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5 things to know today: Jobless benefits, Coronavirus infections, Mask mandate, Big bonuses, School names

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The Job Service North Dakota office just off 13th Avenue in south Fargo will reopen for in-person visits this coming Monday, July 27, when those on unemployment will be required to once again be searching for jobs and making contacts. Meanwhile, a national debate is raging on whether to continue enhanced jobless benefits to help those still unemployed. David Samson / The Forum

1. Unless Congress acts, extra $600 in jobless benefits to end this month

Unless Congress acts, starting the first week of next month jobless North Dakotans and Minnesotans won't receive an extra $600 in their weekly payments.

The additional money given to those forced out of work will still be in next week's checks, but could be lowered or eliminated in the regular payments that will be delivered Aug. 4.

The issue is becoming controversial as Congress debates another coronavirus relief package amid a worsening pandemic.

On one side, some businesses argue there are workers who aren't returning to their jobs or don't want to take other positions because they are making more money with the enhanced jobless benefit added to what they would have normally been given.

However, those who received the benefit in recent weeks say it's been a lifeline as sometimes regular benefits are so low that they wouldn't be able to pay bills.

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Read more from The Forum's Barry Amundson

2. North Dakota sees second straight day of record COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations

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3D print of a SARS-CoV-2—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—virus particle. The virus surface (blue) is covered with spike proteins (red) that enable the virus to enter and infect human cells. National Institutes of Health

Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday, July 22, announced that Minnesota will adopt a statewide mask mandate beginning Saturday, July 25.

The requirement follows several other states and Minnesota cities that have required residents to don face coverings or masks when in public. And state health officials said the mandate could help quell the spread of COVID-19 after positivity rates for the illness crept up in recent weeks.

Before the mandate takes effect, here's what you need to know about the new rule.

Read more from Forum News Service's Jeremy Turley

3. Moorhead police encourage deescalation for violators of Minnesota mask mandate

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The Arc Attic Treasures in south Fargo sells masks in the fight against COVID-19. David Samson / The Forum

As Minnesota readies itself for a new mask wearing mandate to take effect Saturday, July 25, the Moorhead Police Department expressed hope the public, businesses and the police can work together to prevent mask issues from becoming flash points for trouble.

"We will not be proactively looking for (mask) violations, but may have to respond to complaints," Moorhead Police Capt. Deric Swenson said, adding that when Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz's executive order was announced Wednesday it was understood that calling the police shouldn't be the first option when violations occur.

"We already have a significant call volume and do not have resources to focus on these efforts," Swenson said.

Read more from The Forum's Dave Olson

4. McFeely: North Dakota awards hefty bonuses despite $1,500 limit on performance-based incentives

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The North Dakota State Capitol. Forum News Service file photo

Some North Dakota government employees are doing better than $1,500 performance-based bonuses mandated by state law. In many cases much, much better.

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One physician received a recruitment bonus of more than $80,000.

An information technology section leader received almost $21,000 as a retention bonus.

A public information specialist received a recruitment bonus of $15,000.

An IT manager got an $11,000 retention bonus.

According to a list of the individuals who received bonuses in the first six months of 2020 obtained by The Forum, North Dakota paid more than $223,000 in retention bonuses to state employees between Jan. 1 and May 31. That includes more than $170,000 in retention bonuses paid to 76 employees of the Information Technology Department, by far the leader in state government largesse.

Read more from Forum columnist Mike McFeely

5. Fargo schools could evaluate names of buildings throughout district

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Screenshot of Fargo Public Schools Governance Committee meeting on July 23, 2020.

Citing a lack of clear policy on renaming school buildings, the Fargo Public Schools governance committee has moved the discussion on changing the name of Woodrow Wilson High School to the school board meeting on Aug. 11.

At their meeting on Thursday, July 23, some committee members and Superintendent Rupak Gandhi said the district could evaluate the names of more buildings once it has determined its policy on renaming them.

“We just don’t want to put this on the back burner," he said.

Board member Robin Nelson said receiving more community input and dialogue is critical to the process.

"I would say that we owe our community to have extensive dialogue on this," she said. I'm not comfortable as a board making a decision for one school without extensive community engagement."

Read more from The Forum's C.S. Hagen

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