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Published:  January 11, 2022

For decades, North Omaha has been identified as an area in need of large scale capital investments to reverse the lingering and long-term effects of discrimination, redlining and neglect.  Over the years, a series of major plans and projects have been introduced but most have suffered from limited funding for implementation.

During the last fifteen years through collaboration and targeted investments, some measurable incremental progress was made. Many trends including unemployment, gun violence and graduation rates were finally beginning to move in the right direction, as documented by UNO and the US Census data.  Even with the improvements, North Omaha had unemployment and poverty rates 3 to 5x’s higher than the rest of the state.  This has been the case for decades.

Then, COVID-19 hit the community and the poverty, violence and unemployment rates once again spiked, especially in North Omaha.  The area also has experienced one of the highest rates of COVID-19 as the community suffers from underlying conditions that exacerbate the impact of the virus.

Senators Justin Wayne and Terrell McKinney are looking to help finally close the economic and health gaps faced by North Omaha residents.  Their plan is to accelerate the pace of change by dramatically increasing investments utilizing funds being made available through the state of Nebraska by the federal government, primarily the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

“We aren’t looking to create new programs, but focus resources on strong, evidence-based initiatives with proven records,” said Wayne.  “These investments will help prepare North Omaha residents to fill open jobs in the city and state and build a strong, sustainable economy.”

“We believe this is a model that can be utilized by other communities across the state to address disproportionately impacted neighborhoods,” added Wayne.  “We look forward to working with other senators across the state to address issues magnified by COVID-19.  This is how the funds were intended to be used.”

“Our emphasis is on wealth building through entrepreneurship and employment with higher wages right here in North Omaha,” added McKinney.  “It’s a pro business strategy.”

The North Omaha Recovery Plan prioritizes business growth, corridor development, higher wage jobs in North Omaha, job training for youth and adults, the availability of housing and investments in the arts, entertainment and tourism industries to create economic engines in the community.

The senators combed through past and current plans for North Omaha to identify the projects with the greatest potential for return on investment.  They also reviewed how other cities and states were using the funds to meet the goals of ARPA.

Both called the federal funds “a once in a lifetime” opportunity for the residents of North Omaha which will benefit the city, region and state.

One of the plans that provided an important foundation for the North Omaha Recovery Plan was the Transformation 2025 plan developed by the Empowerment Network including the input of 8,000 youth and adults.   Many, but not all of the elements from the Transformation Plan were incorporated in the proposal from Wayne and McKinney.  The senators also hosted public forums to gather important suggestions and recommendations from the community firsthand.

“We are incredibly appreciative that Senators Wayne and McKinney listened to what we had to say through the research, data and strategies we collected from thousands of community members and hundreds of leaders in every sector,” said Willie Barney, CEO and Founder of the Empowerment Network and co-publisher of Revive Omaha Magazine.

“What they are doing is historic.  This is something that has been talked about for six decades going all the way back to the Sorensen administration,” added Barney.

“Sorensen said in 1967, it would take a large scale infusion of capital to fully address the employment, education and housing needs in North Omaha.  He also added that it would require a sustained and substantial public investment and a broad coalition of leaders from every sector,” said Barney.   “We have made some progress through collaboration, but this would be the largest public investment to help close these gaps.”

Wayne, McKinney, Barney and other leaders feel that this is the moment to make it a reality.

The next steps are to have the plan reviewed for any final recommendations from the community.  Then, Wayne and McKinney will introduce bills to the Nebraska State Legislature.

The use of the funds allocated through the Biden administration and US Congress will be very competitive.  Communities and special interest groups from across the state have already made large proposals.

North Omaha should have two major advantages when it comes to the allocation of the federal funds.

“One of the key aspects for the funds is that the Biden administration has specifically identified highly qualified census tracts where these dollars should be prioritized,” said Wayne. “North Omaha has 25 of 45 census tracts identified which means a significant portion should come to these neighborhoods most impacted by COVID and long-term disproportionately disadvantaged communities.”

