Amantha Dickman, News Director: You’re listening to “KZUM News” on 89.3 KZUM Lincoln and KZUM HD. 

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Amantha Dickman, News Director: Good afternoon and welcome to today’s edition of “KZUM News,” an hour dedicated to learning more about what is going on in Lincoln and the surrounding areas. I am the News Director, and your host, Amantha Dickman. 

Time has flown by so quickly this week. 

I am shocked that it is already Saturday. Which isn’t a surprise considering that I’m still getting used to the fact that we are halfway through the month of August. Next thing we know, there will be a foot of snow on the ground and I will be freezing to death. 

But that is the not-so-distant future. 

Right now, we are going to think happy thoughts with a round of relatively breaking news to start off our morning. 

Due to the ongoing demolition of the Gold’s building, the StarTran transit system will be moving two bus stops currently located on “N” street between South 10 and South 11 streets to alternative locations. 

Bus Stop One is being relocated to the intersection of “N” and South 11 streets on the Northeast corner, next to Latitude Apartments. This stop serves Route 41-Havelock, Route 54-Veteran’s Hospital, and Route 56-Sheridan. 

Bus Stop Two will be moving to the intersection of “N” and South 11th street to the Northeast corner next to the Center Park Garage. It will continue to serve Route 42-Bethany and Route 46-Arnold Heights.

I would also like to take this time to remind you that StarTran just changed their service hours on August 18. Fixed-route evening services, VanLNK on-demand services, and paratransit services will end at 7:00 p.m.

Additionally, the Lincoln Transportation and Utilities Department is urging drivers and pedestrians to use caution around schools, particularly those schools with nearby Lincoln on the Move street projects underway. If you don’t recall, Lincoln on the Move is a six-year program investing an additional $78 million in street infrastructure through 2025. Currently, the program has ongoing improvement projects near Belmont Elementary School, Clinton Elementary School, Lincoln High School, Morley Elementary School, and Robinson Elementary School. Drivers and pedestrians are encouraged to seek alternative routes or exercise caution around all work zones. More information can be found at lincoln.ne.gov/LOTM.

While we’re on the subject, the Lincoln Police Department is asking drivers to be cautious during the high-traffic time frames of 7:00 to 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. This is when most children are commonly traveling to or from school. Don’t forget to slow down in these areas for pedestrians and stop for buses. 

Lastly, on the morning of August 16, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law. The $740 billion piece of legislation highlights plans to address climate change, lower health care costs by limiting out-of-pocket drug expenses for seniors on Medicare and raise taxes to 15% for corporations.

While Nebraska Representatives Mike Flood, Don Bacon, and Adrian Smith all voted ‘no’ to passing the Inflation Reduction Act – a fact which each announced in their own press release and which is linked in today’s transcript – the Center for Rural Affairs applauded its passing. 

Joining us now is Johnathan Hladik, the Policy Director for the Center of Rural Affairs, to share the expected effects the Inflation Reduction Act will have on Nebraska’s rural communities. 

Good morning.

 Johnathan Hladik, Policy Director for the Center of Rural Affairs: Morning

Amantha Dickman, News Director: How are you doing?

Johnathan Hladik, Policy Director for the Center of Rural Affairs: Very good, thank you. How are you doing?

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Wonderful, thank you. And thank you for meeting me on such short notice. I know this was a pretty quick turnaround. To start us off, can you tell us a little bit about you?

Johnathan Hladik, Policy Director for the Center of Rural Affairs: Yeah. My name is Johnathan Hladik

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And can you tell us a little bit about your position with the center for rural affairs?

Johnathan Hladik, Policy Director for the Center of Rural Affairs: Yeah. I’m the policy director here at the Center for Rural Affairs. I’ve been here for just over 10 years. We do state and federal policy. So, we work in Nebraska state policy and in Iowa state policy, but we’re also active at the federal level with farm bill and rule development work. At the center, we also have a small business lending arm and a community direct service program, I guess is probably the best way to say it. But, uh, for me, I just work on.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: But we’re here to talk specifically about the Inflation Reduction Act. It is a massive 330-page bill that was passed last week and was officially signed by President Biden. And the Center for Rural Affair’s released an announcement applauding it, saying it was a win for rural communities. Can you expand on that statement and explain the projected impact that the center for rural affairs is predicting that it will have for rural communities?

 Johnathan Hladik, Policy Director for the Center of Rural Affairs: Yeah, I can. And I can… I think I would like to focus probably on three separate components.

 So, number one, it’s a really big positive for on-farm conservation work. And this is climate-smart agriculture, which is a big deal in rural communities, not only for the farmers themselves but also for the jobs it creates.

Two, from a rural development aspect, these significant new investments in rural communities. We don’t always think about it, but the farm bill and USDA  just ends up with a ton of money flowing to rural communities for everything from your rural water system to on and on down the line. This one’s focused primarily on energy, but at the end of the day, these big investments are going to make a big difference. 

