BISMARCK — The North Dakota Emergency Commission voted on Tuesday, May 12, to send out more than $500 million in federal funds to state agencies on the front lines of the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The more than $524 million the commission approved for spending Tuesday represents about 42% of the funds received by the state through a massive $2.2 trillion federal aid package known as the CARES Act. The remainder of the state's slice of the package sits on deposit at the Bank of North Dakota, said Joe Morrissette, director of the Office of Management and Budget.
State agencies overseeing public health, social services and the economic well-being of residents have incurred millions of dollars in costs during the outbreak. The federal money from the package, which can only be spent on efforts to fight COVID-19 and its direct effect on residents, will provide some relief to agencies that would have otherwise burned through their pre-pandemic budgets, Morrissette said.
The Legislature's Budget Section must approve the distribution of funds at its Friday meeting before the money becomes available to agencies.
Nearly 70% of the CARES Act funds approved for spending by the commission would go to economic support for businesses and individuals in the state. If approved by the Budget Section, the Bank of North Dakota would receive the largest chunk of the funding at $200 million mostly to be used for low-interest loans to businesses. Job Service North Dakota would receive $110 million to keep its unemployment insurance fund above water.
More than $85 million would go the state Department of Health to boost staffing, equipment and protective gear in the state laboratory and the department's contact tracing operation. The department also received another $5 million from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the state lab.
About $68 million of the CARES Act funding would go to helping state agencies transition into remote workplaces.
Gov. Doug Burgum, who chairs the commission, said the state is fortunate to be in a position to dedicate most of the money to economic relief, rather than public health. He said many states with more severe outbreaks of COVID-19 have been obligated to use most of their cut of the federal funding to shore up testing and other health-related operations.
More than 1,500 residents of the state have tested positive for the illness and 38 have died, but North Dakota ranks among the top states in the country in testing per capita and has maintained plenty of hospital capacity throughout the pandemic.
The commission also voted to allow the Office of the Adjutant General to accept $30 million in federal money for general disaster response and recovery. The state Department of Human Services may also accept more than $30 million in federal money for crisis intervention and substance abuse treatment.
Besides Burgum, the all-Republican commission includes Secretary of State Al Jaeger and four legislative leaders. The commission will hold a meeting next month when even more state agencies are expected to make requests to use emergency funding.