Legislature returns to pass COVID-19 relief package

For the first time since the adoption of an “on-call” posture, the Senate met in session this week passing new measures strengthening Minnesota’s response to the spread of COVID-19. The measures included a relief package of $331.5 million to help families, businesses, and state agencies respond to the growing effects of COVID-19 on the state’s economy, as well as policy changes necessary to help provide economic security and safety for Minnesotans. 

Approximately $200 million of the funding will be going to the newly created COVID-19 Minnesota Fund. The money in the fund will be available for the Commissioner of Management and Budget, who can transfer it to agencies as necessary to protect Minnesotans from the COVID-19 outbreak and to maintain the operations of government during the peacetime emergency. For example, the fund could be used to pay for increased healthcare and staffing costs in prison facilities, staffing and overtime in direct care and treatment, and resources for potential response activities by the Minnesota National Guard.

Several other critical needs will receive additional funding in response to the effects of COVID-19. Approximately $2.4 million will go to the Department of Vehicle Services to increase their capacity to process drivers’ licenses. Food shelf programs would receive $9 million, while housing supports would receive $5.5 million. Childcare grants totaling $29.9 million would be available to help providers. Assistance for military veterans would total $6.2 million. An additional $26.3 million would be available for first responders in the form of Emergency Services Grants. The bill also includes much-needed support for Minnesota’s 11 tribal nations, with $11 million in grants. 

Due to the state-ordered shutdown, many of Minnesota’s small businesses are struggling. These businesses are the backbone of the state’s economy and employ hundreds of thousands of people in every corner of the state. This bill includes $40 million in support for small businesses: $30 million will go to a small business emergency loan account that will be available throughout the peacetime emergency and an additional $10 million for the small business loan guarantee program at the Department of Employment and Economic Development. While these measures will help, Senate DFLers are doing everything they can to find more ways to support small businesses. 

This new funding is in addition to the $200 million aid package that was passed last week. Of that, $150 million was appropriated to the Minnesota Department of Health to create temporary testing, treatment, and quarantine sites and to make and administer a grant program for health care providers for costs related to COVID-19. The remaining $50 million will be added to the public health response contingency account. This is in addition to the $20.9 million passed earlier this month that can be used for costs relating to planning, preparing, or responding to a pandemic influenza or communicable or infectious disease.

While this new funding provides critical support for areas of need, more work remains. Senate DFLers are working tirelessly to provide more support for Minnesotans affected by COVID-19. This includes securing guaranteed pay for hourly workers in our schools, increasing outreach and support for Minnesotans experiencing homelessness, and other necessary steps to slow the spread of COVID-19 and respond to its effects.  

This was the first meeting of the Legislature since the adoption of extraordinary public health measures meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. Steps were taken to protect legislators and staff by following Minnesota Department of Health guidelines, including staggering the number of members who could be on the floor for each vote. The Legislature has once again moved to an “on-call” posture and is prepared to meet again as further action is needed.  (HF 4531)

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