North Dakota Democratic-NPL lawmakers offered a proposal to use federal CARES dollars to establish an emergency paid sick leave program for families struggling with COVID-19. The Emergency Paid Leave Fund would help workers stay home when they are sick or after they have been exposed. The proposal was set at $20 million. Unfortunately, at least one key decision maker has stated the program isn’t needed at cases surge in North Dakota.

North Dakota received $1.25 BILLION in CARES Act funding. That is equal to about 1/4 of the state’s budget. The money is meant to offset the financial strain brought on by the pandemic and must be spent by the end of 2020. The decisions on how to spend that money is currently housed in the six-member emergency commission made up of the Governor, Secretary of State, House and Senate Appropriation Chairs, and Majority Leaders. If you favor open meetings, public hearings, and rigorous debate from legislators to determine where the $1.25 BILLION is spent in the state, this setup is woefully inadequate.

Attempts to expand public input and allow every district the chance to weigh in on how the $1.25 BILLION was spent through a special legislative session were rejected. Democratic-NPL members made the request and received bipartisan support from some Republican colleagues. Though the formal rejection came from Governor Doug Burgum, we can look at the failure of other legislators for refusing to deal themselves a hand in appropriating money. Apparently, too many legislators want the title and fully-funded health insurance benefits but don’t really want to earn it by doing the job they swore to do. A dereliction of duty.

Because of the limited role legislators have in spending the $1.25 BILLION before the end of the year, legislators who have ideas are forced to make their proposals public through the press. I assume the hope is through public knowledge, the proposal will get the attention of the six men on the emergency commission.

The emergency paid leave fund introduced by Rep. Karla Rose Hanson and Senator Erin Oban would create a fund to pay qualified employees through their employers. Here is a brief break down according to a press release:

  • Eligible workers would receive up to four weeks of pay, with a cap of $1,500 a week, if they are unable to work due to a COVID-19 diagnosis for themselves or a member of their household, or if they have been advised to quarantine due to close contact with a person who has COVID-19, or if their child’s school or daycare is closed due to the pandemic.
  • The fund would be in effect through the end of the year due to the requirement to spend CARES ACT dollars in 2020.
  • This supplementary leave will especially benefit employees who have already used all their employer-provided leave for the year, as well as employers such as schools that don’t qualify for federal tax credits for pandemic-related leave.”

The immediate reaction by at least one of the six men on the emergency commission, Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, was he didn’t see a need for the sick leave program. Compare that reaction of $2o million for North Dakota families directly impacted by COVID-19 to the immediate support of using at least $33 million of CARES funding to plug abandoned oil wells. Though the money will hopefully create jobs in a down-industry, arguments are being made the oil companies themselves should have been doing this on their own. The reality is, not all ideas – especially the ones that directly benefit workers and families – have highly-paid lobbyists with unlimited access to North Dakota government to push proposals over the finish line.

In summary, the sick leave proposal would put the federal money meant to alleviate the financial burden of COVID-19 to work for families directly impacted by COVID-19. It is sad to see the continued short-sighted approach ND takes when it comes to our workers and their families. Perhaps with enough calls to the Governor’s office at 701-328-2200, or emails to Representatives Jeff Delzer and Chet Pollert and Senators Ray Holmberg and Rich Wardner, they would get a better understanding of the public sentiment on paid sick leave so families can stay financially stable and physically healthy before they spend the remaining federal dollars during the global health pandemic.