The global pandemic put significant stress on workers and businesses across Minnesota. The ability of Minnesotans to pay their bills was challenged in ways we haven’t seen in generations. However, Minnesotans responded in ways few other states matched. While we continue to recover from the pandemic, the state had a significant opportunity to respond not just in terms of our budget surplus but also in how we protected workers from illness.
As amended, the 2022 Omnibus Jobs bill put forward by Senate Republicans had a target of $200,000 from the General Fund. Governor Walz’s proposal spent approximately $179 million when removing the spending for the Unemployment Trust Fund ($2.73 billion) that was included in his proposal.
Unemployment Insurance Replenishment
Before the pandemic, the fund that the state pays unemployment insurance (UI) benefits from (Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund) had a healthy balance in the event of a recession. However, the pandemic resulted in stress on the system that could only be helped by federal government assistance. Many states had to borrow money from the federal government to pay UI benefits. While this is uncommon, the system is designed to have the federal government as a backup in the event of a deep recession or depression. To pay these benefits back and replenish the UI Trust Fund, tax rates float with the health of the fund. As the fund is depleted, tax rates increase on businesses.
There was bipartisan agreement that businesses should not have to carry the burden of the world’s health crisis. As a result, the state used a combination of federal covid dollars and state resources ($2.7 billion) to pay back the federal government and replenish the unemployment insurance trust fund, resulting in tax reductions for Minnesota businesses and ensuring the health of the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund safety net.
Frontline Worker Pay
As part of the agreement for replenishing the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, $500 million is made available to frontline workers who were unable or had limited ability to collect unemployment insurance benefits because their positions were essential without a remote work option. These workers put their lives and their loved ones in jeopardy while little was known about the global pandemic taking the lives of people across the globe.
Senate Republicans initially only wanted to provide $250 million to these individuals and wanted to significantly limit who could receive payments. Democrats pressured Republicans to include $500 million in funds and include many more individuals in the bonus payments. As a result, not only were nurses included in these payments but grocery store workers and other workers who could not work from home.
Eligibility information can be found here. As of May 25, it is anticipated the application will be open from June 8 through July 22, 2022. These dates are subject to change. When the system is ready to accept applications, eligible workers will have 45 days to apply for Frontline Worker Pay.
DID NOT PASS
Paid Family and Medical Leave
Despite the pandemic stressing the health of families across Minnesota, Senate Republicans refused to ensure individuals and families had the time they needed to get themselves healthy or welcome a new child into the world in a proper way. Because of the pandemic, we are more connected than ever, and a single person showing up to work ill has the possibility to ripple through our economy. On two different occasions (May 10th and 12th) this session, Senate Republicans refused to support comprehensive paid family and medical leave when DFLers offered a chance to finally debate the bill. Additionally, they would not accept the language when it was brought forward by House Democrats in conference committee negotiations during the previous two years.
*Note: The DFL moved to pull SF 1205, full Paid Family and Medical Leave, from committee and place on General Orders on May 12. On May 10, DFLers offered the contents of that bill as an amendment to SF 3885, a bill to allow insurance companies to sell Paid Family Leave policies. Information on that is included in the Commerce section.
Minnesota has some of the largest pay gaps in the country. Given the massive budget surplus, the state had an opportunity to ensure the economy lifted everyone through job training and in entrepreneurial assistance. Unfortunately, Senate Republicans refused to vote on a bill that would have provided assistance in the final hours of the legislative session despite there being bipartisan agreement.
Office of New Americans
Governor Walz proposed to create an Office of New Americans in his budget proposal. The office would have been a one-stop shop for helping refugees and immigrants access workforce development programs and services to ensure these New Americans could enter our workforce as easily as possible.
The reduction in penalties for those committing wage theft brought forward by Senate Republicans did not become law. This is the second year in a row that Republicans have tried to reduce penalties on employers who have committed wage theft. Senate DFLers offered an amendment to strip out these provisions and retain robust wage-theft protections passed in 2019, but Republicans voted against the amendment.
Omnibus Jobs Bill
The Jobs, Energy, and Commerce Conference Committee report established a larger target than was brought forward by Senate Republicans, and it didn’t include some of the harmful policy provisions that were included in the Senate GOP bill. The conference committee report adopted more resources for job training programs, equity programming, and business development assistance. Additionally, it created new liaison efforts for both veterans and immigrants and refugees in breaking down barriers to employment but better serve these individuals generally as a state government.