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Nebraska launches rental assistance program for non-metro areas

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts
Published: Feb. 22, 2021 at 9:33 AM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - Nebraska state officials announced a new program the state is launching Monday morning to assist renters affected by the pandemic.

At his news conference Monday morning, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced the emergency rental assistance program through Nebraska Investment Finance Authority, the state’s housing finance agency, which will provide financial help to renters whose livelihoods have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic pay rent and utilities.

According to NIFA Executive Director Shannon Harner said Monday that the state received $200 million in emergency funds for rental assistance; $158 million will be administered to those not living in Omaha or Lincoln, as those cities received their own funds and will be rolling out their own programs soon.

The remaining $42 million will be used to assist renters in Omaha and Lincoln, which each made their own applications. Any excess funds not used elsewhere in the state may be funneled to Omaha and Lincoln communities, should they need it, Harner said.

The assistance is available to help with past due rent as far back as April 1, 2020, and can also be applied to future rent up to three months ahead, she said. Applicants can receive a maximum of 15 months’ worth of assistance, or up to $20,000.

Tenants or landlords can apply for this program, but tenants can apply even if the landlord doesn’t, Harner said. The assistance is only available to pay rent on the residence the applicant is living in; it’s not for homeowners nor is it available to those who have been evicted.

To be eligible, the tenant has to be making less than 80% of their county’s median income. Harner said applicants must submit a copy of their current lease, contact information for their landlord in order to verify their tenancy, and documentation of loss of income due directly or indirectly to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Applications can be submitted starting at 11 a.m. Monday on the state’s coronavirus website. There will also be information on NIFA.org and training videos on the NIFA YouTube page.

A call center is also in place, starting at 10:30 a.m. Monday, to help with applications and questions at 1-833-500-8810. The call center will generally be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, but will also be open this weekend from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. There is also an FAQ document on the state’s rental assistance website.

COVID-19 vaccination update

Ricketts also commented on the vaccination clinic held at Creighton University on Saturday, run completely by volunteers. He said nearly 4,800 were vaccinated that day. The governor said he would be at a Hy-Vee location in Lincoln to show appreciation to grocery workers and their “innovation” during the pandemic.

The governor said the state was expecting a shipment of vaccine doses Monday that was delayed last week because of the weather, and that Nebraska should then be caught up with their vaccine shipments to date. He said Douglas and Lancaster counties got “most if not all” of their vaccine shipments last week.

Ricketts said there is a reporting lag in the federal pharmacy program’s vaccine distribution data as it isn’t coming from the state. The governor said some national providers assisting with the long-term care state did experience some lag, and that he thought it would be more efficient to give all the vaccinations to the state for distribution to those programs as well.

“The state is going to be more efficient, and it’s proven by the numbers that we can show you on the state’s dashboard that the state will do a better job of getting those vaccines out in quicker order,” Ricketts said, noting that he’s mentioned this on calls with the White House.

The governor said the state’s low ranking, 44th nationally as of Sunday, on distributing its national allocation of vaccine doses was due to issues with data reporting. He also said the state is not planning to use any second-dose allocations for first doses, or vice-versa. The state ranks higher on the New York Times vaccine tracker, he said, but “we want to do better than that.”

Other topics

The governor also reiterated two reasons for his veto last year on an issue back in the legislature with LB451 regarding racial discrimination via hairstyles.

“You have to stick to things that are immutable, you know, things you cannot change due to your race,” Ricketts said, noting that there were also safety concerns, particularly in an industrial setting. The governor said he offered to work on a version of the bill that is structured in “the proper way” to protect against discrimination.

The governor also said he is opposed to rank-choice voting.

“I think we should stick with the type of voting we have right now,” he said. “I think that’s the system most people are comfortable with.”

Ricketts also welcomed speakers to his news conference to talk about how the Future Farmers of America program benefits young people in Nebraska.

Watch Monday’s news conference

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