Minneapolis City Council members asked Mayor Jacob Frey to ensure vulnerable residents receive help as they extended the public health emergency that gives him more power to respond to the coronavirus.
Noting the city could lose millions in revenue as a result of the economic fallout and the demand for social services will rise, council members asked him to ensure that first responders have access to protective gear, promote housing stability, support small businesses, increase outreach to people who don’t speak English and devote city funds to help people who aren’t covered by other services.
Council Member Abdi Warsame, who represents a district where many people don’t speak English, said he was still seeing people meet in public, despite warnings from health officials to keep their distance.
“There are still a number of our residents that are meeting up and going to coffee shops,” he said, adding: “We do need to close those spaces, because they could be incubators of this disease right now. A lot of folks were not taking it seriously in the community.”
Council Member Alondra Cano said she was fielding questions about rent support for families and financial help for people who work in the gig economy.
Cano said she hoped a resolution passed by the council “really captures the prioritization of those populations that might be left behind by certain wide community safety benefits, such as unemployment insurance, and some other benefits that we know the state and county can provide.”
When they unanimously voted to extend the emergency that Frey declared on Monday, they also preserved his power to enact emergency regulations and enter into quick contracts for supplies, processes that normally require council approval.
Council President Lisa Bender noted the emergency declaration represented “a pretty big shift of our local government structure.”
Frey thanked council members for working with him, calling the pandemic “perhaps the greatest challenge to our city in generations.”
“As we continue grappling with the threat from COVID-19, our ability to respond quickly has been and will be vital,” Frey said, adding later: “We’re no longer living in a world where our decisions are measured only against dollars and cents. We are weighing these decisions against lives saved and lives lost.”
Frey has enacted five emergency regulations. His first — announced hours before Gov. Tim Walz unveiled similar, statewide restrictions — limited bars, restaurants and coffee shops to takeout, delivery and drive-through service. He placed similar restrictions on adult day-care centers, halted the acceptance of land use permits and waived late fees for some business license renewals. Separately, Minneapolis unveiled an emergency fund to quickly funnel money to organizations that provide mental health services. The city is setting aside $75,000 from a federal grant and hopes to give money to at least 10 providers, with priority going to groups that help historically underserved communities.
To soften the blow to small businesses, the city is offering to set up free food pickup zones for some restaurants.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors, of which Frey is a member, sent a letter to leaders in the U.S. House and Senate on Thursday asking them to approve $250 billion in funding for cities.
While the emergency is in place, a policy committee that includes Bender, Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins and others, will advise the mayor.
The council agreed to extend the emergency indefinitely — lifting it when a statewide emergency ends — but also said it would review the declaration monthly.
It is also changing its operations during the emergency, reshuffling committees, switching to weekly meetings of the full council and — for the first time — conducting public meetings using Skype.