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North Dakota lawmakers await guidance on coronavirus funds

North Dakota lawmakers await guidance on coronavirus funds

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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota’s Republican legislative leaders are in no hurry to spend an additional $1 billion in federal coronavirus aid, despite grumbling from some lawmakers that the funds should be distributed sooner rather than later.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner and Ray Holmberg, who heads the powerful Senate appropriations committee, say they're awaiting federal guidance on how the money can be used.

The federal funds were transferred to the state-owned Bank of North Dakota this month and represent the single-largest deposit into state coffers in history, state Treasurer Thomas Beadle said.

Other massive deposits, including the previous appropriation of $1.25 billion in coronavirus aid last year, were made in increments, Beadle said. The latest deposit is parked in short-term CDs, earning less than 1% interest, he said.

North Dakota’s share of the federal funds is part of a coronavirus relief package signed by President Joe Biden that includes $350 billion for state and local governments.

Around the state Capitol in Bismarck, some members of the GOP-led Legislature jokingly refer to the aid as “Biden Bucks.” Some lawmakers have been pushing to identify projects and begin doling the money out, Wardner said Thursday.

“I don’t know why there is such a hurry,” he said. “How can we spend it when we’re not sure what the rules are?”

Holmberg said Friday that lawmakers are still in limbo over how the federal the money can be spent, and officials are still figuring out the impact the coronavirus pandemic had on the state’s economy.

“Right now, we need more information,” he said.

The leaders said the money must be assigned by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026, under federal rules. That means the full Legislature, which meets again in January 2023, would have an entire session to decide what to do with the funds.

Before adjourning in April, lawmakers approved a nearly $17 billion, two-year budget, or about $2.1 billion more than the current budget cycle that ends June 30. The increase largely reflects additional money the state previously received in federal coronavirus aid.

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