Two weeks remain in the legislative session, with the final day of regular session being Monday, May 18. So much has changed in the weeks since the coronavirus appeared, including how the Legislature operates. Committee meetings are being conducted online, and floor sessions are limited to around 30 members in the chamber. The remainder of members are plugged in by either computer or phone. The focus of our work has also changed dramatically. In the last few weeks, nearly all the bills passed have been related to Covid-19. The response needed to be quick, as the situation changed daily.
All of these additional measures dealing with the virus require additional funding. We have appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars, and more is probably necessary. There will be financial assistance coming from the federal government, but we need to fund these programs upfront.
Of great concern is what's happening in the livestock and poultry industry. With packing plants either shut down or on a reduced schedule, market-ready animals are backing up in the system. Hogs are being euthanized, as the capacity of our processing system is well over a hundred thousand short of what's needed. Between the closure of plants in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Worthington, Minn., our state has lost about 50 percent of its processing capability. There is some good news however, as JBS has announced it may at least partially re-open its plant in Worthington by mid-week and the Sioux Falls plant owned by Smithfield is also making plans to re-open soon.
Minnesota has set up an emergency fund in the Dept. of Agriculture to deal with the loss of livestock processing. The department is establishing a regional operation to immediately deal with swine disposal and composting. They are asking an additional $11 million to fund this operation.
Ag. Commissioner Thom Peterson also announced last week that the final payments from the state's DAIRI program have been sent out. Nearly $8 million was awarded to around 1,800 dairy producers to assist them with covering the cost of premiums when they signed up for the federal dairy margin protection programs. The program worked well and was at least partially responsible for Minnesota having one of the highest percentages of dairy operations signing up for the programs.
My e-mail account has been busy with activity from folks who want to go back to work again. Their message is to end the stay-at-home order and allow some semblance of normalcy to return. To be fair, I've also received messages from those who urge caution with ending these orders too soon. Members of the Legislature want to work with Gov. Walz in coming up with plans on how to get small businesses open again, and to do it safely. As I've said before, those operations that can practice social distancing should be allowed to re-open. Many folks noted that big-box stores are busy, and their parking lots are full. And they ask if it wouldn't make sense to open up more stores and spread out the number of shoppers who are out and about.
The governor extended his stay-at-home order another two weeks until May 18. In his latest announcement, more businesses are able to offer curbside service. We'll see what happens then, as that date also coincides with the final day of the legislative session.