The 6-man Emergency Commission is set to finalize their plans to reallocate approximately $221 million in CARES Act funding this Friday. The unspent money can be attributed to their short-sighted approach that lacked public input since the beginning of the pandemic. Now, with the clock ticking on when that money must be spent, the same six people have a plan and it leaves a lot of questions.

A quick refresher, the CARES Act was passed by Congress and allocated $1.25 BILLION to North Dakota. Instead of Republican legislative leaders demanding a special session to allocate those dollars, they whimpered to the Capitol and begged Governor Doug Burgum to refuse calls of a special session. They figured they could make their deals without a lot of public scrutiny while passing the buck elsewhere if this approach didn’t work. Seven months into the pandemic and their dereliction of duty, how has that worked out for North Dakota?

As more people become infected with an uncontrolled spread of coronavirus in our state, it would be logical to expect the Commission to focus on the needs of North Dakota families. For example, instead of adding $16 million to the $66 million already allocated to the oil industry, the Commission could spend $20 million on a state-level paid family leave program. That program would allow for peace-of-mind for those living paycheck to paycheck and are sick or have come into close contact with someone sick. It wouldn’t be safety versus financial security for these workers. Logic is lacking in North Dakota’s response to the pandemic.

Instead, people across the state are continuing to get sick. Some of them are forced to stay home because of close contact and must forgo their paycheck for two weeks without any assistance that would otherwise be available from ND leadership. Crocodile tears from politicians behind podiums don’t fill the fridges of North Dakotans in need.

Worse, we’re going in the opposite direction of #NDSmart. North Dakota is asking people sick with covid19 to call their family, friends, and coworkers to tell them about their own diagnosis. We were told that was necessary because the state was short on resources to fulfill a more robust contact-tracing program. “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get to work” has been replaced with “pull yourself out of bed, catch your breath, and pick up the phone.”

As best as I can tell, instead of using the leftover CARES money to pay for more contact tracers in our growing crisis, the six-man Commission will ensure the oil lobbyists can order both steak and lobster at their next fundraiser. Wasn’t robust contact tracing a part of the guidelines to justify the #NDSmart restart? That was then.

Here we are, the worst spot in the entire world for coronavirus, and the failed approach by the ND Emergency Commission – allowed by cowardly legislators – is being allowed to double-dip into federal dollars meant to aid our response. There has been and will be no public input. Again.

These decisions are already made. Friday’s Commission meeting will just be a going-through-the-motions meeting for the expenditures you can find in a shiny presentation below. The next step will be final approval from the “yes-man” Budget Section lacking representation from large pockets of North Dakota.

You should be outraged. While the world watches what is happening in North Dakota, those who should be demanding a role to tackle the pandemic are too busy shrinking from their responsibilities. There is a lot of people wondering how North Dakota got to this point. This failed approach that leaves out the public is a key culprit of our dire situation. What our politicians have done has failed. Many in the public recognize it. It is time those tasked with responsibility realize they need to change their response or continue to watch their failure tick up in daily covid19 confirmed cases.

Tyler Axness
Latest posts by Tyler Axness (see all)