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North Dakota prison officials seek $2.5 million in virus aid

May 30, 2020 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota corrections officials are seeking up to $2.5 million in federal COVID-19 aid to give temporary pay increases to employees who are required to be in close contact with prisoners and others during the pandemic.

The state’s top budget writer said Friday that other agencies whose workers cannot practice social distancing as part of their job may submit similar requests.

The Department of Corrections will request the funds next month from the state’s Emergency Commission, which is headed by Gov. Doug Burgum. The money would come from the $1.25 billion that was given to the state in the federal stimulus package approved in March.

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Dave Krabbenhoft, the agency’s director of administration, said monthly pay increases of up to $300 would be provided until the end of the year to each of the more than 800 employees who qualify for the “hazard pay.”

“We just want to recognize folks working hard for us” and putting their health at risk, Krabbenhoft said.

Eligible employees would include guards in the state’s prison system and parole and probation officials, he said. Four inmates and one staff member have tested positive for COVID-19, and all were at the state penitentiary in Bismarck, the agency said.

North Dakota budget director Joe Morrissette said he also expects requests for hazard pay from the federal funds for workers at the state hospital in Jamestown at the state veterans home in Lisbon.

State health officials reported Saturday that North Dakota has gone over 2,500 in total COVID-19 cases, including more than 1,660 in Cass County. All but 10 of the 34 new cases were from Cass County, which includes the Fargo metropolitan area.

One new death was confirmed, a man in his 60s from Cass County who had underlying health conditions. That raised the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 60.

Officials said 34 people are currently hospitalized, a drop of two from Friday’s report. The number of active cases declined steadily in the last week, to fewer than 550.

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Check out more of the AP’s coronavirus coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak