testified in support of LB1024. He said city priorities like violence prevention, affordable housing and job training align with those of the bill.
“The North Omaha community has worked closely with the Omaha Police Department to reach some of our lowest violent crime records in the history of the city, however, they are still disproportional and they have spiked during the pandemic,” Schmaderer said. “I’d rather have 1,000 jobs strategically placed in the right part of our city to affect poverty. That would reduce violent crime far more than 1,000 more police officers.”
Also supporting the bill was Osie Combs, CEO of Pacific Engineering. The Lincoln-based company would like to expand into North Omaha, he said, but needs qualified workers.
“We need to go to Omaha North High School, where the talent is, and start early,” Combs said. “We can’t start high-level programs in two days. It takes a measured program that this bill offers.”
Mark Norman of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce also spoke in support. Norman said LB1024 could help make an airport business park — a longstanding GOCC priority — a reality. Norman said a nearly 150-acre site has been identified for such a park, with an estimated cost of $80 million to $90 million for site acquisition and infrastructure development.
“We estimated that seven projects could locate [in the park] and could employ up to 1,700 people,” Norman said. “This would generate a direct and indirect economic impact of $650 million annually to Douglas County, and $738 million statewide.”
No one testified in opposition to LB1024 and the committee took no immediate action on it.