Budgeting a pandemic

Budget concerns
Budget concerns(KFYR)
Published: Nov. 19, 2020 at 6:22 PM CST
Email this link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - With the next legislative session just around the corner, state agencies are preparing their budgets for the next biennium.

With surges of federal dollars and unexpected costs, one of the most financially impacted agencies has been the Department of Health.

But due to ongoing economic and budget concerns, their budget is increased cuts and costs to plan around.

According to their budget request, the DOH’s budget would look to hold steady at $158 million.

But due to statewide budget reductions, they would need to cut 15% to their allocation from General Fund and hope to make up the $4 million hole with federal funds.

Those federal dollars would likely be related to COVID efforts, which has already taken a bite out of their budget. Included in the budget request, is an additional $263 million for fighting the coronavirus; $135 million of it on testing supplies alone.

This budget was developed back in August through September, and even the agency will say that picture changes day to day.

“Whether it’s human effort or the technology at the lab, multiple individuals added for the case investigation contact tracing effort we’re doing, and then everything else behind the scenes that we’re doing, and what our leaders in the agency are doing for us,” said Department of Health CFO Brenda Weisz, CPA.

But, the budget request shows things ramping down for COVID. It shows testing going from 6,000 per day this July down to 4,000 per day in 2023.

Despite the more than 8,000 the state does per day now, this model was created when North Dakota was doing only 5,000 per day.

Then there’s staffing, which the DOH said they’ve had more than 900 timecards at one point during the pandemic.

They’ve brought on a lot of temporary staff, but have also relied on the National Guard, which could be losing their federal funds for state COVID missions.

“We do have planning activities established to deescalate and to escalate depending on what happens with the funding sources. But it’s a constant battle and a constant target, and it’s constantly changing and shifting based on resources and need,” Interim State Health Officer Dirk Wilke said.

Federal funds for utilizing the Guard for COVID testing runs out in mid-December, but North Dakota and other states have made the request to extend the funding through March. This budget is subject to change

Gov. Doug Burgum, R-N.D., will be unveiling his executive budget in a few weeks.

And while that budget will also not be the final say that request and the what the legislature lists as a priority will play a heavy role in how the DOH is funded for the remainder of the pandemic.

Copyright 2020 KFYR. All rights reserved.