LINCOLN — The Nebraska Legislature moved closer Wednesday to distributing more than $1 billion in federal pandemic recovery funds — and boosted the bounty headed to such efforts as mental health services and bonuses to attract nurses.
State lawmakers, following a daylong hearing, tweaked the Appropriations Committee’s spending proposal for the state’s allotment of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.
Their 41-1 vote moved the package of about 40 projects and initiatives to the second round of legislative debate.
Changes adopted Wednesday included a $20 million infusion for construction of mental health treatment and education facilities, on top of $20 million Appropriations had already recommended. State Sen. John Arch of La Vista pushed for the extra funding. He said COVID-19 has only added to mental health problems.
Carrot for nursing students
Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil championed an amendment senators adopted calling for $10 million to help cover college debt for rural health care workers and nursing students.
Lawmakers also supported a $7 million request from Sen. Tim Gragert of Creighton for drinking water system infrastructure benefiting at least four rural communities.
And Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha garnered enough support for an amendment that now directs all $150 million of a fund for job training and business development to North and South Omaha. Before Wednesday, a third of that money would have been open to applications from low-income census tracts statewide.
Both east Omaha communities also are set to get the bulk of a $91 million pot of ARPA funds devoted to affordable housing projects in the Appropriations Committee proposal. The bill also contains another $60 million for a North Omaha business park near Eppley Airfield.
Pared down from $4 billion
Several other funding amendments failed to secure approval from the Legislature, including a request by Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue to provide bonuses for teachers. She chastised colleagues, saying they valued sewers over educators.
Speaker Mike Hilgers asked that any senators requesting changes suggest spending reductions in other areas. Blood had suggested cutting some funds from a sewer project at the state fairgrounds in Grand Island.
The $1.03 billion ARPA package was pared down from about $4 billion in proposals from lawmakers and Gov. Pete Ricketts.
The bill, as amended, also funds an array of other initiatives, including $100 million for shovel-ready construction projects statewide, $60 million for a rural health education complex at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, rural workforce housing, community college workforce development and a state law enforcement training facility in Grand Island.