And then, finally, simply the climate and energy investments that are national and at a much broader scale end up having a bigger impact on rural communities than a lot of us realize. Just like we produce commodities like corn, and soybeans, and meat, we also produce a lot of energy that’s, frankly, used by urban areas. And so a lot of that investment is going to end up flowing to us. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And you mentioned that one of those factors is climate-smart agriculture. Can you explain what that is for us? 

Johnathan Hladik, Policy Director for the Center of Rural Affairs: Yeah, I can. So this bill will send about $44 billion to ag conservation programs. And this is titled to the farm bill. And this is going to… most of it is going to… let me walk that back just a little bit. 

So this bill is going to send about $44 billion to, well, let me say it this way; this bill is going to send about $20 billion simply to farm bill conservation programs. And this is going to be broken up into four subprograms. We’re going to have the environmental quality incentive program, which is going to get about 43 percent of that, RCPP which is going to be about 25% of that. The conservation stewardship program, which is a really big priority for us at the center, will get about 17%. And the ag conservation easement program is going to get about seven percent. 

And this is specifically designated only for climate-smart agriculture. All of these programs have functions kind of above and beyond climate-smart agriculture, and they are still funded by Farm Bill Mandatory Appropriations. 

But all of this extra money is going to be simply for climate-smart agriculture. And what that means for us here is improving soil carbon, reducing nitrogen losses, reducing or capturing or avoiding or sequestering carbon dioxide, or methane, or nitrous oxide in all of the pollution associated with agriculture production. 

So how can these conservation programs be used to address climate change?

We’re going to find out how big of a difference they can make with these new investments. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And then you also mentioned that that second aspect is rural funding. You mentioned a couple of ways in which funding for rural communities can be used. Can you tell us about some other ways in which that sort of funding can help uplift those rural communities?

Johnathan Hladik, Policy Director for the Center of Rural Affairs: Yeah, a lot of this is really energy focused. So we don’t think about it but, in rural areas, our rural electric cooperatives are pretty heavily subsidized by USDA and the Rural Utility Service Program within the Department of Agriculture. And there are going to be some investments within that RUS program, but there’s also going to be some additional investments, simply focused on farmers and agricultural production from an energy standpoint. And then, also, on rural communities. 

So for example the Rural Energy for America program was created to help get more energy-efficient investments on the farm and more clean energy investments on the farm. So, it’ll provide cost-share funding, for example, for a farmer who wants to put solar panels on their farm. And there’s going to be a really big influx of money into this program with $820 million in fiscal year 2022 and $180 million through fiscal year is 2023 through 2027. And all of that’s going to be available to you until 2031. 

And, again, this is for ag producers and even rural small businesses; even your rural grocery store could use this to become more energy efficient and adopt more renewable energy technologies.

And there’s also a separate pot of money going straight to rural electric cooperatives. This is going to be almost $10 billion and this money’s going to be for reliability and affordability of rural electric systems to achieve the greatest reduction in carbon dioxide and methane and nitrous dioxide emissions. All of this is going to help clean up the fleet that powers rural electric systems. And that’s really important because if you think about… kind of within Nebraska or Iowa or South Dakota or any surrounding states, the utilities that are most committed to using fossil fuel generation are, by and large, are going to be your rural electric cooperatives. And, so, if there is this incentive here that encourages them to, you know, utilize a cleaner portfolio and that’s gonna be a really big difference for us.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And one of the things that I couldn’t really find when I was reading up on this [subject]… how is that money distributed? Is there going to be an application process? Do you know?

Johnathan Hladik, Policy Director for the Center of Rural Affairs: Well, a lot of this money’s going to go through existing programs and that was kind of a trick within the reconciliation process.

Do you create a new program? In some cases that’ll be the case. But that’ll be the small minority cases for the most part. It’s going through the program that  I mentioned earlier. 2031… so under reconciliation rules, all of the extra money needs to be spent by 2031. So it may be appropriated in fiscal year 2023 or 2024, 2025, but it’s going to be able to sit in those kind of existing accounts for a little while and just needs to be spent by 2031. And so what you’ll see for the most part are a lot of these agencies that already exist and programs that already exist, you know, sending out information to applicants, sending out information to potential applicants, doing a lot of media. 

We try to help out and do some of that ourselves by doing some press releases or some guest opinions. When a new program application period opens, just getting the word out that there’s going to be more money. 

Within this design, and even particularly on the energy section, some money’s also going to flow to states. And we saw that a little bit in Nebraska with APA funding with, with the American Rescue Plan Act. Stimulus funding went to the state and the state had its own kind of unique process for learning how it’s going to spend that.

Something somewhat similar is going to happen here. 

Again, there’s a good chance that the additional money will flow to existing state programs and you’ll see those same state agencies involved with that process. But in some other cases, they might have to roll out some new programs. And I think we’ve learned from ARPA that could take the state a little while.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Thank you again for sitting down with me. I appreciate it. 

