Nebraska Governor Threatens to Withhold Coronavirus Relief from Cities Mandating Masks

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Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts (R) has threatened to withhold federal coronavirus relief funds from cities and country governments mandating that their residents wear masks in courthouses and other government offices.

“Counties are not prohibited from requiring masks, but if they want CARES Act money, they have to be fully open, and that means they cannot deny service for not wearing a mask,” Taylor Gage, the governor’s spokesman, told the Omaha World-Herald, adding that “failure to wear a mask should be the basis for denying taxpayers’ services.”

These official statements come after last month’s guidance order from the governor’s office to city and county governments said their offices must reopen by June 15 to receive the aid.

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Nebraska received around $1 billion in federal relief to help the state combat the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed at least 234 lives in Nebraska and over 120,000 deaths nationwide.

Dakota County Assessor Jeff Curry said he hoped the mask requirement would remain in place until at least July 1. Dakota County has been among the hardest hit among Nebraska’s counties by the pandemic. He criticized the message from Ricketts’s office, saying the message is “you better do what I want you to do.”

“It sure would have been nice to be able to sit down with our health director and County Board and have a conversation about what to do, without being mandated to do it,” he said.

There have been nearly 200 new cases of the virus reported, according to Nebraska’s online coronavirus tracker, bringing the state’s total to 17,226.