Minneapolis’ police officers and firefighters deserve a “significant portion” of emergency federal COVID-19 aid, union officials said, arguing that an infusion of potentially millions of dollars is needed to avoid cutbacks or layoffs.
In a letter to lawmakers, the unions made their pitch for a bigger cut of funding under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act — with Minnesota receiving $2.2 billion in aid, roughly $700 million of which is going to first responders. They argue the proposed funding boost would come in handy as Minneapolis stares down an anticipated $100 million to $200 million budget shortfall.
“Given that the Minneapolis Police Department constitutes approximately 9% of sworn law enforcement officers in the State and the Minneapolis Fire Department employs roughly 20% of all full-time licensed firefighters, we believe that Minneapolis should be in line to receive a substantial portion of the funds dedicated to assist police and fire departments,” said the letter, signed by Minneapolis Police Federation President Bob Kroll and Mark Lakosky, head of Local 82, the firefighters union.
The letter said the fire and police departments hope to be reimbursed for protective equipment, overtime, employee screening and other expenses related to the coronavirus outbreak.
It continued: “The financial assistance from the CARES Act would have a far greater impact in bridging any budget gap resulting from the economic downturn caused by COVID than would financial concessions from employees — especially from those employees who have continued to work throughout this public health crisis in circumstances while risking exposure to COVID-19.”
Both departments have taken steps in recent weeks to tighten financial controls. The MPD, for instance, has canceled nonessential travel and tried to rein in overtime expenses. Police Chief Medaria Arradondo recently attended a roll call in the Fourth Precinct to try to smooth concerns about possible cuts.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has said the city is not looking at furloughs or layoffs, while noting, “it’s impossible to know the full scope of how the recession will affect us.”
Third Ward Council Member Steve Fletcher said Wednesday that while he understands the unions’ willingness to advocate for their members, he felt it was only right to try to spread the pain of budget reductions across all city departments.
“I don’t want to get into the game of one department advocating for themselves as being more important than others,” said Fletcher, who co-chairs the now-dormant public safety committee. “I’m not going to tell city workers or Public Works or [Community Planning and Economic Development] or Regulatory Services that they are less important.”
The city has been under a salary and hiring freeze since last month, police and firefighters included, though Frey said exceptions could be made for workers needed for the COVID-19 response.
State budget officials said Gov. Tim Walz’s administration plans to work with the Legislature on how and when the CARES Act money will be distributed.