Johnathan Hladik, Policy Director for the Center of Rural Affairs: No problem. Thanks for reaching out. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Have a good one. 

Johnathan Hladik, Policy Director for the Center of Rural Affairs: You too. 

That was Johnathan Hladik, the Policy Direct for the Center of Rural Affairs, with insight on how the Inflation Reduction Act will impact Nebraska’s rural communities. 

We’re going to take a quick break and then we will meet with Dr. Julie Morita to learn about the role vaccines play in the start of the school year. 

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Amantha Dickman, News Director: We have a special guest this morning. Joining us is Dr. Julie Morita, the executive director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a serving member of the Center for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee to the Director. Dr. Morita is going to tell us more about the role vaccines play in preparing children for the upcoming school year. 

Let’s get started.

Dr. Julie Morita, Executive Director of the RWJF and board member for CDC’s Advisory Committee to the Director: My name is Julie Morita, M-O-R-I-T-A. And I am the executive vice president for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Now for our listeners who are not as familiar with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, can you explain to us the focus of your work? 

Dr. Julie Morita, Executive Director of the RWJF and board member for CDC’s Advisory Committee to the Director: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the largest philanthropy focused solely on health in the nation.

And what that means is we really look at trying to build a culture of health, which means that everyone in America has a fair and just opportunity for health and wellbeing. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Now we’re here this morning because, as the school year approaches, discussing how to prevent communicable diseases has been huge on our school system’s discussion for the year.

In the most recent study done by the CDC about vaccination rates, they found that those rates went down over the course of the 2020/2021 school year. But for those listeners who maybe have some concerns, can you kind of lay out why the vaccination process is important for school-aged children?

Dr. Julie Morita, Executive Director of the RWJF and board member for CDC’s Advisory Committee to the Director: Vaccinations have been celebrated as one of the greatest public health accomplishments in the 20th century. 

Because of the success of our childhood vaccine programs, we no longer see diseases – serious diseases – like measles, mumps, bacterial meningitis, whooping cough. These are serious diseases that cause young children to get seriously ill, or sometimes to die. And that’s… the reason we don’t see them is because of the successful vaccination program. And the reason we have such high levels is because we have a really comprehensive program that makes vaccines available to all children, regardless of their insurance status. And what is concerning is when we see a dip in the levels of protection that we have. Cuz when we see these dips in protection, it means that more people are at risk for getting sick and then spreading the disease.

So while polio might seem like a distant memory to many, we just identified a person with polio in New York state last month. And that means that people who are under-vaccinated, who haven’t been fully vaccinated or protected against polio could be at risk for getting polio. And that’s something to take very seriously.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Especially since, and correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s a certain age range in which they stopped vaccinating for polio, correct? 

Dr. Julie Morita, Executive Director of the RWJF and board member for CDC’s Advisory Committee to the Director: So we have continued to vaccinate. What happened was that in 2000 we switched from an oral vaccine that people could take by mouth to an injectable form of the vaccine. But part of why we could make… we were comfortable making that change to the injectable form of the vaccine is because it was so rare and uncommon to see polio. And so it’s really critical that we have these high levels of protection. 

What New York state has found, because they really identify this individual case, is that we need to look and see how well protected our children are. And they found that there’s huge ranges in terms of coverage. Some counties, some school districts have much higher levels of vaccine protection than others. And in those low communities, it’s pretty low: lower than 60 percent. That means that  40 percent of the population is… could be at risk for getting polio if there were spreads to occur. So I think it’s really important for us to really be pushing hard. Back-to-school time is often a time where we thought about school physicals, sports physicals, vaccinations.

This is a time to really double down on those efforts and make sure that our kids are getting protected. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And there are individuals who maybe are not as sold on doing their vaccinations. Can you tell us a little bit about where those concerns are coming from, their reasoning behind it? 

Dr. Julie Morita, Executive Director of the RWJF and board member for CDC’s Advisory Committee to the Director: It’s really normal for parents to want to make sure that they understand why things are important before they have their children vaccinated or before they take a medication or because they have a treatment of some kind.

And, so, I… it’s not unusual for parents to have questions. I think what happened with the Covid-19 vaccine, because it was a new vaccine, people had a lot of questions. And there was some uncertainty about how safe or effective they were in parents’ minds. 

What’s really important right now is for those parents that have questions about the Covid-19 vaccine or the other childhood vaccines to talk to their healthcare providers, their pediatricians, their family doctors or, sometimes it’s not even a matter of a healthcare provider, but a trusted person in the community or their faith leader to ask the questions that they have about vaccines so that parents can be comfortable about getting the vaccines. 

