Urban Affairs

Pandemic funding update expanded, advanced

A bill that would update a measure passed by the Legislature last year related to federal pandemic funds was expanded and given first-round approval April 11.

Sen. Terrell McKinney
Sen. Terrell McKinney

LB531, as introduced by Sen. Terrell McKinney of Omaha, would make clean-up changes to the Economic Recovery Act passed by the Legislature in 2022, which provided funding for pandemic recovery projects in North and South Omaha and other communities that were disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2022 measure was designed to use federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, as well as transfers from the state’s cash reserve, to fund grant programs through the Economic Recovery and Incentive Division of the state Department of Economic Development.

McKinney said the bill’s focus is economic development, noting that North and South Omaha historically have been underserved and “held back” by decades of economic neglect, mass incarceration, violence and poor educational outcomes.

“As someone who grew up in North Omaha, I had a front-row seat to the constant depreciation of my community,” McKinney said, adding that the goal of LB531 is to approach those problems “through an economic lens.”

As introduced, LB531 would make several updates to division operations and the funding process. An Urban Affairs Committee amendment, adopted 26-0, replaced the bill.

Among other provisions, the amendment would create and outline administration of the North and South Omaha Grant Program and state legislative intent to increase from $250 million to $365 million the general fund appropriation in FY2023-24 to DED to carry out the Economic Recovery Act.

The committee amendment also would authorize a grant of not more than $20 million to create a museum within the boundaries of a qualified census tract in a metropolitan class city in honor of a person inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame on or before June 30, 2023.

Malcolm X was selected in 2022 for induction into the Nebraska Hall of Fame and Omaha currently is the state’s only metropolitan class city.

The amendment also would authorize grants of up to $20 million to federally qualified health centers in a metropolitan class city and up to $15 million for contracted services for program management for the North and South Omaha Grant Program.

Finally, the committee amendment would increase the grant cap for development of an airport business park in a metropolitan class city from $60 million to $100 million.

McKinney offered an amendment to the committee amendment, adopted 32-0, that added amended provisions of Lincoln Sen. Eliot Bostar’s LB506. The provisions would authorize a $180 million grant to a primary class city to fund a water treatment plant, land acquisition, wellfields, permitting, pumping and transportation costs to provide potable water to the city.

Lincoln currently is Nebraska’s only primary class city.

Following adoption of the amendments, lawmakers voted 30-0 to advance LB531 to select file.

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