Assistance for small-business owners hurting due to the COVID-19 pandemic may not be the only item up for debate during next week’s special session.
Heard Thursday by the House Ways and Means Committee was a series of DFL proposals that includes financial assistance for businesses and child care providers, additional benefits for the unemployed, housing help and a one-time cash benefit for certain low-income households. No action was taken.
Most funding would come from the General Fund.
Released last week, the state’s latest budget forecast shows a projected $641 million surplus for the current biennium that ends June 30, 2021.
“The goal is to have a heads-up in terms of what may be discussed for (Monday’s) special session,” said Rep. Lyndon Carlson Sr. (DFL-Crystal), the committee chair. “I think it’s fair to say that conversations are still taking place.”
Helping Minnesota businesses
The proposal that carries the largest financial commitment — $216.5 million — aims to help businesses that have experienced at least a 30 percent sales decline since 2019.
Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul) put forth an aid package that would provide:
Money could start being allocated before the year ends.
At a news conference, Sen. Eric Pratt (R-Prior Lake), chair of the Senate jobs committee, said there is agreement with the House DFL and Senate Republicans on this.
“We know that there’s more things to it, but this was the foundation of our business grant relief program with the details businesses are really looking for,” added Rep. Dave Baker (R-Willmar). “But there’s going to be other components to make the package come together.”
[WATCH: Pratt and Baker news conference]
Mahoney also outlined a plan for up to an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits for someone who exhausts their regular unemployment benefits, state extended benefits or federal extended benefits.
Mahoney said between 100,000-125,000 Minnesotans are slated to lose unemployment benefits Dec. 26 without a state or federal extension. If a federal extension is enacted, all that money would be used first.
"There is no separation for me between the workers and the businesses. We need to take care of both. Or both of them will go down,” Mahoney said.
Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) said he doesn’t understand how extending unemployment benefits became controversial.
“The unemployment insurance system is insurance. … Why shouldn’t we want to be responsible and always make sure we’re responsible stewards of these dollars? It’s important to recognize there are a lot of people who need this help.”
However, differences remain. For example, the Senate wants just a five-week extension, the bodies differ on the end date and the Senate puts a $200 million cap on the total amount.
“I hope between now and Monday we can come up with a win-win situation,” Carlson said.
A separate Mahoney proposal calls for shortening from 12 months to three months the length of employment requirement for an employee to participate in a shared work program.
Cash benefit for low-income Minnesotans
To assist low-income families with children, Rep. Mohamud Noor (DFL-Mpls) offered a proposal to take $15.71 million in TANF funds “to provide a onetime cash benefit of up to $500 for each household active in the Minnesota family investment program or diversionary work program.”
“This is an opportunity to make sure that no one is left out in Minnesota,” Noor said. “ … These Minnesotans are struggling at this moment of need with the economic crisis, with the health crisis. We need to stand up for every family, for every individual so that we can show we are one Minnesota, we care about each other and we stand for each other.”
He noted that the money would be spent immediately in local communities, thereby helping local businesses as well.
“They have not seen a reduction in the amount of MFIP that they receive. This would be additional money on top of what they already receive,” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) said at a morning forum of legislative leaders hosted by Fredrikson & Byron, P.A. “We’re certainly reviewing that. It’s possible it could be included, but the past few times that we’ve reviewed it both our caucus and the Senate Republicans have agreed not to move forward with that.”
Will it get done?
“I’m confident we’ll be able to come together by Monday to pass a package to help Minnesotans,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) said at the forum.
Gov. Tim Walz said last week he would like to see lawmakers pass $300 million to $600 million in state assistance.
“Minnesota’s small businesses and workers are bearing a large burden of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to protect their entire community amid restrictions that are saving lives,” Walz said in a statement calling Monday’s special session. “I call upon our state legislature to come together and ensure our businesses stay afloat, our workers are supported, and our families can put food on the table.”
Also heard were plans to: