New law capping spending delays funding for state agency

Local News

A new state law limiting federal spending has prevented North Dakota’s Emergency Commission from approving funding requested by the Human Services Department, leaving millions unspent.

“The federal funds that were approved in the last, current biennium, is about $1.3 billion. Again, that limit going forward will be about $50 million,” Office of Management and Budget Director Joe Morrissette said.

Gov. Doug Burgum, Secretary of State Al Jaeger and four top legislators comprise the six-person commission, which decided how to spend the roughly $1.3 billion that came from the CARES Act.

That power to dole out huge sums of money caused legislators to call for more oversight — leading to the passage of Senate Bill 2290, which is currently in effect.

It limits the Emergency Commission’s approval of federal funding requests to $50 million per biennium without calling a special session or having the entire legislature vote.

Burgum vetoed that bill but the legislature overrode it, and now, the commission is confronting the consequences.

“The constraints that we’re seeing here — as Sen. Holmberg acknowledged– there are always unintended consequences and I think we’re seeing the issues with that coming today,” Burgum said.

The $19 million DHS requested to fund Medicaid, foster care and subsidized adoption services, as well as $31 million to fund home and community-based services, have been tabled.

They’ll likely have to be considered in a special session, which only the governor can call.

DHS representatives who spoke today said, fortunately, implementing those programs will take time anyway, so they’re OK with delaying the funding until a special session can vote. But, Burgum says the law could spell trouble for consideration of future federal aid packages.

“As the operators, the implementers of those budgets, sometimes, flexibility, speed and nimbleness is what you need to be effective, particularly in these times when we’ve been dealing with emergency or federal program dollars, which are coming large and quickly,” Burgum said.

The commission did act on seven requests, including funding for a kindergarten readiness program.

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