“Secondly, because these are federal funds, dollars can be targeted to benefit specific races and ethnicities,” said Wayne.  “That means projects and programs can be directly allocated to black and brown communities that have been most severely impacted by COVID and suffer the greatest economically.”

In addition, conversations will continue with the city, county and state to align funds to create the best opportunity for long-term success.

Councilwoman Juanita Johnson, Commissioner Chris Rodgers and other elected officials have hosted information gathering sessions in addition to the forums held by Wayne and McKinney.

Mayor Jean Stothert and her administration have identified six areas of focus after surveying the community:  1.  Revenue replacement; 2. Violence Prevention; 3. Workforce; 4. Public Spaces; 5. Housing; and, 6. Tourism.

Douglas County has prioritized revenue replacement, COVID-19 infrastructure for the Health Department and County Jail, mental health and recommendations identified by each commissioner.

More meetings will be held to finalize a unified plan and approach for North Omaha.

“Securing the funding needed for North Omaha will require the participation of the whole community,” said McKinney.

“Everyone will need to do their part.”

Learn more about the plan.

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$475 million North Omaha Recovery Plan advances to the next step

Published:  Friday, March 25, 2022

After extensive and spirited debate, Nebraska state senators advanced the North Omaha Recovery Act to the next phase on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

With a 28-0 vote and 19 non-votes, the $475 million package was moved to select file and will now go through some adjustments based on the discussions heard on the floor of the Nebraska Unicameral.  It will need to advance through two more rounds of debate in order to make it to Governor Pete Rickett’s desk.

The plan calls for investments in entrepreneurship, employment, job creation, workforce training, housing, and tourism.   It is a business centric approach to help address the disproportionate impact of  COVID-19 and the underlying economic conditions that have hindered North Omaha for decades.

Senators Justin Wayne and Terrell McKinney presented a compelling case for the much needed funds to help accelerate improvements and developments in North and South Omaha and other communities with qualified census tracts around the state.

“North Omaha has been neglected for decades,” said Wayne.  “This is exactly what the ARPA funds were designed for.  But, it doesn’t matter to me where the funds come from.  ARPA.  Cash reserve.  General funds.  I am open.”

Some senators questioned the level of investment and wanted to know more about the process for implementation.

McKinney had an answer.  “One area we can find funds is the $175 million currently budgeted for a prison,” he said.  “Let’s invest in people, not prisons.  That is the responsible and conservative thing to do.”

Other senators voiced support, but said they would want more details about the amount and the sources of the funds before they vote on the next round.

Wayne responded.  “It’s interesting that some senators had absolutely no questions with how we allocated $4 billion dollars with the overall state budget, but now want to question every detail when it comes to North Omaha.”

The bill was initially introduced by Wayne and McKinney based on their review of other plans for North Omaha.  Over fifty testifiers traveled to Lincoln to speak with the Urban Affairs and Appropriations Committees during public hearings.

Later, Senator Tony Vargas of South Omaha and a group of business leaders developed a separate $50 million proposal for South Omaha. Thirty additional speakers attended the hearing for the South Omaha bill.

Eventually, the senators from North and South Omaha decided to join forces and created the East Omaha Recovery Plan.  That plan was voted out of the Urban Affairs Committee on a 6-1 vote leading to this first round discussion with the full senate.

It will come back to the floor for the next round after some additional discussions and negotiations between the senators.

“We will come back with more details and we are willing to talk to anyone about the best way to move things forward,” said Wayne.

“To make it plain, this is our attempt to put a boot factory in North Omaha to provide our community with the proverbial boots that they have yet to receive in our lifetime in order to give them the tools and empower them to pull themselves up,” added McKinney.

The debate on the floor of the Nebraska Legislature the entire week has primarily focused on the state budget, use of the federal ARPA funds, the needs of North Omaha, whether to build a new prison or invest in reforms and other important issues facing the state.  Negotiations between senators are ongoing to finalize the amount that will be allocated to North and South Omaha and for projects across the state.

