BISMARCK, ND — The Legislative Budget section passed the final $221 million in federal CARES Act money today, the result of agencies returning previous allocations. The budget section only gets an up or down vote after the six-member Emergency Commission, all Republicans, is largely in control of the process that is closed to public debate and input.
About 200,000 North Dakotans in 14 legislative districts are left completely unrepresented in the process that has included $0 for an Emergency Sick Leave Fund and insufficient resources for nursing homes and long term care as North Dakota continues near the top of the world in per capita COVID-19 cases. Districts: 3, 4, 6, 13, 16, 19, 21, 25, 26, 34, 41, 42, 43, 46 are not represented in the process. NDGOP legislators for these districts have failed to represent their communities by declining to advocate for a special session or any other process, that would allow their constituents to be represented in the recovery plans.
Lisa Finley-Deville, District 4 Senate candidate, said:
“Remember, not one District 4 legislator is advocating for the people who need assistance and protection from COVID-19 the most. Native Americans are 3.5 times more likely than any other population to contract COVID-19. We can no longer be an afterthought. When will we be a priority? The state should have also added a stronger investment into first responders like EMS and fire departments early in the pandemic because they have been struggling in rural communities like ours, including Fort Berthold for a long time. We will be a priority only when we elect legislators who actually represent our communities.”
Kari Breker, District 16 Senate candidate, said:
“There should have been an emergency special session to decide where that money went, so every district would have had a say. Our district didn’t get a voice, and none of our representatives said anything while just six men ignored a proposal for an Emergency Sick Leave Fund that would help working families stay home when they’re sick or need to quarantine without losing a paycheck. We could have used more of this money to help get the virus under control at nursing homes and long term care facilities, so we can see our family members for the holidays. But again, too few people were at the table.”
Adam Fortwengler, a District 42 House candidate, said:
“In Grand Forks, 20% of our neighbors live in poverty, more than 10% are without health insurance, more than 10% are food insecure, 40% cannot afford a $400 emergency, and 40% can barely afford their rent or mortgage. This was all before the pandemic, which has strained the lives of working families even further as people struggle to maintain employment while keeping their families safe. But my opponents stood by silent while their party leaders short-changed our neighbors. That’s unacceptable.”
Ben W. Hanson, a District 46 House candidate, said:
“Major budgetary decisions are still being made within days of an election with no input from the full legislature or the public. Once again, only a select few are able to even propose how North Dakota spends hundreds of millions of dollars. I called for a special session shortly after the pandemic began, but my opponents either lacked the motivation or vision to understand why we needed to act as a legislative branch before COVID could ramp up like this. That’s unacceptable. This kind of sit-by-and-wait mentality needs to change.”