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

The National Association of Counties (NACo) gave a presentation on the American Rescue Plan at Tuesday’s Douglas County Board of Commissioners meeting on June 22, 2021. County boards from across Nebraska also attended the presentation through Zoom.

“There’s many different opportunities for the county,” said Matt Chase, CEO of NACo. “Both as a government but also your community.”

The U.S. Treasury Department allocated $65.1 billion in funding for counties under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Douglas County was allocated more than $110 million.

In its guidance for how to spend the funds, ARPA uses words like “may” and “encourage” rather than “shall,” which has led to many counties unsure of what the funds can and cannot be used for. Commissioner Mike Friend called the language “nebulous.” 

The confusion, which existed before with money received through the CARES Act, led to NACo creating and updating a fact sheet and FAQ page.

The recovery fund can be used for expenses related to public health, economic recovery, revenue loss and more. Chase said the goal was to “help build a stronger public health infrastructure.”

Chase said that counties can use ARPA funds to pay auditors and consultants to help them comply with the guidance, as Douglas County has done with the private company Deloitte

The U.S. Treasury has been clear about what is eligible to spend money on, Chase said. What kind of projects would be ineligible is less clear, so Chase recommended that counties stick to local funds for anything “in the gray area.”

Commissioner Chris Rodgers read a resolution recognizing June 23, 2021 as Douglas County’s Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI) tenth anniversary. JDAI is a nationwide project, started by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in 1992 and brought to Douglas County in 2011, to reduce the incarcerated youth population.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine read a resolution to recognize Tressa M. Alioth’s “historic appointment” to Douglas County District Court. Alioth is the first Black woman in Nebraska to be appointed District Judge.

“The people who are winners here are the people of the state of Nebraska, and the people of Douglas County,” Kleine said. “Because she will be a great judge for the people.”

Douglas County Health Director Dr. Adi Pour gave a weekly update on COVID-19 in the county. Pour said cases have been at a “constant low rate” for the last three weeks, with 87 reported in the last week.

Commissioner Maureen Boyle asked Pour if the county might see a surge in cases in two weeks because of the College World Series and U.S. Olympic Swim Trials. Pour said she was “holding her breath” for a slight rise.

The first case of the Delta variant was reported in Douglas County this week. Pour said this wasn’t a surprise, as 31 cases have been reported across Nebraska.

Pour said Douglas County will likely fall short of the goal to vaccinate 70% of the adult population by July 4. The county is currently at 65.7%.

The Omaha City Council did not meet on Tuesday. They will meet again on June 29.

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