Emergency Commission Plans Gift to Oil Industry While Pandemic Response Lags

BISMARCK, ND — The Emergency Commission is scheduled to meet Friday morning to begin allocating $221 million in returned CARES Act money intended as public health and economic relief from the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated by the lagging response by Republican leaders. The current CARES Act proposal by Gov. Burgum’s administration would allocate another $16 million to oil companies, which, according to news reports, already have their workforce at full strength

Burgum’s purported reasoning for spending $66 million in federal relief funds to cap abandoned oil wells was maintaining their workforce. Meanwhile, North Dakota’s hospital beds are at capacity, and the state is telling those who test positive for the virus to perform their own contact tracing. The North Dakota National Guard is being used to inform those who test positive because of a backlog.

Sen. Tim Mathern, Fargo, said: 

“Oil companies are already back to a full workforce, so giving them $16 million is just a handout and 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’s plan is more of the same response that gave us the highest number of per capita COVID-19 cases in the world and has pushed our healthcare resources past their limit. If they’re using the National Guard to notify people they have COVID, it’s worse than we’re being told. More of the same isn’t getting it done, and it’s not serving the North Dakotans who need the most help.” 

Rep. Gretchen Dobervich, Fargo, said: 

“Our healthcare system is overburdened and as COVID-19 cases continue rising, we can expect it to get even worse. Now individuals who contract a debilitating disease are being told to do their own contact tracing. We have a chance to use this money to save lives, and that means investing in data-driven programs like an emergency sick leave fund that will keep workers employed and enable them to make safe and smart decisions to quarantine without financial risk to their families or their employers. We need to support public health because these essential workers deserve far more support than they’re getting as they work day in and day out to serve the public through this crisis. What we’ve been doing isn’t working.”