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Noem: Legislative session for short budget may not be needed

May 7, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this Jan. 8, 2019 file photo, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem gives her first State of the State address in Pierre, S.D. While many other governor’s have broken from President Donald Trump on stay-at-home orders to curb the spread of coronavirus or when to restart economic activity, Noem has tracked close to the president.  (AP Photo/James Nord, File)
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FILE - In this Jan. 8, 2019 file photo, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem gives her first State of the State address in Pierre, S.D. While many other governor’s have broken from President Donald Trump on stay-at-home orders to curb the spread of coronavirus or when to restart economic activity, Noem has tracked close to the president. (AP Photo/James Nord, File)
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FILE - In this Jan. 8, 2019 file photo, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem gives her first State of the State address in Pierre, S.D. While many other governor’s have broken from President Donald Trump on stay-at-home orders to curb the spread of coronavirus or when to restart economic activity, Noem has tracked close to the president. (AP Photo/James Nord, File)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem suggested on Thursday that a special legislative session to rework the state’s budget may not be necessary if the federal government allows her to use federal aid for coronavirus-related expenses to fill in revenue shortfalls.

The Republican governor has lobbied the White House for permission to put the $1.25 billion the state has received for coronavirus-related expenses toward filling holes in the state budget due to the economic downturn to pay for things like highway maintenance, education funding and nursing homes. She said she is looking to the federal government for guidance before spending the money.

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“My message to (the Department of the) Treasury has been that I just need flexibility in the dollars that they have already given us,” she said.

State revenue is down over $30 million from this time last year, but Noem said she would have a better idea of where the state budget sits in about a month when more tax figures roll in. She had previously said the Legislature would likely need a special session in June to adjust the budget.

“I think we’re going to be in a better position than a lot of other states,” Noem said. “There have been some preliminary reports that our job losses have not been as dramatically impacted.”

But Noem’s hint of optimism comes with a few caveats. The economic impact from the global pandemic is delayed in South Dakota compared to other states because the pandemic was slower to arrive, according to the Bureau of Finance and Management. Meanwhile, virus cases are expected to continue to rise, threatening economic activity, and the governor is depending on the federal government to let her divert money earmarked for the coronavirus fight into the state budget.

As the governor has moved the state toward reopening and many cities relax restrictions on business, layoffs from the coronavirus showed signs of leveling off. The Department of Labor and Regulation reported that new unemployment claims had decreased last week for the first time since February. But 3,756 new people completed claims for unemployment benefits last week. There are over 22,000 people on unemployment, according to the latest count.

“These times are historic in the worst way,” Noem said, while also taking credit for preventing the economic fallout from being worse by allowing businesses to stay open.

Health officials reported two deaths from the coronavirus on Thursday, both in Minnehaha County. So far, 31 people have died statewide.

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For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The state also reported 126 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Results started to trickle in from a mass testing event in Sioux Falls where over 3,000 people were tested this week. The Department of Health set up the event for employees of the Smithfield pork processing plant where an outbreak infected hundreds of workers.

The tally of confirmed cases in the state reached 2,905 on Thursday, but the actual number of infections is thought to be far higher than the number of confirmed because many people have not been tested and people can be infected without feeling sick.

Virginia-based Smithfields Foods announced it is resuming operations on Thursday and expects the plant to be operating at full capacity by the end of the month.