OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — State Senator Justin Wayne says he does his day job as a lawyer until about 10 a.m. every day.
“The rest of the day is meeting with people and hearing about different opportunities they think this money can be used for,” said Wayne.
That shows the interest North Omaha residents and stakeholders have in the $300 million-plus given to east Omaha from the Nebraska Legislature this year.
The money he’s talking about is around $200 million, give or take $25 million, that is set to go North and South Omaha. But, it has no specific earmark on where it’s going.
The money, which the state got from Congress after passing the American Rescue Plan, will be spent on projects which will include affordable housing, small business assistance and, of course, jobs. But no specifics are known yet.
“We don’t want to fund a job that is paying $13 per hour. We are trying to move people out of poverty into prosperity and, in order to do that, they have to have good living wage jobs and just transformational to the community,” said Wayne.
Preston Love Jr. has seen what disenfranchisement and segregation have done to North Omaha, but these efforts have made the 80-year-old optimistic.
“I’m excited about this like I’ve never been excited about the attempts in the past,” said Love. “Returning (North Omaha) to its glory.”
Love said he knows plenty in his community who want the money but urges that the selected projects go to long-lasting efforts that don’t just help out a select few.
“That the long-term of making smart use of the money would help all us, it would be the tide that raises all ships,” said Love.
Wayne says that’s exactly the kind of projects that will be picked, ones with a lasting impact.
We'll see things really pick up over the next few months with stakeholder meetings in August and then public meetings in North and South Omaha.
“We don’t know everything, so that’s why we’re going back to the community saying ‘We put our plan together, but maybe we missed things, so we want to hear from you,'" said Wayne.
Engineering firm Olsson has been hired to help organize and prioritize the projects. The money is likely to be given out next spring.
While they already have a lot of money, Wayne has his eyes on more. This time, from private donors and businesses who will, he hopes, match those dollars.
“How do we leverage all of this to turn this $300 million into $900 million? Now we’re talking transformational change,” said Wayne.
A transformation that means a lot of money going to the right places.