- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota lawmakers on Wednesday denied an emergency appropriation to the state’s unemployment agency, fearing that using state money to make up for federal funding shortfalls would set a bad precedent.

Job Service North Dakota, which administers state unemployment benefits, had requested $240,000 to maintain staffing through January, the agency’s busiest month. Cheri Giesen, who heads the agency, said the number of weekly unemployment insurance claims is expected to jump from 700 to 2,500 in January due to layoffs of seasonal workers and job losses in western North Dakota’s oil patch due to a drop in drilling activity and low crude prices.

About 97 percent of the agency’s funding comes from the federal government and the agency faces a $4 million shortfall this fiscal year.

To exceed the spending and employment limits set by the Legislature, North Dakota agencies must get permission from the state Emergency Commission and a separate legislative committee called the Budget Section. The state Emergency Commission, which includes Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple, approved the funding last week.

The state Budget Section killed the request, voting 23-13 mostly along party lines, with only three Republicans endorsing the extra funding, and one Democrat voting against it.

Giesen told lawmakers that denying request would slow payments to those awaiting unemployment benefits during January. She said the agency is transitioning to online registration to ease the workload at its 16 sites throughout the state, she said.

Fargo Republican Rep. Al Carlson, the House majority leader, said in an interview that “everybody will still get their benefits” but only slower.

“We’re just not going to take over funding of a federal program and we’re not going to set a precedent,” he said. “That’s what this vote was about.”

Giesen has said the agency plans to reduce it full-time workforce by 10 percent and lay off 20 temporary employees if more federal funding doesn’t come by February. Shuttering some offices also is an option, she said.

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