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Lawmakers rush funding to governor's desk to fight COVID-19 outbreak

House Health and Human Services Finance Division Chair Tina Liebling, from left, House Speaker Melissa Hortman and House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler speak to the media Monday before the House passed SF3813, which would provide $20.9 million for public health response planning and preparation for COVID-19. Photo by Paul Battaglia

(Updated with Senate vote)

Now that COVID-19 has reached Minnesota, the Department of Health is ramping up its response, and the Legislature has worked to speed sufficient funding to the agency.

The House passed SF3813, as amended, 133-0 Monday, approving the transfer of $20.9 million from the General Fund to the state’s public health response contingency account.

The Senate re-passed the bill later Monday 64-0, where it is sponsored by Sen. Jerry Relph (R-St. Cloud).

Coronavirus planning, preparation funding bill passed 3/9/20

Gov. Tim Walz has indicated he’ll sign the measure Tuesday. House rules were suspended to allow for the rapid response, House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) said at a news conference.

“It is really important that we start to get resources in place, so we can avoid any of the worst consequences that may be coming,” said Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester). “I think we’re showing the public that, when needed, we can pull together – both parties, both bodies – and get the important stuff done.”

She sponsors HF3980, a similar bill which had been awaiting an amendment to reflect the department’s specific financial request. Estimates presented to the House Health and Human Services Finance Division last week were similar.

The $20.9 million in additional funding is expected to cover staffing and laboratory costs, personal protective equipment, and support for local public health and health care coalitions – all of which is tied to the state’s public health response to COVID-19.

The bill would not cover medical supplies or direct support to health care providers.

“There will be other needs across the state,” Liebling said at the news conference.

The bill would cancel any funds over $5 million – as of Feb. 1, 2021 – back to the General Fund by the close of Fiscal Year 2021.

The fund currently has about $5 million in it, and any incoming federal funds will be used to offset the difference in the General Fund, Liebling said.

The amendment would ensure that the Department of Health has access to federal funding when it comes in, without getting additional authorization from the Legislature, and allow the department to use this current balance to address “any pandemic influenza,” including other strains of the COVID-19 virus.

Liebling and Hortman confirmed that several other bills, yet to be considered, aspire to address the risk of COVID-19. These include bills that would:

  • create a revolving loan fund to help providers cover COVID-19-related costs;
  • clarify the governor’s ability to declare a state of emergency during peacetime (HF4327);
  • address what would happen if schools need to close to limit the spread of the virus; and
  • provide some sort of economic assistance through the Department of Employment and Economic Development to ensure employees without paid sick time can actually stay home when sick.

More information about the virus is available on the Department of Health website. A hotline is available at 651-201-3920.

 


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