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Legislative budget-writers working on proposal for the Nov. session

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House and Senate budget writers will be meeting over the next three weeks, to essentially write the bill – or bills – on how to spend $1 billion in federal COVID relief money — money from the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.

The proposals will be taken up in a November session.

Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Ray Holmberg (R-Grand Forks) said topping the priority list will be infrastructure.

"Roads, bridges — those kinds of things, which are going to be built at some point," Holmberg said. "We have the opportunity to utilize some of this federal money to do that."

Some of the money will go towards spending the 2021 regular Legislative session passed, but was not funded. House Bill 1395 re-allocated spending from the earlier coronavirus relief fund.

"There was money in there for the Department of Transportation for infrastructure — $317 million," said House Majority Leader Chet Pollert (R-Carrington). "We need to allocate those dollars. That money wasn't available, but it will be now with ARPA funds."

House Minority Leader Josh Boschee (D-Fargo) is hoping some of the latest round of federal COVID relief money will be used for child care. Boschee said because workforce is also an issue, he hopes the need for child care can be addressed.

"We continue to kick the can down the road," Boschee said. "That becomes a problem for employers and families throughout the state. We need to put money aside, convene the group of experts — child care providers, the Department of Human Services and families — to see if we can make this work."

Holmberg said he understands the need for child care.

"There are folks that are not working, because they don't have child care," Holmberg said. "There are fewer working than actually could be, I believe, if we had a more robust child care system in the state."

Holmberg said the challenge is how to do that.

"I'm not 100 percent sure," Holmberg said.

Sen. Tim Mathern (D-Fargo) is one of the two Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee. He said besides infrastructure and child care, the Legislature should take a serious look at a paid family leave program.

"This suggests a new way of doing business in North Dakota," Mathern said. "The Legislature and our Governor have a hard time actually doing challenging new things."

The two Appropriations Committees will meet for two days in each of the three weeks, to write bills for the November session.

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