"Emergency" in Name Only: The Second Round of the Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program
March 16, 2022
As Nebraskans, we value resourcefulness and self-reliance. We also care for our neighbors. We recognize that extraordinary times—like a natural disaster or a global pandemic—warrant extra assistance. During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Nebraskans stepped up to help those in need. At the federal and state level, we did the same. The State has received and distributed an unprecedented amount of federal funding to help Nebraskans weather the storm over these past two years.
But at a certain point, we must acknowledge that the storm has passed and get back to the Nebraska Way. We must guard against becoming a welfare state where people are incentivized not to work and encouraged to rely on government handouts well after an emergency is over. That is why Nebraska is not seeking the second round of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). We cannot justify asking for federal relief when we don’t have an emergency.
The Biden Administration launched ERAP in January 2021. Its intent was to help renters whose livelihoods had been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. But ERAP’s design was shoddy, and its distribution has been poorly executed. For example, the federal government misallocated the money it gave to states. Nebraska initially received $158 million for our non-urban areas, while only $42 million went to Lancaster County/Lincoln and Douglas County/Omaha. We knew early on this didn’t match the reality that more than half of our renters live in our urban areas. To better aid Nebraskans in need, we worked to reallocate over half of the State’s ERAP funds to our urban counties and cities—$85 million was voluntarily transferred to Omaha and Lincoln and their respective counties. Even after this adjustment, the State still has nearly $30 million of unused ERAP funds. This means that after more than a year, we have only expended about 40 percent of the program’s dollars. The remainder is more than enough to meet the legitimate needs for assistance through the end of the year.
In total, the federal government spent $25 billion on the first round of ERAP. Now, they’ve printed up an additional $21 billion for a second round of funding. The State of Nebraska is eligible to receive $120 million. If we didn’t need $158 million during the height of the pandemic, why would we need $120 million now that the emergency has passed?
Almost exactly two years after Nebraska’s first confirmed case of coronavirus, we appear to have turned a corner on the pandemic. Case numbers and hospitalizations are down. Schools and businesses are open. Masks are off. Nebraska has largely returned to normal. I ended the State’s emergency declaration for coronavirus nearly nine months ago. We have the lowest unemployment rate in the country. Our economy is growing. Our pandemic emergency is over. Applying for emergency rental assistance now is like applying for emergency disaster aid without a flood or tornado. That is not what we do.
It’s wrong on principle, too. The Biden Administration has changed the rules and no longer requires proof—or even a claim—that need is tied to the coronavirus. That means this “emergency” aid isn’t tied to any emergency at all, not even in theory. And, unlike the first round of funding that expires at the end of 2022, the second round can be used through 2025. That’s three years of rent subsidies. ERAP is now no longer about addressing the impacts of coronavirus. Instead, it appears the Biden Administration wants to subsidize people’s rent and make them reliant on the government for years to come.
Nebraska is not a welfare state. It’s not who we are. But if we take these funds, it will be.
Some believe we should take the money simply because it’s available. However, there’s no such thing as “free money.” Somebody has to pay taxes to finance government spending—if not now, then in the future. In Nebraska, we’ve responsibly used taxpayer dollars. We’ve grown the Good Life while remaining the least indebted state in the country. We have a duty to future generations to hold the federal government accountable for its spending as well. Our State isn’t an island; our fate is connected to the financial health and well-being of our nation. The second round of ERAP is a perfect example of the kind of blind spending from the federal government that has ushered in record inflation. And if we continue to pile onto our national debt, our kids and grandkids will be the ones footing the bill. In Nebraska, that’s not who we are.
On Wednesday, March 9, the Legislature is voting to try and force Nebraska to expand the welfare state and apply for more ERAP dollars. I encourage you to contact your state senator to share your thoughts about this vote. You can find their contact information at nebraskalegislature.gov.
If you have questions about my opposition to ERAP’s second round of funding, or any other matter, please email me at [email protected] or call 402-471-2244.