On top of that, it’s really important that pediatricians and public health agencies really make sure that they have the vaccine available at times when parents can get them. Cuz parents still report questions about will they have enough money to cover the cost of vaccines. The vaccines should be at low cost or no cost to all children. In addition to that, the vaccines have to be available after hours, on weekends when parents aren’t working. So it’s really important to take those things into consideration in addition to answering the questions the parents might have about the safety and how effective the vaccines are. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: You mentioned some of those barriers that parents and families might experience when it comes time to do vaccinations. Can you tell us a little bit about how the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, or even the United States at a large, can help address those barriers?

Dr. Julie Morita, Executive Director of the RWJF and board member for CDC’s Advisory Committee to the Director: So I think one of the things that we talked about is that as we saw the vaccine program rollout for Covid-19 vaccine, it became very clear that some parents had these barriers to getting a vaccination for themselves or for their children. And it’s things like paid sick leave, time off from work so the parents can take their children or themselves to get the doctor… to get the vaccinations or to recover from the vaccines themselves. 

These are kinds of barriers that people encounter that we haven’t really paid enough attention to, and really need to do that. 

The other thing is making sure that the clinics and the vaccines are available so that everyone has access to them at the times and the places that are easily accessible for them.

And then insurance coverage. For adults, vaccines haven’t been routinely covered for adults. And so because of that, cost might be a barrier. I was really excited to see that with the Inflation Reduction Act, that they actually are expanding vaccine coverage for Medicaid-enrolled adults, as well as Medicare part D recipients, that they can actually get their vaccines covered at no cost. And that’s the elimination of a huge barrier.

So those are the kinds of barriers that many of us that are insured don’t think about, but people who aren’t insured or people who don’t have paid leave really have to contend with when they’re making the decisions about getting vaccinated or not. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And, in the last couple years, vaccinations have become a very polarized conversation. It’s very sensitive for a lot of people. For those times, when the conversation gets a little tense, how do you suggest health officials or healthcare providers kind of break the ice and address questions and concerns that families might have and help them feel more at ease?

Dr. Julie Morita, Executive Director of the RWJF and board member for CDC’s Advisory Committee to the Director: Yeah, I think it’s really important to go back and look at what success we’ve had with these vaccination programs. To have people think back about measles or whooping cough, or bacterial meningitis outbreaks, or even HPV. HPV causes cervical cancer or head and neck cancer. And we have these vaccines now that can prevent people from getting these serious life-threatening diseases. And having people understand that the reason that we don’t see these diseases as much now is because of the successful vaccination programs. I think it’s really important just to remind people about what it is that we’re trying to accomplish.

You know we can’t… just say this is not a political issue or to try to address it from that perspective, I don’t think is necessarily going to work. I really think it comes back to what is it we’re trying to accomplish with this… these vaccines. And do parents, do adults really value the health and well-being of their children? And I think we all do. 

So when we can get to that common level of understanding, I think we can overcome some of these misconceptions or misinterpretations about the safety and efficacy and the importance of a vaccine. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And then I just have one more question here. You mentioned that New York identified its first case of polio in a long time. And then we’re also seeing immense cases of monkeypox popping up across the United States. And there’s been a lot of misinformation about the vaccination process for monkeypox. So to start us off. There are plenty of people saying that the smallpox vaccine works to prevent monkeypox. Is that true?

Dr. Julie Morita, Executive Director of the RWJF and board member for CDC’s Advisory Committee to the Director:  So I think what we know is that there is a monkeypox vaccine that is effective in preventing disease, serious disease. And so that vaccine is what is being administered at this time. 

To count on the smallpox vaccination as being enough, providing enough protection to keep people safe, I don’t know that I would do that necessarily. 

But I do think it’s important to talk about the vaccines that are available. And that it’s being targeted because it’s limited in supply to those people who really are at greatest risk for getting the disease. And so that’s what happens when you have a limited supply, kind of like Covid-19 vaccine in the beginning, you have to focus in on who should actually get it.

And that’s what’s happening right now. 

I think this is just another example of how it’s really important for people to have their questions answered by trusted sources of information. And a lot of times that’s a family doctor or a pediatrician or a healthcare provider. But sometimes people wanna look for information on the internet.

And I think that you may not… if people don’t wanna go to government sites like state or local public health websites or CDC’s websites, they can look at academic institutions, universities in their towns, in their states, to actually find information they feel more comfortable trusting or believing. 

But I think it’s really a matter of parents and people in general, just looking to find the right sources where they’re comfortable getting information and then asking the critical questions that they have. But healthcare providers, they want to help people understand why it’s important and they want to encourage people to get vaccinated. So I think people should start there.

Amantha Dickman, News Director: And then this is the last one. We’ve obviously had several boosters come out for the Covid-19 vaccine. But we’ve had a lot of conversations recently in our local area about how vaccine efficacy can diminish over time and how it’s important to get those boosters. Can you tell listeners a little bit about why those vaccines might lose efficacy over time?

