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Ricketts halts extra pandemic unemployment benefits
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Ricketts halts extra pandemic unemployment benefits

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Hailing "a return to normalcy," Gov. Pete Ricketts on Monday announced the end of a range of COVID-19 restrictions, withdrew the state from the enhanced federal pandemic unemployment insurance program and declared an end to his ongoing coronovirus briefings.

But Ricketts continued to encourage Nebraskans to get COVID-19 vaccinations, noting that they can save lives and prevent hospitalization.

His decision to end the extra $300 in weekly coronavirus unemployment benefits June 19 will place Nebraska in company with about two dozen other states.

Answering a question at his news conference, the governor said he believes the extra benefit acts as "a disincentive for some people to go back to work."

Ricketts canceled a number of previous COVID-19 executive orders and all directed health measures while urging Nebraskans to make their own personal decisions about whether to continue to wear a mask.  

A new executive order will prohibit masks from being mandated in state government code agency office buildings. Under that order, state employees who have been working remotely because of the pandemic will return to in-person work arrangements. 

"We're in a position that we can return to normal," the governor said, after pointing to the lowest coronavirus hospitalization number since the state began recording those numbers 15 months ago. That figure as of Monday morning was 73.

"Nebraskans have sacrificed," Ricketts said, "and we've been successful."

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And now, he said, "it's time to reconnect with people and places."

Susanne Shore, the state's First Lady, urged people to be reflective now and tell their stories about how other Nebraskans helped them through the COVID-19 challenge while chronicling the story of the impact of the pandemic for future generations.

Her 'Nebraska Reflects" initiative will provide an online platform at neimpact.org/reflects.  

Volunteer opportunities for Nebraskans who want to be of assistance are  posted online at nevolunteers.com.

Nebraska Tourism Commission Executive Director John Ricks urged Nebraskans to reengage in tourism opportunities throughout the state as part of a Reconnect Nebraska program.

"There's a pent-up demand to travel again," he said.

With declining participation in the TestNebraska program as coronavirus figures recede, Ricketts said the state is "looking to wind that down" when the COVID-19 testing contract expires in July. 

"I encourage Nebraskans to reengage with the relationships and activities that have been disrupted by the coronavirus," the governor said as he called for a return to normalcy.

"Whether it's your place of worship, recreation or volunteerism, reflect on how you can reconnect with the people you love and the organizations you've served over the years."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSdon

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