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Emergency Commission votes to redistribute $221M in virus aid

Emergency Commission votes to redistribute $221M in virus aid

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Members of the North Dakota Emergency Commission approved spending on Friday of CARES Act funds to state agencies. At the meeting were, from right, Joe Morrissette, director of the Office of Management and Budget, Secretary of State Al Jaeger and Gov. Doug Burgum.

State leaders voted Friday to reallocate $221 million in federal coronavirus relief to a host of state agencies to spend on everything from businesses' virus mitigation measures to education to fracking.

The North Dakota Emergency Commission approved the money, which stems from the $1.25 billion awarded to the state through the Coronavirus Relief Fund established by the federal CARES Act. The proposals from 33 state offices and colleges will now go to the legislative Budget Section for final approval. The body of 43 lawmakers next meets Wednesday.

The money approved Friday had already been distributed, but it was returned by state agencies who, for various reasons, were unable to spend all the money as it was originally designated. The money must be used by the end of 2020.

Some of the big-ticket items this time around include $33 million for education, much of it in the form of grants for virus-related needs including technology, mental health support, professional development, personnel costs, building improvements and recruiting workers. Another $29 million would go to the Department of Commerce's economic resiliency grants, which the agency is distributing to businesses across the state to purchase equipment and make modifications to prevent the virus from spreading.

The treasurer's office would distribute $61 million to counties and cities to help with law enforcement costs and other needs.

The Oil and Gas Division plans to award $16 million in grants to oil companies for the acquisition and disposal of water used in the hydraulic fracturing process. Regulators say the grants would lead to more wells drilled, helping to create jobs and stabilize oil production until mid-2021. Higher oil production would bring in more state revenue through production, extraction and sales taxes, State Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms said.

The proposal to support fracking has been criticized by environmentalists and the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party. Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, in a statement Thursday called the proposal "an incredible misuse of tax dollars that could help small businesses or independent contractors struggling to stay open or working families barely able to afford rent."

The Emergency Commission is made up of six people, including the governor, secretary of state and legislative leaders. All are Republicans.

Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8252 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.

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