Weekly Column

Jun 22 2020

Solving Problems

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Recently, much of my work in the Senate has focused on responding to COVID-19 through legislation such as the CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act. These bills have been crucial to the health and well-being of our state. But throughout this crisis, my staff and I have continued to work with Nebraskans to help solve their problems.

In March, five friends from Omaha found themselves stranded in Morocco when the government there closed its borders to international travel without warning. With no commercial flights in or out and hotels and restaurants suddenly closing their doors, the group anxiously struggled to find a way home to Nebraska.

They reached out to my staff, who relayed to them important updates from the Department of State and ensured that these travelers’ difficult situation was brought to the attention of the repatriation task force. They were able to secure seats on the first State Department flights allowed into Morocco and arrived home a few days later.

Unfortunately, their story has not been unique. A group of high school students from College View Academy in Lincoln was on a mission trip in Honduras when the Honduran government suddenly closed its borders. With commercial flights cancelled there as well, the school reached out to my office for assistance with getting these young people home safe.

The group decided to charter a flight, which involves a complex and drawn-out approval process in Honduras. On the morning of this flight, as the plane sat on the runway, an unexpected snag threatened to prevent them from taking off. My staff immediately contacted the State Department, who quickly cleared up the problem and secured the necessary approval that allowed these students to get back to Nebraska.

My staff have also been working with hospitals, clinics, and home health care services across the state as they adapt to the new reality of caring for their patients during this pandemic. One of these, a Nebraska home health care provider, was recently told by the Department of Veterans Affairs that the reimbursement payments they receive from the VA for caring for veterans would be cut by somewhere between 33 to 66 percent. This cut was so significant that it would have impacted their ability to continue providing health care services, so they reached out to my office.

We worked with the VA to find out the reason for this change, and not long after speaking with them, the VA clarified their policy and even boosted payment rates rather than cutting them.

My staff also helped this provider work with one of the VA’s third-party contractors. This contractor was behind in their payments by up to nine months, and many of the payments they were making were for less than the agreed upon amount. My staff reached out to the contractor and helped ensure that they were paying in full and on time.

Finally, the IRS has granted an extension to this year’s tax filing deadline, but my office has also been able to help those Nebraskans who chose to file before the regular deadline, just as we do every year.

Even though the coronavirus continues to disrupt our lives, Nebraskans still need help understanding the federal bureaucracy. The caring and knowledgeable people on my staff work with hundreds of Nebraskans every year. They represent the best of our state and are committed to helping you navigate sometimes confusing federal regulations. If you or anyone you know is facing challenges, please reach out to my staff in our Omaha, Lincoln, Scottsbluff, or Kearney offices. We are always ready to help.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.