Aug 31 2020
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Above all, Nebraska is a community. After 2019’s historic flooding, we didn’t simply cut our losses and move on. Instead, the best among us inspired the nation by looking out for those who were hit hardest and helping them get back on their feet.
We have since come back, proving that not even an unprecedented natural disaster can keep us down forever. And nearly six months after the first COVID-19 shutdowns began, we are on the road back to recovery yet again. While we still have further to go, I have been proud to see people across our state bring the same resilient attitude to this new challenge.
Many signs point to a recovery in the near future: The month of July saw Nebraska’s unemployment rate return to under five percent, and a recent decline in new cases of the virus will hopefully allow more business to reopen. Whether this comes this year or in 2021, I know we will bounce back.
Crucial to this recovery will be economic investment in lower-income areas. The Opportunity Zone program, which was created through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, is a great option for promoting investment in these communities.
Opportunity Zones incentivize private investment in areas that are considered underdeveloped or underserved. This bipartisan idea was first proposed by Senators Tim Scott and Cory Booker, and since the first Opportunity Zones were officially designated in April 2018, about $75 billion in investment has poured into these communities. The White House’s Council of Economic Advisers estimates that without this program, more than two-thirds of these funds would not have been invested at all.
There are over 8,000 Opportunity Zones across all 50 states, and Nebraska is home to 44 of them. Forty-two of these 44 are in counties that declared a state of emergency during 2019’s flooding, underscoring even further how important they are to areas that have faced the brunt of natural disasters.
We are seeing significant Opportunity Zone activity in multiple areas, but especially in the Lincoln region. The Nebraska Innovation Campus, which is on the site of the old Nebraska State Fair Grounds, is just one place where development has been made possible through this program. I hope these investments will continue for years to come.
Additionally, there is other good news for Nebraska’s economy in the form of COVID-19 relief. The Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration announced that it had granted $3.8 million in CARES Act funds to help Nebraska recover from COVID-19. The money will go to several local economic development organizations, and it will be used to support the needs of the workforce in several parts of the state. These funds will also increase access to online commerce and help to boost the economy of these local communities.
This is a critical investment in the Heartland. Nearly half of these funds will directly benefit small businesses, which employ nearly half of Nebraskans and whose success is good for us all.
These are two different kinds of investment in our state, but they will both help us get back to where we were before this pandemic. With the help of Opportunity Zones and more CARES Act funding for Nebraska, I have no doubt that we will come out even stronger on the other side.
Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.