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Battle over federal rental aid to Nebraska stirs up again

The Nebraska State Capitol Building.
The Nebraska State Capitol Building.(Ryan Swanigan (KOLN))
Published: Apr. 15, 2022 at 2:19 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) -The battle reignited Friday over whether Nebraska should accept more federal emergency rental aid, with the U.S. Treasury Department stepping into the fray.

Deputy Treasury Secretary Adewale Adeyemo wrote a letter to Gov. Pete Ricketts, expressing his disappointment and urging the governor to draw down on the $120 million account Congress had set aside for Nebraska on behalf of “tens of thousands” of households in need of assistance.

Adeyemo said many of Nebraska’s state legislators, leaders and housing advocates have underscored the “significant need … especially in rural areas and small communities that do not have access to other rental assistance programs within the state.”

The Biden administration official said he echoed those sentiments, having seen the program’s success elsewhere in preventing evictions of vulnerable communities.

‘Need clearly exists’

“That need clearly exists in Nebraska,” Adeyemo wrote. “According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 21% of Nebraska renters are extremely low income, and 65% of this group are severely cost burdened.”

A Ricketts spokeswoman said late Friday morning that the governor had not yet received the letter, though the Treasury spokeswoman said it had been sent.

The governor has stood firm for months on his refusal to accept the funds. He has said that the pandemic storm is over and that Nebraska should guard against becoming a “welfare state.”

Many state senators agreed with the governor.

The letter was another wrinkle in an ongoing saga over the second round of federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program funding. Earlier this month, Nebraska lawmakers fell one vote short of overriding Ricketts’ veto on federal rental help. That meant the state’s more rural and smaller towns outside of Douglas and Lancaster Counties would not get any of what had turned into a controversial $120 million pot of aid.

Treasury offers options

State Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln had led a push to override the governor’s veto, and for the state to accept the help.

He said it was the smaller, more rural communities outside the two largest counties that would be shut out of second-round funds available through ERAP. A large part, about 60%, of the $120 million still likely would be directed to Douglas and Lancaster Counties.

Adeyemo said that if Nebraska believed the funding is greater than the amount it can effectively administer directly, the Treasury Department could provide advice on options available after the state drew down the 40% of funding.

Among those options, he said in the letter, are subcontracting with providers in rural communities to directly administer the funds.

Adeyemo said the funds Congress set aside for Nebraska could serve tens of thousands of households, “helping those families avoid eviction and the many consequences of losing their homes, including harms to their health, financial stability and employment.”

‘Lifelines’

His letter said that beyond rental assistance, the second round of ERAP can be used to invest in a “broad range” of housing stability services that would help Nebraskans stay in their homes, such as legal representation or court-based eviction diversion programs. He called those “lifelines for many vulnerable renters at great risk,” and named populations such as veterans, older Americans on fixed incomes, youths exiting foster care and survivors of domestic abuse or human trafficking.

“We are available to work with you to provide any technical assistance we can to help reach Nebraska renters to promote housing stability and ensure an equitable recovery,” Adeyemo said in the letter.

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