No matter what happens in the final two weeks of the legislative session, Minnesota's front-line workers will get bonus checks under a $500 million deal that Gov. Tim Walz signed into law last month.
Legislators hammered out the measure after initially disagreeing on how much to spend and who should get the money. The deal, which also includes $2.7 billion to refill the state's Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and $190 million for managing COVID-19, could end up being one of the most substantial compromises the divided Legislature reaches this year.
"At this point in time, whether you be a front-line worker, whether you're a small business, or whether you're Minnesotans wondering what happens next with COVID, those things were prioritized, taken care of, agreed upon and signed into law," Walz told reporters at the Capitol on Monday.
But how many people will qualify for "hero pay," and how much money they'll get, has yet to be determined. State officials have estimated that 667,000 workers will get about $750 each, but that could change depending on who applies and is ultimately deemed eligible.
While it's possible to estimate the number of jobs in each sector the Legislature included in the definition of "front-line worker" — from health care to retail to public transit — it's harder to know how many of those workers met other criteria, including being required to work in-person and not receiving more than 20 weeks of unemployment, said Nicole Blissenbach, deputy commissioner at the state Department of Labor and Industry.
"It is very possible that that number is low; it is very possible that that number is high," Blissenbach said. "Because so many of the assumptions that were worked in were just that: assumptions."
Here are answers to some common questions about front-line worker pay:
Do I qualify as a front-line worker?
The state has identified 15 categories of workers who are eligible for checks. The industries included are long-term care and home care; health care; emergency responders; public health, social service and regulatory service; courts and corrections; child care; public education; food service; retail; temporary shelters and hotels; building services; public transit; ground and air transportation services; manufacturing; and vocational rehabilitation.
If I work in one of those industries, do I get a check?
Maybe. To qualify, you must have logged at least 120 hours in Minnesota in one or more of the specified front-line worker industries between March 15, 2020, and June 30, 2021. During that time, you must have been unable to work remotely because of the nature of your work, and have worked closely with people outside your household. You cannot have received unemployment for more than 20 weeks between March 15, 2020, and June 26, 2021.
There are also income limits. If you worked directly with COVID patients, the annual cap is $350,000 if filing taxes jointly with your spouse and $175,000 if filing individually. If you did not care for COVID patients, those limits are $185,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly and $85,000 for individuals.
I'm an undocumented worker. Can I get a check?
The legislation does not address undocumented workers. "If people are able to fill out the application truthfully and meet the verification checks for those eligibility criteria, they will be deemed eligible," Blissenbach said.
How much money is available?
A total of $500 million is available for an estimated 667,000 front-line workers. That amounts to about $750 for each eligible worker, though that number could change depending on how many people apply. Fewer applicants will mean bigger checks, although no more than $1,500 per worker.
Where is the money coming from?
A one-time $500 million appropriation from the state's general fund will go directly to front-line workers. Another $11.7 million will cover the administrative costs of distributing the checks.
How do I apply?
You have 45 days to apply once the online application opens — possibly in June, Blissenbach said. To sign up for updates, visit bit.ly/3P8okxv.
What if my application is denied?
You can appeal within 15 days of learning that your application has been denied. The appeal decision will be final.
When can I expect a check?
Officials estimate that checks will start going out in late summer or early fall.
I employ front-line workers. What do I need to know?
You must notify all current employees who may be eligible for front-line worker pay within 15 days after the application opens. The Department of Labor and Industry is creating a form for this purpose, which will be available online at frontlinepay.mn.gov.