Dr. Julie Morita, Executive Director of the RWJF and board member for CDC’s Advisory Committee to the Director: If we think about Covid-19 kind of like we think about flu vaccine and that the virus actually changes and can change over time. And that’s why we have to get a flu vaccine every year. It’s because the virus that is circulating changes and the prior vaccine may not work as well. 

I think what we’re seeing with the Covid-19 vaccine in particular, that while we have protective levels immediately after the vaccines or several months after the vaccine, it does wan over time. And then when the new variants emerge, sometimes the vaccines are less effective against them. And so having the boosters or having high level of protection is really, really important. 

What we’re looking forward to in the fall is potentially a new formulation of the vaccines that will be better able to address some of the more recent variants that have occurred. But until then having the highest level of protection possible is really important. And that’s what the booster doses actually do. They raise your antibodies to a level that they can fight these viruses that are circulating. It may not prevent you from getting sick at all, but it might prevent you from getting hospitalized or getting seriously ill and dying. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Excellent. Well, I know that you are running out of time and that you have to get to your next appointment. So thank you, again, Dr. Morita for sitting down with us. I appreciate it. 

Dr. Julie Morita, Executive Director of the RWJF and board member for CDC’s Advisory Committee to the Director: No problem. Thanks so much. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Have a good day. 

Dr. Julie Morita, Executive Director of the RWJF and board member for CDC’s Advisory Committee to the Director: You as well

Amantha Dickman, News Director: That was Dr. Julie Morita, the executive director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a serving member of the CDC’s Advisory Committee to the Director, sharing more information with us about back-to-school vaccines. 

We have one more break today and then we’ll be back to learn about the tourism grant that the city of Lincoln received last weekend. 

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Amantha Dickman, News Director: And welcome back to today’s episode of “KZUM News.” 

Last month, the City of Lincoln and Lancaster County announced plans to utilize funds made available by the American Rescue Plan State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to create $4.9 million in grant awards that would be distributed to 15 local nonprofit tourist organizations impacted by Covid-19.

A committee of City and County officials reviewed 21 applications. Now we’re going to learn more about the grants with their August 11 press conference. 

Leirion Gaylor Baird, Mayor of Lincoln: On our efforts to invest American rescue plan, state, and local fiscal recovery funds right here in our community. This historic legislation has provided critical support to communities across the country, including ours here in Lincoln and Lancaster county.

And I’m joined by city and county officials and other community leaders, some of whom are with us and were participants on the committee, who could be here this afternoon, and who have been essential partners in this process. Their work helps us determine how best to allocate this funding and has already resulted in strategic community-wide investments in job training for workers and employers, for small business stabilization, strengthened infrastructure, and equitable public health initiatives. This plan between our city and county to distribute these American Rescue Plan funds has been instrumental in helping us meet the immediate and critical needs of our community and our neighbors. And, at the same time, this legislation not only has helped us meet immediate needs. It’s helped us invest in and plan for our future, which is why we’re here today. 

This afternoon, we are announcing the recipients of almost $5 million in tourism support grants from our allocation of American Rescue Plan funding. The purpose of these grants is to help nonprofit tourist organizations recover from revenue losses during the pandemic and to support their continued operations. 

Before I go any further. I just wanna thank our hosts at History Nebraska and acknowledge them as one of our communities’ very vibrant tourist attractions.

The Nebraska History Museum brings life to 12,000 years of our history through amazing stories and fascinating exhibits and exhibits like the award-winning one all around us, which commemorates the hundredth anniversary of the 19th amendment through stories of the many Nebraskans who fought for women’s suffrage. If you haven’t yet been here to see it, you’ve got two more months, so I hope you’ll stay and have a look around. 

Non-profit tourism organizations like History Nebraska do great things for our community. They add value to the local economy. They provide our residents and visitors with shared experiences and cherished memories that make Lincoln an even stronger community and a more attractive destination. Simply put, they bring us joy. 

Today’s announcement is about helping to ensure these organizations can continue to fulfill these vital roles and supporting them on their road to renewal. And after careful evaluation of each application to our tourism grant program, our committee selected 15 eligible, local nonprofit tourism organizations to receive nearly $5 million in grant funding. And this funding will enable our organizations to recover from some of their pandemic losses and to be in a stronger position to hire staff and stage the shows and festivals, exhibits, sporting events, and educational programs that make our community of vibrant one for residents and visitors alike.

And the 15 recipients are: the Leid Center for the Performing Arts, the Nebraska Repertory Theater, Camp Creek Antique Machinery and Threshing Association Inc., the Flatwater Shakespeare Company, Friends of Woods Tennis Inc., History Nebraska Foundation/History Nebraska, Lancaster County Agricultural Society inc., the Lincoln Arts Council, Lincoln Calling, the Lincoln’s Children’s Museum, the Lincoln’s Children’s Zoom, the Lincoln Sports Foundation, the LUX Center for the arts, Midwest Racers Organization, Inc., and the Museum of American Speed. 

