New law could make approval of federal funding longer process

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North Dakota received more than $1 billion in federal money aimed at COVID relief since the pandemic began last year. But spending that money just got a little trickier.

State legislators recently passed a law requiring legislative approval of federal spending that exceeds $50 million for each two-year budget.

The law is intended to give lawmakers more input on large spending decisions, instead of leaving it up to the six-member emergency commission. That panel, which includes the governor, met Wednesday to consider funding requests.

But because of the new law, the commission didn’t take action on two requests from the Human Services Department that, together, top $50 million. They instead left the legislature to decide what to do at a special session in the future.

Gov. Doug Burgum initially vetoed that bill. He says it could make the state’s future use of federal money a challenge.

“We did receive a couple weeks ago the billion dollars from the Biden stimulus plan, which is sitting in basically a checking account at the bank of North Dakota unappropriated, and so not only would the items that deferred here, but there is a large amount of federal stimulus dollars, which could and should be put to work,” Burgum said.

Gov. Burgum did not comment on when or if he will call a special session. The commission however did approve funding for kindergarten readiness programs.

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