ND approved $400 million in Federal Aid

Published: Jun. 25, 2020 at 6:53 PM CDT
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North Dakota’s Budget Section committee approved more than $400 million of federal COVID-19 response aid on Thursday.

When Washington, D.C., passed the CARES Act, states were given a lot of wiggle room for what that money could be used for. Essentially, the rule was: it had to apply to fighting the coronavirus. North Dakota allocated another chunk of the $1.25 billion it was given. But what that money is used for during the pandemic will likely shape how the state functions long after.

For many, all eyes have been on the Unemployment Insurance Fund, which has been flooded with historic numbers of claims. Job Service was given 200 million dollars of federal aid. But lawmakers don't expect that to last for long.

"This would keep the fund solvent through the end of September. It's likely that they'll request an additional amount at (Budget Section's) next meeting that would help return that fund to the reserve level that it was at before the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Office of Management and Budget Director, Joe Morrissette.

Some agencies will be affected for much longer than a few months.

Many other agencies are using their funds to install contactless technology and improve telework services; like the Department of Transportation, which was given $33 million.

Even the State Legislature, which has been meeting remotely for months, received more than one million dollars to upgrade the chamber's voting board and install remote voting for lawmakers for the January session.

Some agencies are trying to stock up on PPE and other health equipment. But the demand has pinned agencies against each other.

"There probably has been some competition were individual agencies procurement officers are trying to buy and compete against other agencies who are also trying to buy those things,” said Morrissette.

Not only has OMB maintained a central supply for reimbursements, but agencies will also be reimbursed by FEMA for these costs. Thus, many of the allocations are well-above what will actually be spent.

This comes just one week after State Democrats called for a Special Session. Senator Tim Mathern (D-Fargo), who voiced that request, voted against the allocations.

"My vote is an expression of disagreement with the process we are using to deal with this appropriation. This is a difficult vote as there are positive items in this Office of Management and Budget proposal. My first concern is that citizens are not involved in the process of determining priorities for spending the money,” wrote Mathern.

The same day the request was made, State Republicans denied that request.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the second round of Coronavrius relief aid. And it comes at time when budgets are being formed. But there are a lot of questions over what the budgets will look like for next biennium. Agencies have already received guidance for the near future: budget cuts ranging from 5% - 15%.

There's still more than $300 million left to allocate, and lawmakers will be meeting again in the coming months for that final round. Meanwhile, many agencies are still trying to develop budgets for next biennium.

But they don't know what those numbers will look like, and the deadline for many to submit those budgets is July 15. However, Morrissette said that many agencies will get exceptions for this deadline.