As we look ahead to fall and to the start of the 2021 legislative session, we would like to update the public on the incredible work being done to support North Dakota’s citizens and businesses during this difficult time, as well as our goals for the future.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, our primary objective has been to provide for the safety, security and prosperity for all North Dakotans. To that end, the interim Budget Section met last month to approve over $400 million in federal funding to the state’s COVID-19 response and recovery efforts, the majority going toward economic recovery. (This latest round of funding follows the Budget Section’s approval in May to use $524.2 million in Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars, bringing the total used to roughly $930 million and leaving $320 million available).
The funding approved in June includes $200 million for the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund (on top of the $110 million allocated in May) to keep that fund solvent. We know how important these dollars will be for employees throughout our state who may need relief in the days ahead, and so it was a top priority to set this assistance aside.
We also allocated dollars for workplace safety measures and critical public services. Nearly $113 million will be used to provide economic support for businesses, including $69 million for the new North Dakota Economic Resiliency Grant Program. This program will provide grants of up to $50,000 per business for investments in protective equipment, supplies and other improvements to reduce contact and attract customers and employees, promoting a safe return to the marketplace and improving consumer confidence. $33.2 million will fund the plugging and reclamation of abandoned oil wells, which will help keep several hundred workers employed.
We were especially mindful that many North Dakotans are at risk of homelessness due to financial hardship. Therefore, we approved $2.1 million to support the North Dakota Department of Human Services’ COVID Emergency Rent Bridge program. This will provide temporary rental assistance to eligible renters who are experiencing a loss of household income due to COVID-19. In addition, we’ve allocated $19 million in emergency grants for child care services.
Finally, more than $61 million will go toward the continuation of government services, including telework, cybersecurity, transition to digital services and personal protective equipment and $32 million will support public health and safety efforts, which includes nearly $4 million for cities, counties and park districts.
All of this work has been done with the input, advice and recommendations of numerous state leaders, local businesses and concerned citizens. As we look ahead, we set our sights on the things most important to North Dakotans—education, health care, agriculture, and supporting small business. And we will continue to support our men and women in blue.
There is no doubt that it has been a challenging time for North Dakotans. And yet, despite an unprecedented hit to our economy, we are projected to finish the biennium ahead of forecast. Through difficult farming conditions, volatile oil markets, and a global pandemic, we have done what North Dakotans do--we have persevered. And while tough decisions will need to be made as we look to the next biennium, rest assured that we will continue working hard with the governor and across the aisle so that the people of North Dakota have a safe, prosperous future.
House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, serves as majority leader in the North Dakota House of Representatives, and Wardner, R-Dickinson, serves as majority leader in the Senate.