MINOT, N.D. — Our nation is under quarantine, and the economy is suffering because of it.

That's why, at the federal level. Congress is rushing to spend something like $1 trillion on a stimulus package.

What are we going to do here at the state level?

A lot of you readers have been contacting me about using the dollars in the Legacy Fund as part of the response.

I'll admit to being resistant to this thinking at first. A time of panic is not the time to empty the piggy bank.

There is a way, though, we could use the Legacy Fund to bring some relief to people without actually spending it.

What if we made loans with Legacy Fund dollars?

Loans to North Dakotans with amicable terms?

As of January, the Legacy Fund had nearly $7 billion in it. That number may be higher now. Or, perhaps, lower. The Legacy Fund is invested, and we've all been watching what's happening in the markets.

What lawmakers could do is take a portion of the fund and use it as capital in a loan program. This would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and Governor Doug Burgum's signature. The amount couldn't be larger than 15 percent (that's the cap in the law on spending Legacy Fund principal in any given biennium).

The loan program could be designed any way we want it. We could require that loan recipients meet specific qualifications. We could implement a range of terms for these loans based on need. We could loan to individuals. Businesses. Even local governments hit hard by declining revenues.

I'm open to input.

However we design the program, what it would do is get relief to North Dakotans struggling because of the COVID-19 outbreak. What's more, it wouldn't really cost us anything.

These would be loans. They'd be paid back. The only "cost" to North Dakota, if it really is a cost, is that the Legacy Fund's balance wouldn't grow as quickly as it would have if invested in other ways.

Because that's what this would be — an investment in loans to North Dakotans which would be paid back. A temporary investment, at that. Once the need dissipated, the loan program could go away.

Even if some of these loans defaulted, the hit to the Legacy Fund's balance, in the aggregate, would likely be minimal.

I suspect at some point Governor Burgum may need to call a special session of the Legislature to address the impacts of COVID-19. Perhaps this discussion could be a part of that.

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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com.