Nebraska has spent half its CARES Act funds, but more transparency is needed

Nebraska has spent half its CARES Act funds, but more transparency is needed

Where did all the CARES Act money go in Nebraska? Federal taxpayers in Nebraska have a right to know the answer.

The Platte Institute published a report calling for more transparency in mid-September, and less than a month later the state published its dashboard providing that added transparency.

The state’s dashboard shows that $587 million has been disbursed through 20,332 awards. This is out of the $1.25 billion that was sent to the state.

However, when we look at all the money sent to Nebraska, the total is nearly $10 billion.  As reported by KETV and the Platte Institute, the information on the other aid sent to Nebraska is available, but you have to dig to find it on the state’s budget website.

The recently published dashboard shows the state has made progress, but there are still gaps to fill. The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first time the state of Nebraska has received federal money. Before the pandemic, 24 agencies in Nebraska received more than 20% of their operating budget from federal sources. The state has received an average of 31% of its total budget from the federal government over the last ten years.

In the most recent fiscal year, Nebraska received $4.1 billion or 30% of the state’s total revenues from the federal government. For some agencies, like the Department of Labor, nearly 90% of their budget is comprised of federal money.

However, Nebraska is not in a unique position. On average, state governments across the country rely on the federal government for nearly a third of their general revenue.

These are the Platte Institute’s policy recommendations regarding the transparent use of federal funds:

  • Create an easy to read and comprehensive inventory of all the federal funds that came into the state related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even if the funds went directly to a school district, airport, or other political entity, these funds should be itemized and labeled with an explanation of what the money was spent on in a way the general public can understand.
  • Use this opportunity to create a statewide inventory of federal funds coming into Nebraska.
    • Audit all federal funds in the state, including what they do and their full costs once state matching or maintenance of effort requirements are satisfied.
    • Provide a risk assessment of potential vulnerabilities created by the funds, if any.
    • Create an outcome or performance assessment of the funds to determine if the funds helped the state accomplish its intended goals.

The Legislature almost accomplished this twice, with LB611 in 2017 and LB337 in 2019. However, both measures fell short and were not able to become law.

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