One of our key partners in the grant selection process is Lancaster County Commissioner Deb Schorr. And I’d like to invite Commissioner Schorr now to come up and say a few words about the important role that these non-profit tourist organizations play right here in our county. 

Deb Schorr, the Lancaster County Commissioner: Thank you, mayor. 

Well, good afternoon. 

Lancaster County was proud to partner with the city in this grant allocation process. And I wanna thank my fellow commissioner, Rick Vest, for being an active participant, as well as my friends here from the Lincoln City Council. 

I also wanna express gratitude to those of you on the front lines. When the pandemic hit, it first impacted our restaurants, our hotels, our museums, our attractions, and our sports and art partners. You went from dozens and hundreds of visitors every day to, as it is, crickets to quiet. And then you had to think outside the box. Had to try new ways of doing business. And one of the words most commonly used during the pandemic was ‘pivot’. And that’s what each of you did, finding a new way to do business, a new way to provide services. You took it to the airways, you took it to the TV stations, you took it to the streets. You did everything to continue to enrich the lives in this community during… very difficult. 

These funds were intended to replace the dollars that you all lost as a result of not having people coming through the doors, people not paying dues due to their financial situations, and, of course, fundraising events that were canceled left and right. So these funds are there to help you recover those. And, as with any grant allocation process, there is never enough money to go around. So each of you didn’t receive all that you asked for and, sadly, there were organizations that did not receive any.

So the debate was very vigorous at times. But we did come to a consensus and are proud to be here to make that announcement today. Lincoln is on pace to be exactly where we were in 2019. And that means our community is recovering more quickly than most everyone else across the country. And that says a lot about that Lincoln and that Midwest work ethic, that we’ve come together to get right back to where we were even better than before. And each one of these tourists that comes to enjoy, like I said, the attractions, the restaurants, and stay in our hotels pays that lodging tax and it is the obligation of Lancaster county in consultation with the Visitor Promotion Committee and the Visitor Improvement fund to return those dollars back to improve all of these attractions. And again, just to continue that cycle forward, better attractions, better events bring more and more people in. So again, thank you for the work that you all did during very difficult times and brighter days are ahead and I know these funds will be put to great use. Thank you.

Leirion Gaylor Baird, Mayor of Lincoln: Thank you, Commissioner Schorr. 

And I do want to thank, by name, each member of the committee. Commissioner Deb Schorr, Councilman Tom Beckius, Councilman Bennie Shobe, Commissioner Rick Vest. And while she can’t be here with us today, also Councilman Jane Raybould. They did the hard work and heavy lifting. And I also want to thank Grace Willnerd for the support that you provided to the community.

Next up we are joined this afternoon by History Nebraska Executive Director Tyler Baca. And I’d love for you to come up in say a few words.

Tyler Baca, Executive Director of History Nebraska: Well, thank you, mayor. 

Welcome, everybody, to the Nebraska History Museum and thank you, as well, for choosing History Nebraska to host this historic press conference. For many nonprofit organizations in our communities, the impacts of the pandemic are still being felt, whether it’s through attendance numbers that haven’t fully recovered, budgetary holds that are holding organizations back, or, perhaps most frustrating, special projects and programs that are still waiting to be picked back up, finished and delivered to the community for your enjoyment. 

Today, we are standing in one example of the pandemic’s impact. This exhibit, “Votes for Women,” would not be here right now if not for the pandemic. It would’ve been replaced by another exhibit already. But because the exhibit is still here, the pandemic has actually offered History Nebraska an opportunity to pair this exhibit with another very special exhibit from the National Geographic folks. That exhibit is titled ‘Women: a Century of Change.” And like our own “Votes for Women” exhibit, “Women: a Century of Change” was created to celebrate the 100 anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment. By pairing these two incredible exhibits together History Nebraska offers museum-goers, the opportunity to engage with the last 100 years of the women’s movement at the local, state, and national levels. The National Geographic exhibit is just one example of the rich and incredible programming these awards will help our nonprofit organizations within this community provide. 

In December, both this exhibit and the “Women: A Century of Change” exhibit will leave this museum. And one more visible impact of the pandemic will be gone. And thanks to our wonderful city and county leaders and the funds being awarded today, some of the invisible impacts will be alleviated as well. So on behalf of the History of Nebraska Foundation, History Nebraska, and all our peers who are receiving rewards awards today, I wanna thank you Mayor Gaylor Baird and our leaders of Lincoln and Lancaster county for recognizing the incredible value that our organizations provide to the city of Lincoln and the state of Nebraska. We at History Nebraska and the History of Nebraska Foundation look forward to continuing to fill our important role within the fabric of the Lincoln community as we work together to ensure our history is collected, preserved, and made open to all. 

Thank you very much.

