Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (Rebecca S. Gratz for the Nebraska Examiner)
Gov. Pete Ricketts again swatted down the notion of getting $120 million in federal rental and utility aid for Nebraska, as he vetoed a bill Tuesday that the Legislature had passed calling on him to apply for the money.
In a letter to the Legislature, the governor said accepting the second round of Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds would “create a government subsidy that will make people more reliant on the government for years to come.”
“We must guard against big government socialism where people are incentivized not to work but are instead encouraged to rely on government handouts, well after an emergency is over,” he said in defending his veto.
‘We’ll be moving forward’
State Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln, who has made the rental assistance measure, Legislative Bill 1073, his priority, said he remains optimistic he can garner the 30 votes necessary to override a veto.
He said fellow State Sen. Justin Wayne, the original sponsor of LB 1073, has filed the override motion, and they hope the debate is taken up before a March 31 deadline to get the full amount that’s been set aside for Nebraska.
“We feel good. We’ll be moving forward,” Hansen said.
Ricketts said the state still has nearly $30 million of unused ERAP funds from the first round and said that is “more than enough to meet the legitimate needs for assistance through the end of the year.”
He said some believe Nebraska should take the money “simply because it’s available. However, there’s no such thing as ‘free money,’”
To that, State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha disputed the notion of “free money.”
“It’s refusing services we already paid for,” she said.
State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh blasted Ricketts, posing a question to him from the legislative floor: “Do you know how hard it is to be poor?”
She ridiculed Ricketts for calling out “government socialism” when he pushed so hard for government handouts to businesses via the ImagiNE Act.
This is “baloney skittles,” said Cavanaugh.
News of the veto prompted other objections, including from Nebraska Appleseed’s Economic Justice Director Ken Smith, who called Ricketts’ decision “indefensible.”
“We have a responsibility to ensure every Nebraskan and their families have a roof over their heads. The Governor’s indefensible decision to veto a bill that would bring $120 million of available rental assistance funds over the next three and half years would cause serious harm to communities across our state, especially those in rural Nebraska,” he said in a statement.
Nebraska remains one of only two states that have not applied for the second round of emergency funds. The other is Arkansas.
If the veto override fails and Nebraska does not apply by March 31, the funds set aside for the state could start flowing to other states, authorities have said.
But Hansen said there still would be a possibility for Nebraska to salvage some of the dollars.
He points to a section of law that requires the Treasury Department to hold onto 40% of each state’s allotted funds beyond the March 31 deadline to apply for the full amount. Nebraska could still have $51.4 million it could claim through 2025.
Ricketts has shown that he won’t ever apply, Hansen said. “That doesn’t mean the next Legislature or governor won’t.”
Nebraska Examiner senior reporter Paul Hammel contributed to this report.
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