Now that details of the federal recovery plan are known, the Minnesota Legislature has acted swiftly to fill in some of the gaps, with a $300 million plan to respond to the state’s needs.
Under extraordinary circumstances, the Democratic House and Republican Senate acted in concert Thursday to vote on the bill in a single day, sending it to Gov. Tim Walz for his signature.
That kind of collaboration and bipartisanship is especially appreciated at a time when businesses and individuals alike are struggling to both obey the quarantine and hang on until financial help arrives.
It was important to know the parameters of the federal aid before acting. The $2.2 trillion federal recovery bill would send $1.2 billion to Minnesota’s general fund. That allows the state to budget for additional and badly needed relief. It likely will not be enough, given the scope and continued spread of the virus.
Of the $330 million, the largest chunk — $200 million — will go to a COVID-19 fund that the state can use to respond quickly to issues related to the virus, with some legislative oversight. Another $30 million will go to child care for essential workers. The importance of that funding cannot be overstated. If those workers cannot get their children cared for, they cannot fulfill their duties. The state must ensure those services continue uninterrupted.
Another $40 million will be marked for emergency grants and loans for small businesses. This too is necessary to avoid a cascade of business closures and even more unemployed.
More funds will go to provide financial support to veterans, to keep food shelves open, to create more shelters for the homeless. Appropriately there is funding for tribal nations, which have had to close the casinos that are a primary means of revenue. It should be remembered that this assistance is going out to help people stay home, to help businesses remain closed, and to keep infection rates as low as possible.
And it is very likely that this will not be enough. Already one glaring oversight stands out: Workers’ compensation coverage for essential workers who contract the disease. It is unconscionable to ask them to risk their lives and health and not give them such coverage.
The toll of this virus has been brought home in a dramatic way for this state’s leaders. Walz is self-quarantined after exposure to the virus. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s husband, who tested positive, was hospitalized after coughing up blood and was only recently released to recover at home.
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan’s older brother died after contracting COVID-19. Several state lawmakers are self-quarantining. These examples serve only to underscore that this virus spares no one. Our mutual survival depends on our willingness to think of everyone, not just ourselves.
Lawmakers have an unenviable task these days. Some must go against long-held values of frugality. Others must vote for bills that fail to fully meet the very real needs out there.
Nevertheless, this state is depending on them to continue to work through their differences, to keep coming back at this challenge with compassion, goodwill and a focus on the health and safety of fellow Minnesotans.