The legislative chambers inside the Omaha/Douglas County Civic Center.

The Omaha City Council and Douglas County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday to again dole millions of dollars out to help struggling businesses and citizens still reeling from the effects of COVID-19.

One of the industries hit hardest by COVID-19, hotels, are set to receive nearly $4.5 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The Omaha City Council unanimously approved the agreement to distribute that money among 46 area hotels during Tuesday’s meeting.

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Deborah Ward, executive director of the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau, said hotel revenue in Omaha declined by 51% in 2020, and it was still down 8% in 2021. The pandemic resulted in a $343 million loss in visitor spending in 2020, she said. Ward also said it wiped out a decade of growth.

“Each hotel has their own story,” Ward said. “There are hotels where sidewalks and parking lots need fixing, rooms that are in need of repair, HVAC and ventilation systems that need replacing.”

Ward said the money would stimulate not only the tourism industry, but it would also provide jobs for electricians, plumbers and concrete layers. 

A total of 68 hotels were eligible for the funding, but only 46 applied and qualified. Councilmember Brinker Harding said the rest of the money that was budgeted for hotels can go “back in the pot” for other projects. 

The city’s Emergency Rental Assistance program was approved for an additional $11 million by the U.S. Treasury. Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless (MACCH) will continue to operate the program after the agreement was amended by the City Council Tuesday. MACCH has distributed over $50 million in rental assistance throughout the pandemic. 

Landlords and tenants can apply for the money, which goes directly to the landlord to cover rent. The money can also be used to pay for utilities, which city planner Bill Lukash said accounts for about $4 million of the money spent so far. Councilmember Vinny Palermo said there isn’t enough awareness of the utility assistance.

Palermo said he spoke with four employees at MUD who weren’t aware that assistance was available. He said these are the people who shut off people’s utilities. 

“There’s a lot of people without gas and water and power right now, but there’s money in the bank to pay for this,” Palermo said.

Heather Tomczak from MACCH said they started an ad campaign this week to raise awareness.

The Douglas County Board of Commissioners also met Tuesday to approve $30,000 in ARPA funding to the Intercultural Senior Center to provide mental healthcare for senior immigrants. 

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The allocation was made by Commissioner PJ Morgan, although the center isn’t in his district. Morgan said he visited the facility after Commissioner Roger Garcia mentioned it to him.

“I just have a great respect for what they’re doing,” Morgan said. “We just really need to work at [mental health] in all areas.” 

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