The $900 billion federal COVID-19 stimulus package promises an economic boost for Minnesotans that will extend beyond direct checks and unemployment benefits to funding for transportation, rental assistance and schools.
But how big of a boost, and exactly when the dollars will arrive, remain uncertain. For now, federal officials have said, Americans are likely to start seeing the $600 relief checks very soon.
State leaders in Minnesota and across the country are trying to piece together what their residents stand to gain from the deal as pandemic-induced hardships drag on. The upcoming presidential transition has made a cloudy process even cloudier.
Some numbers are clear: the state expects $163 million to use on highways, bridges and other transportation projects, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Others are less certain: a Minnesota Department of Human Services spokeswoman said it typically takes a few weeks for federal agencies to post projections for how much each state will get for safety net programs.
As the federal agencies distribute the money, political animosity over the hard-fought COVID package has not entirely subsided.
"There must be urgency in moving this COVID emergency funding to states to address the very real crisis Americans are experiencing," Democratic U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum said in a statement. "At the same time, I am very concerned that hyperpartisan Trump administration political appointees who are walking out the door on January 20th will be directing how hundreds of billions of dollars in assistance will be distributed."
McCollum said President Donald Trump's agency officials are not consulting with congressional Democrats or President-elect Joe Biden's transition team on how to deal out the funds. The U.S. Treasury Department did not respond to a request for comment on the situation.
However the dollars are allocated, the package that Congress debated for eight months and Trump signed into law Sunday night is expected to touch people across the state and country.
Two of the biggest components, the $600 checks and unemployment aid, are landing in Americans' bank accounts right away. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced Tuesday that direct deposits could start arriving that night and they will begin mailing paper checks Wednesday.
People who are unemployed can expect to receive new and extended benefits starting next week. Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development officials said they are trying to set up the federal programs before Sunday and provide a smooth transition for people getting the benefits.
"However, we need to receive official administrative guidance and funding from the U.S. Department of Labor before we can make any payments," the department said this week.
The stimulus includes other provisions to help sustain people struggling with lost income. It has $13 million for food assistance, including a 15% increase to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, as well as a $25 billion emergency rental assistance program.
Minnesota housing officials estimate the state will get $375 million through the emergency program. But they said significant details and timing issues have to be resolved, and the state doesn't know when renters will be able to use the aid.
"We know many individuals and families are worried about their ability to pay rent as we head into the New Year. We hope to understand more about the program soon as the Department of Treasury starts to issue implementation guidance," Minnesota Housing Deputy Commissioner Rachel Robinson said.
The $900 billion relief measure builds off many of the provisions in the last package — the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act — that Congress passed in March. Funds to help child care providers were part of the CARES Act, and the new package puts another $10 billion toward that end.
However, money for counties and municipalities, which was an element of the March stimulus, was left out of this deal.
State governments also do not get direct funding this time. New federal dollars will flow through state agencies, but are intended for specific purposes.
For example, $8.75 billion will be used to help state, local, federal and tribal public health agencies distribute, administer and track coronavirus vaccinations. And states will be charged with distributing dollars from a $54.3 billion elementary and secondary school emergency relief fund.
Minnesota's state and local governments directly received a combined $2.2 billion through the CARES Act to use as they saw fit within certain parameters.
Much of that money covered pay for public health and safety employees, provided small-business assistance and helped change up staff and services during the pandemic.
Those dollars were originally supposed to be used up by the end of this year, but the new federal legislation extends that deadline through 2021.
State budget officials said Minnesota had $44.3 million of the federal dollars left unspent as of Dec. 17, and they are rethinking where to devote the money.
County and city leaders say the new package doesn't go far enough to cover their needs, and they are continuing to push for direct aid to local governments.
"Our county needs support, and we need it fast," Anoka County Commissioner Scott Schulte said. "We urge Congress to not leave Washington until a deal has been reached that would provide additional direct funding to local governments, and allow the flexibility for aid to cover lost revenues."
Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044