Minnesota Democrats in the House are pushing for a $208 million housing and economic assistance package, teeing up end-of-session negotiations with Senate Republicans over whether targeted aid or tax relief is the best way to help Minnesotans struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.
The DFL proposal passed the House 75-58 Thursday on a largely party-line vote. It would pump $100 million into rent, mortgage, utility-bill and property-tax assistance. Another $55 million would fund grants for small and minority-owned businesses. It also includes $27 million in broadband access to expand telemedicine and help families in rural areas with distance learning, as well as $26 million to help compensate personal care assistants helping vulnerable people during the pandemic.
“Minnesota can’t afford not to act,” said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. “If we do nothing, if we let them fall through the cracks and be left behind, we are going to have a much, much slower economic recovery afterward.”
The DFL proposal comes on the heels of an updated $2.4 billion projected budget deficit that has dramatically scaled back expectations from legislators this session.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said the relief package is paid for through the state’s budget, but she said some pieces could be covered under the $1.87 billion in federal funds the state has received to cover coronavirus-related costs.
It differs from a relief package supported by Senate Republicans, who want to delay tax payments, waive penalties and expand tax credits for families with school-age children.
Both proposals are in the mix as lawmakers rush toward a May 18 deadline to adjourn the regular legislative session. Legislators are also trying to strike a deal on a package of construction projects in a bonding bill, a bill to pay hourly school workers while classrooms are closed to the public and establish oversight over how the state spends federal coronavirus funding.
Legislators want to wrap up work on all of those proposals by the end of the regular session, but many are expecting to be back again in June, when Gov. Tim Walz could need to extend his emergency powers to respond to the pandemic.
GOP efforts to amend the economic relief package on Thursday were aimed less at the bill and more at Walz’s executive powers, which have allowed him to issue stay-home orders and temporarily shut down bars, restaurants and other public spaces to limit the spread of the virus.
One amendment, from Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, would have suspended the governor’s salary during the peacetime emergency while hundreds of thousands of people are out of work. Another amendment would have required legislative approval if Walz wants to extend a state of peacetime emergency beyond 30 days. Under existing law, Walz can extend the emergency without legislative approval while lawmakers are in session.
“No governor should carry the weight of a global pandemic exclusively upon their own shoulders,” said Rep. Jerry Hertaus, R-Greenfield, the author of the amendment.
Both amendments failed in the DFL-led House.