Legislature will reconvene to authorize emergency COVID-19 funding

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LINCOLN, Neb. - Speaker Jim Scheer announced today that the Nebraska Legislature will reconvene temporarily next week to authorize emergency funding to address needs arising from the spread of COVID-19 in Nebraska.

Senators will convene Monday, March 23 at 1:30 p.m. to hold a three-day emergency funding session.

“I realize the severity of the public health crisis we are facing,” Scheer said. “I am only bringing the Legislature back into session because it is necessary for us to authorize this critical funding so that Nebraska can respond sufficiently to the current crisis.”

Governor Pete Ricketts said that he hopes to get Nebraska senators to pass an emergency appropriation to help fight the spread of the virus in the state. Through this appropriation, about $58 million would be transferred from the State Cash Reserve Fund to the Governor's Emergency Fund.

The Governor’s emergency funding request includes appropriations for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) for the initiatives listed below:

DHHS Public Health
Local Response Efforts - $38,156,700
This will provide additional funding for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other supplies to local jurisdictions, and support to local health departments for staffing, PPE, call centers, information technology needs including additional laptops/servers, and other essential expenditures.

DHHS Staffing - $4,004,000
Due to the size of the response and need to cover response needs, additional staffing expenditures are needed to cover costs for overtime and additional staff. The areas that need immediate surge and sustained staffing are epidemiology, support services (administrative, communications, and data entry), emergency preparedness, and contracts for staffing in epidemiology and interpreters to meet the increased demands of the Division of Public Health.

Surge Staffing for Veterans Hospitals & DHHS Care Facilities - $13,000,000
Additional staffing expenditures are needed to cover costs for overtime and additional staff to maintain facility healthcare coverage needs. The areas that need immediate surge and sustained staffing are veterans homes and DHHS care facilities including nursing, administrative, and other health care professionals. This was calculated to cover a surge of 50% in additional staffing needs in the event that staff is unable to care for individuals at the facilities due to staff quarantine or isolation requirements.


COVID-19 Lab Testing - $515,000
This would augment the cost of the reagents, laboratory personnel, and equipment to conduct COVID-19 lab testing for the state. This would include funds to purchase a combined sample extraction/detection robot for efficient and accurate serial processing of specimens, reducing staffing needs. This would be to support increased efficiency and capacity of statewide testing through the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory.

Lab Equipment, Software Programming, and Personnel - $2,500,000
The equipment includes higher throughput automated equipment for microbiology and molecular diagnostics. The increased testing throughput will be implemented on a fast track within the next 2-4 weeks but would support a prolonged outbreak, which is likely, as well as help prepare for future outbreaks. All funds would be dedicated to support statewide needs.

UV Light Boxes - $100,000
The UV light boxes would provide tertiary cleaning of N95 respirators for reuse by healthcare workers.

Knowledge Center - $343,900
This system is used by coalitions and all stakeholders across the state to establish an interoperable platform for communication, bed tracking, resource sharing, and an overall interoperable platform.

The Speaker suspended the legislative session March 16 due to public health concerns regarding the spread of the new coronavirus. Scheer said senators will reconvene to complete the 2020 session when the COVID-19 situation has stabilized in Nebraska. No date has been set at this time.

Read the original version of this article at www.1011now.com.