FILE - Rural broadband

Earth digger used to help lay cables for rural broadband connection. Content Exchange

(The Center Square) – Nebraska will receive about $1.2 billion from the new federal stimulus bill.

Exactly how that money will be spent isn't decided yet, Renee Fry, executive director of the non-profit group Open Sky Policy Institute, told The Center Square.

“It’s not clear at this point if the governor is going to take the lead or the legislature's appropriations committee is going to take the lead or how that money is going to be used,” Fry said.

By law, it can’t be used for lowering taxes, Fry said. One popular idea is to spend it on expanding broadband internet access, she said.

“It’s a clear priority in both urban and rural areas,” Fry said. “A large investment would make a huge difference in connectivity. We talked to a lot of school districts and that was a huge issue for remote learning. I live in Omaha and even my internet is pretty glitchy.”

Job training would also be a good investment for the state, Fry said. While the state can’t use the money for tax cuts, it could give direct payments to citizens.

“If they want to help taxpayers, they can do that with this funding,” she said. “There’s nothing prohibiting that at all.

Special education is another area that could use additional funding, Fry said.

“Doing special education remotely was a huge challenge,” Fry said.

Early childhood education is another as is mental health services.

“That’s another that would really move us forward in terms of economic development significantly,” Fry said.

The state has to be careful, however, not to spend the money on programs that will have recurring funding needs long after the stimulus money is spent.

“We should look at investments that are one-time dollars and not cause us to have unsustainable spending down the road,” Fry said.

The stimulus bill also included $685 million for Nebraska cities and counties, $566 million for K-12 schools and $211 million for public and private universities, the Lincoln Journal-Star reported.

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