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Businesses, Unemployed Workers Look for State Assistance

The Senate COVID-19 Response Working Group convened a second teleconference meeting Friday, April 3, to learn more about how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting Minnesota’s businesses, workers and the unemployed.

Steve Grove, Commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, told the panel that eighty-five percent of applications for unemployment benefits are coming from individuals who have never before applied and that the agency is adjusting to accommodate the surge in requests. Further, he noted that recently-passed state legislation to aid small businesses is meant to bridge the gap until federal programs like the CARES Act become available.

Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank president Neel Kashkari compared the economic fallout of the pandemic to that of 2008’s great recession and said that state officials’ focus on health care and business resources are “the right things”.

A handful of small business owners attested to the difficulties they are facing as they shutter their companies for an undetermined length of time. Testifiers requested an extension to income and property tax payment deadlines, greater clarity for aid programs available, financial assistance for seasonal industries that will be disproportionately impacted by the closures and new exemptions from mandated closures for industries like landscaping and manufacturing where proper social-distancing protocols can be met.

The working group will reconvene Monday, April 6, at 11:30 a.m. for a discussion of potential deficits in state agency budgets.

Challenges Face Minnesota's Hospitals, Healthcare Workers

The newly-formed Senate COVID-19 Response Working Group held its inaugural teleconference meeting Thursday, April 2, to learn more about the needs of hospitals and long-term care facilities in grappling with the coronavirus pandemic. Testifiers spoke of the funding challenges for hospitals, particularly in rural parts of the state, the lack of personal protective equipment for health care staff and the need for a temporary change to allow doctors and nurses from other states to practice in Minnesota as the crisis grows.

The panel’s lead, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, concluded the meeting by vowing to address those concerns as well as whether worker’s compensation should be expanded to cover front-line workers who contract the disease and further guidance on the handling of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities.

The eleven-member panel, comprised of six Republican members and five DFL members, will convene again Friday, April 3, at 11:00 a.m. to learn more about the economic impacts of the pandemic on businesses throughout the state.

Unanimous Vote Sends Emergency COVID-19 Funding to Governor

In an historic vote, Senators away from the State Capitol joined fellow members at the State Capitol in unanimously supporting a $331 million dollar package to help address the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill includes $200 million dollars for a Covid-19 Minnesota Fund to provide personal protective equipment, ventilators and other medical equipment needed by Minnesota's medical community. It also dedicates funding for small business loans, childcare centers, food shelves and meal support for the elderly. Furthermore, it provides shelter for ill homeless people.

In a one-time special occurrence due to the Coronavirus, Senators who needed to protect their health by remaining at home were able to vote on the measure through their respective caucus leaders--Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent. The special consideration, approved by a resolution changing the Senate's temporary rules, has never before occurred in the Minnesota Senate.

Capitol Report Extra: Delivering Health Care Emergency Funding

Senator Michelle Benson, author of a bill providing $200 million dollars in support of Minnesota's health care facilities to combat COVID-19, talks with Capitol Report moderator Shannon Loehrke about the availability of grants to aid facilities and staff in offering care during the epidemic. She also provides an update on the current status of health facility preparedness and previews the needs yet to be addressed, including a third tier of state support.

Senate Passes Emergency Hospital, Health Care Funding Plan

The Minnesota Senate passed a bill Tuesday, March 17, providing $200 million dollars in emergency funding for hospitals and other health organizations under stress due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Sponsored by Health and Human Services Chair Michelle Benson, R - Ham Lake, the bipartisan measure was approved by the House of Representatives and sent to Governor Tim Walz for his anticipated signature.

The action by the Senate follows an earlier $21 million dollar package aiding the Department of Health in addressing the pandemic. The legislature is following health guidelines by suspending committee and floor action between March 17 and April 14, unless leaders have agreed-upon legislation that needs to be acted upon.

Legislative Plans in Wake of COVID-19 Pandemic

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt addressed the media Monday, March 16, to outline the legislature's plan in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the leaders, the legislature will continue working, but in a fashion that protects the public, legislators and legislative staff. From March 17 through April 14, floor sessions and committee hearings will be called when legislative leaders have agreed-upon legislation that needs to be acted upon. Lawmakers will continue to make themselves available to their constituents via scheduled meetings, email and phone calls.

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Businesses, Unemployed Workers Look for State Assistance