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OMB still has questions about the use of the new COVID relief money

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Still a lot of questions about how to use the next round of federal COVID-19 relief money.

North Dakota Office of Management and Budget director Joe Morrissette said he’s received some guidance, money, but there are still unknowns.

The money is coming from the "American Recovery" Act.  North Dakota is set to receive $1.8 billion. Of that amount, $800 million is already called for. Morrissette said of the $1 billion remaining, the guidance calls for a focus on tourism, hospitality and travel, and other sectors that were hurt because of COVID restrictions.

"But exactly what that means is left to the state to decide," Morrissette said. "We're still trying to interpret what's meant."

Morrissette said money can also be used for infrastructure, including water and broadband, and to replace lost state revenues. But he said even in those areas, there needs to be more clarification.

Morrissette said one piece of this is a Legislative appropriation for $112 million for capital projects, because one portion of the new funding allows an allocation for that. $70 million would go toward Career and Technical Education centers.

"But there's no guidance that we've seen yet that relates to that capital project funding, and how that can be used," Morrissette said.

And there’s also a question of timing for the money. Morrissette said the state may be able to receive all of the allocation this year, or half this year and half next year. He said it’s based on whether or not the state’s unemployment rate increased by more than two percent from February 2020 to March 2021.

"In looking at the initial data, it looks like our increased by exactly two percent," Morrissette said. "Not more than two percent."

Morrissette said he’ll be getting some updated figures on that unemployment rate next week, and after that, the state will apply for the money.

As far as spending, the Legislature will meet in special session in late summer or early fall to make some decisions on where the money should be spent.

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