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DFL leaders outline top early priorities for 2021 session

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler during Wednesday's remote news conference. Screenshot

After 2020 was dominated by the coronavirus, top House DFLers say their immediate 2021 priorities are to assist people most impacted by COVID-19.

“We know the pandemic has not impacted all Minnesotans equally. COVID-19 has laid bare the structural inequalities of political and economic systems. The rich and well-connected do better than ever, while working Minnesotans are living paycheck to paycheck, and suffering most at the hands of COVID-19,” House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) said at a Wednesday news conference.

House DFL Press Conference 1/13/21

He added: “Our first priority for the 2021 session is all about making sure we give back to Minnesotans who have given the most and risked the most to keep the rest of us safe and healthy: our nurses and front-line health care workers, the hospitality industry and the bars and restaurants that employ them, child care providers and teachers. These are the heroes that have helped us get through this pandemic.”

Rep. Liz Olson (DFL-Duluth) said the agenda is not “an exhaustive list” of DFL goals, but are steps that can be done to help Minnesotans right away.  

"There is light at the end of the tunnel," she said. “Minnesotans care for one another, and I’m hopeful we can work together to ensure that we can bounce back from this crisis.”

The priorities are packaged in a set of five bills that call for fiscal year 2021 funding unless noted):

  • HF1, sponsored by Rep. Mohamud Noor (DFL-Mpls), includes: $50 million in emergency housing assistance grants; a prohibition on evictions during a state of emergency; $15.7 million to provide one-time $500 checks to households in the Minnesota Family Investment or Diversionary Work programs; $10 million for “Minnesota-owned and operated restaurants, catering companies, and food establishments that employ the equivalent of 50 or fewer full-time employees,” and people experiencing hunger. It also calls for $70 million in the 2022-23 biennium for broadband expansion;
  • HF2, sponsored by Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL-International Falls), would provide workers’ compensation for certain school employees who contract coronavirus, provide emergency sick leave for some essential workers, establish rehiring and retention protections for workers who are laid off, and remove social security and
    social security disability offsets for unemployment insurance;
  • HF3, sponsored by Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester), calls for $21.65 million for emergency-related services, including helping the Health Department with increased testing, more vaccinating of residents in long-term care facilities and supplying emergency staff to replace facility workers who are out sick;
  • HF4, sponsored by Rep. Hodan Hassan (DFL-Mpls), would implement actions to deal with effects the pandemic has had on education, including measures related to funding and learning loss, and on-site instruction or home visit guidance for students with an individualized learning plan; and
  • HF5, sponsored by Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul), would provide $159.6 million to child care providers to help meet the needs of families. It would also provide $9.98 million to increase the number of families that can move from the state’s basic sliding fee program to receive assistance. The program helps families pay for child care while they work, look for work, or attend training or school to prepare for work.

None of the bills have a companion in the Republican–controlled Senate.

Citing a police accountability package, capital investment and extending unemployment insurance, Winkler said “every major accomplishment” the Legislature passed in the past two years occurred with the public on the DFL’s side and “pulling Senate Republicans to where they needed to be.”

He added: “This agenda is clearly on the minds of Minnesotans, this is what they need from us, this is what they expect from us, and this is what we should be doing.”


Federal help?

Further financial assistance from our nation’s capital could help, but there’s no guarantee.

“While we are introducing these … there will be some changes to the numbers as we find out more,” Liebling said.

Rep. Michael Howard (DFL-Richfield) said helping folks is the bottom line. “Our commitment is to make sure that Minnesotans with needs get the help and that we don’t let people fall through the cracks.”

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