Leirion Gaylor Baird, Mayor of Lincoln: Thank you, Tyler, and congratulations to you and all our winners. 

One of our closest partners and best advocates in promoting local tourist attractions is the Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau. And I’d like to invite Executive Director and Vice President Jeff Maul to say a few words. 

Jeff Maul, Executive Director and Vice President of Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau: Whew. Does this feel good or what?

Tourism partners, give yourself a round of applause, please.

It’s been a long time coming and I have never had a chance to publicly thank city and county government, the mayor, everybody standing behind me. All of you for the amazing amount of support in our industry. The phone calls, the email, the hugs, the knuckle busting, whatever we called it back then, we all got behind one another. And tourism means a ton to me.

I’ve done this for 20 years. I would always tell people it would always be some sort of weird thing that would stop tourism: another 9/11, economic downturns, but could any one of us have predicted a pandemic? Not in our lifetime, no way. 

But the support of everybody behind me and all of you, we made it through. We got to today, there’s a lot of smiling faces in this room. I see people in the back of the room that we’ve been working together for a long time. Amy and your staff, everybody, all of you, we keep doing what is right for Lincoln. So thank you, thank you, thank you.

With tourism industry vibrancy solely relying on visitors from outside Lincoln and Lancaster county, shutdowns and travel restrictions as a result of the pandemic forced many to shut down or furlough. For many, their pre-pandemic business model and budget will be forever altered. Tyler. You mentioned that. 

At the peak of the pandemic and without annual conferences that put feet in the sheets – Deb, right? We’ve always talked about our industry terminology – youth sports and university athletics occupancy at hotels drop to a citywide low of 27.4 percent in April of 2020.

That’s low and that’s citywide. 

So you gotta figure a lot of those folks who are on the bottom end of that. And we had a few that were just barely above 27.4 percent. And that continued a long way into 2020. As a result of little or no travel and hotel stays, our attractions industry for the most part shut down completely.

We all went through it together. That shutdown, and without revenues for many months, delayed expansions and we’ll see annual operating budgets issue, issue, issue year after year, trying to catch up from the down. These grant awards and the accompanying return to travel by many signifies how, indeed, we are better together, both as a community, working alongside our great partners in the community, but traveling and enjoying one another once again, whether it’s a hug, whatever it is. We just get to be and do what we were meant to do and that to get out and travel. 

Again, thank you to the mayor, our city, and county government, and the citizens of Lincoln for recognizing the value of tourism on our economy. 

Thank you so much for your time.

Leirion Gaylor Baird, Mayor of Lincoln: Thanks so much, Jeff. 

And I just wanna echo the sentiments of so many who’ve spoken today about what your organizations mean to our community. And even as you were dealing with the hardships and having to pivot and find new ways to deliver programming and services, you were helping other people survive the pandemic, even with all the challenges you faced. And we want to really acknowledge that. 

And we’re so grateful to be able to do something, to give back to you. And I just wanna add, as we close, that from the acrylic on an artist’s paintbrush to the Zydeco band at a music festival, Lincoln nonprofit tourism organizations span and reflect our dynamic and welcoming community.

And with these grants that the organizations receive today, they will be able to offer residents and visitors a richer canvas and a bigger stage to experience Lincoln, Nebraska. 

I’d like everyone to please check out the website, visit lincoln.ne.gov/arp for more details about how we are investing these important dollars to benefit our city and county communities.

And with that, we’d be happy to take any questions from the media.

Unknown Reporter: Mayor,  how was that process? What did you guys go through to determine who got what money and how much they got? 

Leirion Gaylor Baird, Mayor of Lincoln: Thank you for the question. How did we go through this process? 

I’ll just start and I can… others can speak to it. But I would mention that, you know, we were trying to move as quickly as possible in our first round of tourism applications with the initial guidance from the American Rescue Plan. We got the final rules and we had to pivot ourselves and do another round of applications.

So we’re really grateful for the patience of our tourism organizations. 

We identified tourism nonprofits as organizations that were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and opened up a pretty streamlined application process for them. At which point our committee did really the heavy lifting. They looked through the… identified which organizations were eligible and then kind of looked at how they were impacted in terms of what kinds of constraints they experienced and what kinds of funding support they got from other sources in terms of relief.

Does anyone else wanna add to those comments? 

Deb Schorr, the Lancaster County Commissioner: I think the one word is negotiation. 

We had, as I mentioned before, not any entity received all they had asked for. And there were some, as the mayor said, that weren’t eligible under the guidelines. So it was a lot of back and forth between the committee members, strong feelings on all sides about how various entities were impacted.

I’ll use the zoo for an example, talking about, you know, they had to shut their doors. Still had to feed the animals. Those fixed costs didn’t go away. So that’s just one example of maybe the many factors and how each entity was impacted that we took into consideration. 

Unknown Reporter: How many applications did you get?

Leirion Gaylor Baird, Mayor of Lincoln: 21. 

