Helping business and employees weather and ultimately fully recover from economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is the “heart and soul” of the House omnibus workforce and business development finance bill.
So says Rep. Mohamud Noor (DFL-Mpls), who sponsors the bill and chairs the House Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee, which approved HF1342 Friday, but not before tweaking it a bit with several amendments.
As modified by a delete-all amendment adopted Wednesday, and further amended Friday, the bill was sent to the House Ways and Means Committee following an 8-5 party-line vote..
The omnibus bill would appropriate $261.3 million from the General Fund in the 2022-23 biennium to fund the Department of Employment and Economic Development and other economic development programs.
That represents nearly $57 million in new spending that could be forthcoming for workforce training and other ways to move Minnesota forward, Noor said.
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Its $348 million companion, SF1098, sponsored by Sen. Eric Pratt (R-Prior Lake), was approved Monday by the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy Committee, and it now awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee.
“We know the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on workers, on businesses,” Noor said. “This is a moment that we’re showing that we are willing to do what it takes to support our workers so they can get back to work. This is a moment that we are showing that we are investing state resources where it’s needed.”
Selected programs and initiatives that would be funded include:
In addition, the bill would make a budget adjustment to fiscal year 2021 by appropriating $50 million for small business COVID support grants.
Policy provisions in the omnibus bill
Noor said the bill represents “a major shift” in how workforce development grants would be structured and distributed. For example, it would require 65% of money in the workforce development fund be prioritized for individuals who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color, while maintaining a 50/50 balance between Greater Minnesota and metro area recipients.
A significant portion of the omnibus bill is the family and medical benefits program, which is also moving separately as HF1200. Sponsored by Rep. Ruth Richardson (DFL-Mendota Heights), it would establish a state-run insurance program to partially reimburse lost wages for workers taking medical or family leave.
Republican objections to the omnibus bill center on the family and medical benefits provisions. They questioned the sustainability of the cost model and what long-term impacts it would have on the affordability of child care.
Several Republican amendments then considered by the committee would have appropriated funds from the workforce development grants program for specific programs, thus bypassing the competitive grants process established and funded by the omnibus bill.
Noor said making those exceptions would set a dangerous precedent and would undermine the new structure that all grant requests go through the workforce development fund as defined in Minnesota statutes, and would be funded by the omnibus bill with $19.9 million.
Republican amendments in that category that were voted down on party-line votes include:
Hamilton successfully offered an amendment that would add “businesses owned by persons with disabilities” to a list of business owners eligible to compete for business and community development grants offered by the Department of Employment and Economic Development.
Unemployment insurance changes
Several changes to unemployment insurance and compensation would be made.
The definition of reemployment assistance training would be modified by allowing more types of training — such as English as a second language, high school equivalency, or basic computer skills — to be pursued while still qualifying for unemployment insurance.
The bill would modify state law that requires 50% of the weekly equivalent of Social Security old age or disability benefit be deducted from an applicant’s weekly unemployment benefit payment if the applicant is receiving, has received, or has filed for Social Security benefits.
Contracted school workers, like bus drivers and hourly employees, who are unemployed between school terms would qualify for unemployment benefits if they otherwise meet eligibility requirements.
High school students would qualify for unemployment insurance benefits if they otherwise meet eligibility requirements. High school students are now excluded from receiving unemployment benefits.
The bill would also classify certain COVID-19-related “leaves of absence” as being involuntary, so the leave would not make an applicant ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits.