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Douglas County board gets contentious during rent assistance discussion

Posted at 5:50 PM, Jun 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-30 19:13:53-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The Douglas County Board of Commissioners has $10 million to give out to those that can’t pay rent due to the coronavirus pandemic.

How that money is given out, and who works people through the process, was an item of major disagreement at the board meeting on Tuesday.

The board largely agreed on core tenants of the plan.

To qualify for rent assistance you need to be a county resident, have legal status, you must be unable to pay rent because your income was negatively impacted by the pandemic, and you can’t be receiving unemployment benefits, specifically the extra $600 a week.

The plan would be to give three months rent, or $3,000, whichever comes first, directly to the landlord of those that meet those requirements.

The household income also needs to be 80 percent below the average income, in order for a person to qualify.

The last point Commissioner Mike Boyle disagreed with.

“They were people that were working and got laid off. So they may have been making pretty good dough, whatever it is, and so I don’t focus on low income because that’s not who these people are," says Boyle.

Boyle wasn’t happy with other aspects of the county plan.

That includes having the county give out the money. Boyle wants non-profit organizations to get the money, and use their resources to divvy out funds.

“I think it’s a lot simpler to use our non-profits,” says Boyle.

Patrick Bloomingdale, Chief Administrative Officer for Douglas County, told Boyle that the county would have less accountability that way, and it would prolong the process.

Eventually Boyle relented on that front.

Then Boyle took issue with allowing Deloitte, the accounting firm the county hired to navigate the county through the CARES Act money, to implement the rent assistance.

Bloomingdale and Finance Director Joe Lorenz says Deloitte has three call centers around the country and the staff in place to give out the money quickly and efficiently.

Boyle instead wants to hire unemployed people and train them for the job.

“I think there are alternatives, we’ve got hundreds, if not thousands, of unemployed people, here in Omaha, that can do this work,” says Boyle.

Some like Clare Duda, were visibly frustrated with Boyle.

“What is the directive from the board? Is it to move as quickly as possible or is it to explore every alternative, any commissioner comes up with?” says Duda.

The board ultimately decided to come back to the rent assistance at their next meeting in July.

Boyle says he wants to know how much the county will pay Deloitte and also plans to look up how much his plan would cost.

Commissioner Marc Kraft said during the meeting he wants the county to eventually pass an additional $25 million in rent assistance. Boyle agreed with him.

The board did approve $4 million in assistance to those that can’t pay their utility bills to OPPD and MUD.

The board also approved a resolution creating a Diversity, Inclusion and Equity committee.

That committee will look at county hiring practices, its training and how it promotes its workers from within.