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'The time is now': Senators pitch bill that spends $450 million on North Omaha

Posted at 7:15 PM, Feb 01, 2022

LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — It’s no secret that places like North Omaha were hit especially hard by the pandemic.

On Tuesday, North Omaha state senators pitched their plan to revitalize the community: using $450 million of federal stimulus money.

The plan introduced by Sen. Justin Wayne aims to right the wrongs North Omaha has suffered in the past. Most recently, data shows the pandemic hit low income communities the hardest, both medically and economically.

Sen. Terrell McKinney of North Omaha also backs the bill.

“We’re always asking and spinning our wheels on what could be done and what could help our community. The plan is here and the time is now,” said McKinney.

Nebraska has over $1 billion coming from the federal government due to the American Rescue Plan passing last year.

The Legislature will be the ones to spend it.

Wayne points to guidance from the federal government that says low income communities should see the largest chunk of stimulus money.

The plan is ambitious and wide ranging. It looks to transform 16th, 24th and 30th Streets, from near downtown, to Florence.

“If we get North Omaha right, then Ord...Ogallala, Norfolk, the same problems of economic development, we can get right there too,” said Wayne.

One constant issue the plan tackles is affordable housing, building 100 new homes, 200 rentals and, as Wayne says, upgrading homes nearby.

The plan also looks to build another business park near the airport, stabilize small businesses in east Omaha, and provide job training opportunities.

The jobs portion of it was what attracted Osie V. Combs Jr., who owns Pacific Engineering, a booming company in Roca, that contracts with the U.S. military.

He says this plan would allow him to find more employees, as early as when they’re in high school, to eventually train them for high wage jobs.

“We have to develop the talent," Combs said. "We need to stop skipping over the existing talent that is right under our nose, train them, work them."

That got the attention of Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer, who said this bill is better for public safety than adding a thousand police officers.

“I’d rather have a thousand jobs strategically placed in the right part of our city to affect poverty that would reduce violent crime far more than a thousand more police officers,” he said.

The plan also would bring huge upgrades to Adams Park, the Malcolm X Museum and would help fund a county mental health facility.