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$450 million bill advances for North Omaha Recovery Act

Published:  Friday, February 18, 2022

A 6-1 legislative committee vote for the North Omaha Recovery Act bill on Thursday, will now go to the legislative floor for full debate.

The North Omaha Recovery Act is comprised of two bills, one of which has been advanced. For North Omaha, this could mean closing pre-pandemic economic and health gaps that were magnified when COVID-19 struck its community.

In January, Senators Justin Wayne and Terrell Mckinney first introduced Legislative Bill 1024 at the State Capitol in Lincoln, Nebraska.  A public hearing was held on February 1st with nearly 40 supporters speaking in favor and 0 opponents.

The bill recommends using $450 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) relief funds, directly to help rejuvenate North and South Omaha communities.

The funds will be used for initiatives including housing, job preparation, business development, and public health, resulting in a more vibrant and resilient North Omaha. This would be the largest public investment to help recover North and South Omaha from the social and economic impacts of the pandemic.

An advisory committee will be utilized to assist and review the fund requests for LB 1024. The bill is competing amongst other proposals to spend Nebraska’s $1.04 billion allocation from ARPA.

After moving to the floor, the bill will need 25 supporting votes from senators and Governor Pete Ricketts’ signature of approval to sign it into law.

There are no follow up hearing dates set at this time.


Media coverage about the historic Urban Affairs Committee hearing for the North Omaha Recovery Plan:


Nebraska Examiner:

Channel 3:

Omaha World-Herald:

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History making hearing held for North Omaha; 30+ speakers support investing $450 million

Published:  Monday, February 7, 2022

The first day of Black History Month 2022 was history making in the state of Nebraska.

On Tuesday, February 1st, the North Omaha Recovery Act bill introduced by Senators Justin Wayne and Terrell McKinney which recommends using $450 million of federal ARPA funds in North Omaha, had its first public hearing at the State Capitol in Lincoln, Nebraska.

North Omaha leaders and their allies came out in big numbers and gave compelling testimony. Nearly 40 testified in support of the bill with no opposition.

“I don’t think anything has ever happened like what we experienced today,” said Senator Wayne.

It was history making in a number of ways.

The first time a bill of this size and scope was introduced to support and invest in North Omaha.

The first time all elected officials from North Omaha – city, county and state – are all united behind a major economic proposal.

The first time such a large and diverse group of Black leaders and allies have come together to speak at the State Legislature to support economic advancement in North Omaha.

The proponents and supporters included elected officials, pastors, business owners, major employers, a banking association representative, Omaha police chief, police union leader, workforce development specialists, educators, community activists, artists, home builders and many others.

“It was the first time we’ve had that kind of support for a bill,” said Senator McKinney.

The public hearing was held by the Urban Affairs Committee at the Nebraska State Legislature. The committee will now have internal discussions to take a vote on whether to advance the bill to the floor. Once it receives enough votes to move to the floor, it will need 25 votes and then a signature by Governor Pete Ricketts to sign it into law.

The bill is heavily focused on improving the economic condition in North Omaha with significant investments in entrepreneurship, employment, job training, housing, corridor development and creating economic engines through arts, culture and tourism.

A separate bill, LB 1025, also introduced by Senators Wayne and McKinney, will work through the Appropriations Committee. LB 1025 is a secondary strategy to LB 1024 and would potentially allocate funds to the Department of Economic Development to manage the $450 million requested for North Omaha. The initial hearing is scheduled for Monday, February 14th.

According to Senators Wayne and McKinney, both bills have received a warm reception in Lincoln though there is heavy competition for the funds.

“There’s agreement to do something for North Omaha,” said Wayne. “It’s a matter of how much they will choose to invest.”

“The senators have said to us that we have made the case,” said McKinney.

“The business case,” added Wayne. “It makes business sense to invest in North Omaha. It will benefit the whole state.”


Media coverage about the historic Urban Affairs Committee hearing for the North Omaha Recovery Plan:


Nebraska Examiner:

Channel 3:

Omaha World-Herald:

Learn more about the plan.

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