Bill would provide $25,000 in grants money for Whiteclay

Published Monday March 29, 2010

Sen. LeRoy Louden wanted to earmark $250,000 — about what the state earns in sales tax on beer sold at Whiteclay — for economic development, law enforcement or health-related programs in that region.

But he ended up with $25,000 as seed money for a grant program he hopes will grow in future years.

“It wasn’t as much money as I would have liked to have. But at least we got the thing moving,” Louden said after the 40-0 first-round approval of the appropriations bill (LB1002A) that begins the grant program.

Some senators questioned the value of “throwing money” at Whiteclay, where residents of the nearby Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota buy about 4 million cans of beer a year, where the streets are littered with beer cans and drunks urinate in public.

But others said it’s about time the Legislature did something.

The state’s attitude toward Whiteclay has “gone beyond benign neglect. There are some who think it is deliberate neglect,” Omaha Sen. Brenda Council said as senators debated whether money aimed at the problems would do any good.

“It’s time for the state to step forward and begin to address these problems,” she said.

“This is a turning point, the first time the Legislature has ever been involved,” said Louden, whose district includes Whiteclay and who sponsored the legislation creating the grant program.

Louden pointed out there already are changes coming. A nursing home to be built just outside Whiteclay will bring 80 to 100 new jobs.

This may be the only new program being funded this year in the Legislature, senators said. They pointed to the fear there will be even less money available next year as another reason to reduce the funding to $25,000.

In addition to the $25,000 for grants, the Legislature is funding about $42,000 for a grant writer at the Nebraska Indian Affairs Commission.

Opponents pointed out that others — the state of South Dakota, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the Bureau of Indian Affairs — are not joining this effort.

But supporters said the state shouldn’t wait.

“We have a chance to start to make a difference,” said Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff. With grants the state may be able to double or triple the amount of money invested in programs, he said.

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