Unknown Reporter: And were they… were the awards based on the losses or did they have to tell you how they were going to maybe use it for new projects or… 

Deb Schorr, the Lancaster County Commissioner: We were looking to replace lost revenue during you know, an approximate six-month time period. But no, there was no, at least to my knowledge, no specifics required on how the funds were gonna be used other than replace revenue that was lost.

Unknown Reporter: Are there restrictions on the organizations that are receiving money as to where…. what they can spend that money on? 

Leirion Gaylor Baird, Mayor of Lincoln: Yes.

Anyone who works in nonprofits and has ever had to write a grant to try to pay for your coworkers’ salaries knows that the hardest thing to cover are operating expenses. And we very intentionally made these dollars available for ongoing operating expenses so that if we could provide some relief and stabilization through providing operating expenses that may allow these organizations to do a new exhibit or bring in a new act or a new event. But we didn’t require them to do something new and innovative. We said, “we know you’ve suffered, we’re gonna come in and support you. You know, your foundational needs.”

Any other questions? 

Unknown Reporter: How do you think the organizations you guys selected reflect the diversity of Lincoln? 

Leirion Gaylor Baird, Mayor of Lincoln: I mean, we’ve got everything from the Children’s Museum and our youngest kids benefiting, and at the Children’s Zoo to the new Museum of Speed to the ag society, who does the Lancaster event center, to the arts.

I mean, this is a broad spectrum of how we really show those who are interested in wonderful experiences, whether you live in Lincoln or come from far away, but the things that really are compelling across a wide variety of interests. And we’re so pleased to be able to support sports, arts, entertainment, you know, and attractions like this.

Deb Schorr, the Lancaster County Commissioner: When you talk about diversity also geographic diversity. We did one of the grants went to Camp Creek Threshers which id, you know, outside of the city limits and provides kind of educational agricultural programming, as well as entertaining events.

There’s that kind of diversity as well.

Unknown Reporter: Do you guys feel like these negotiations kind of show even legislatures that there is common ground? And there is ways to work together, even if you’re on different sides of the political spectrum?

Jeff Maul, Executive Director and Vice President of Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau: Yes. 

If you wanna find out what people are made of, let’s put five diverse, passionate, intelligent, people in a room with a limited amount of funding and a double or triple the request for that funding. 

Yes. There were passionate discussions. Yes. There were… nobody got exactly the list they wanted. When this is done, nobody could say that in every dollar amount is right where I wanted to go. But we did work together and we did, despite some differences, come out with an outcome that adequately reflected our community and the funding that’s needed to keep our community growing strong. 

I’m very honored to have served with my city council members. And the mayor’s, you know, the mayor’s the one who gave us the opportunity to do this. And I’m grateful to hear… and always a pleasure to work with Commissioner Schorr. So yes, there was differences, but I think it was a great role model for people putting aside differences and pulling together. And I stand by what we came out with. I’m very grateful.

Leirion Gaylor Baird, Mayor of Lincoln: Any other questions? 

Well, seeing then I would just ask that we all give a round of applause to our recipient organizations and congratulate them not only for their awards, but for all they do to make Lincoln, Nebraska, and Lancaster county an amazing place to visit. 

Amantha Dickman, News Director: Congratulations to those 15 local nonprofit tourist organizations that were awarded grants by the City of Lincoln and Lancaster County. 

Now, we’re going to switch gears briefly. 

Right now, KZUM is looking to put together a media literacy series that will air sometime in the next year. In preparation for that series, we want to know more about your perceptions of media bias and misinformation. “KZUM News” has put together a survey that is open to the public to gather more information. In this survey, you will be able to include any questions that you would like to have a media professional address. 

We will go ahead and include a link to the survey in today’s transcript. You can also find the QR Code on our social media and our website. The survey will be available through the end of September but I do encourage you to fill it out sooner rather than later. 

We are fast approaching the end of the hour, so here are your reminders for today:

The KZUM newsroom is always open to hearing about any questions, concerns, suggestions, or even any story ideas that you want to share with us. All you have to do is give us a call at (402) 474 – 5086, extension line six. If you give us a call and we aren’t available, don’t forget to leave a voicemail. Or, if you aren’t much of a phone person, you can also find our social media handles and more newsroom information at kzum.org under that ‘About’ tab.

Speaking of our website, if you happen to miss a show, you can always head to the “KZUM News” tab where we archive all of our shows and include a transcript with links to that day’s content.

And, lastly, I just want to give a shout-out to Jack Rodenburg of the Rodenburg music experience. He put together all of the amazing original music that our news program uses. So, once again, thank you, Jack.

That wraps up our reminders for now. As you head out into the world, I hope you have a lovely day. Thank you for listening and we hope you’ll join us next time.

[Fades in on the “KZUM News” program music, an original production of Jack Rodenburg. The music fades out.]

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