Sen. Erin Oban, (D) District 35, Bismarck
Sen. Erin Oban, (D) District 35, BismarckSubmitted photo

This year, North Dakotans are personally and professionally weathering the health, education and economic impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the federal government has provided nearly $1.25 billion through the CARES Act to help our state address this crisis.

We believe the legislature should assume its constitutional role in appropriating those funds, but

Republican legislative leaders and the governor have dismissed our call for a special session to act. In upholding our duty, we recently proposed an Emergency Paid Leave Fund using a portion of the next round of federal CARES Act dollars. This fund would assist eligible workers impacted by COVID-19 through the end of 2020 – giving hard-working North Dakotans a measure of security during uncertain times.

This pandemic is not over. We believe workers should have the security of knowing that if they test positive, are asked to quarantine because of close contact with a person who tested positive, or a member of their household has tested positive, they can make the right decision to stay home from work without sacrificing their paycheck. In those scenarios, the fund would provide eligible workers with their current pay (with a cap of $1,500 per week) for up to four weeks if needed. This will help prevent COVID-19 outbreaks at places of work and keep workers financially whole.

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The Emergency Paid Leave fund would help workers who do not earn any paid sick leave, have already used their employer-provided paid leave for the year, or don’t have access to the benefits from the federal Families First Act. It would also fill a gap for the many North Dakotans who are self-employed or independent contractors and lack paid leave.

A true economic recovery requires both healthy workers and confident consumers. Our state has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to address many of the initial impacts of COVID-19, and we recognize the importance of targeted efforts that keep businesses open, provide financial security for workers, and support safe school reentry. This Emergency Paid Leave Fund is one of those targeted efforts.

If you support the health and financial security of North Dakota’s workforce and, as a result, a healthy economy, join us in urging Governor Burgum to move this proposal forward.

Rep. Karla Rose Hanson is a state representative for District 44 in Fargo, and Sen. Erin Oban is a state senator for District 35 in Bismarck. Both are Democrats.