I want to thank everyone who took time to attend my recent Virtual Town Hall Meeting! While Facebook is no replacement for in-person gatherings, I’m incredibly grateful for the engagement from folks throughout the region. If you couldn’t join us, video is available on my Facebook page.
Last week I also had the opportunity to appear on the public TV program “Your Legislators” with three of my colleagues from the Capitol. We discussed a wide variety of issues, and you can watch a replay of that conversation here.
I’d also invite you, if you haven’t seen it yet, to read my recent guest column in the Mesabi Tribune. In it, I answer many questions constituents have had, including our approach to the governor’s peacetime emergency authority and executive orders, my work to help businesses open back up, and other key items like mining and strengthening opportunities for our students.
Today, state budget officials are announcing a new economic forecast, highlighting a turnaround in our state budget outlook. This is good news, but the fact remains too many Minnesotans are still struggling as a result of the health and economic impacts from the pandemic. Those who were already struggling before the pandemic have experienced even greater hardship over the past year. We need to come together to invest in what Minnesotans value most – like excellent public schools, health care, and support for small businesses and families – to ensure we can all pull through this crisis.
Earlier this week I had the chance to present my legislation to boost the state’s investment in Minnesota Diversified Industries (MDI). MDI operates a packaging facility in Hibbing, using an inclusive, integrated workforce approach, with nearly half of all employees being people with disabilities.
For 2020 and 2021, the state invested $100,000 toward MDI, down from the $450,000 investments in 2018 and 2019. My bill would return our investment to the $450,000 mark, allowing MDI to hire additional workers and provide more in-depth support to employees, including career skills and problem-solving. I was honored to have MDI’s new president Eric Black, Director of Employment Services Jeanne Eglinton, and MDI employee Delmon Smith join me for the committee hearing.
MDI is a valued asset on the Iron Range, providing manufacturing jobs for people with disabilities along with critical skills to help workers understand their own strengths, learn how to work together and collaborate as a team, and take on new challenges. I’ve had the opportunity to spend some time at MDI and have seen first-hand how they value their employees and help give them purpose and meaning. This organization has demonstrated its contributions to our community and state, and they are worthy of an increased investment from the Legislature.
Yesterday, Governor Walz updated Minnesotans on the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution timeline, with a goal to ensure 70% of those 65 and older can receive the vaccine by the end of March. Educators and child care workers will continue to receive the vaccine right now, too. Once the state reaches this benchmark, eligibility will open up to other groups, including those with specific underlying conditions and certain essential workers, like those in food processing plants.
Demand continues to outpace the supply of the vaccine, but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, including Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine coming on the market as soon as next week. The finish line is in sight, we just need to be patient. If you’ve not yet done so, you can sign up for Minnesota’s Vaccine Connector, which will notify you when you become eligible and connect you with a provider.
We’re approaching the end of February, which is Black History Month. We’ve unquestionably made great progress in our work to provide equity and fair opportunity to all Minnesotans no matter what they look like, but unfortunately, our state’s students of color continue to face one of the worst racial opportunity gaps in the nation.
One solution to help students of color achieve is to make sure there are more teachers who look like they do. In the House Education Finance and Higher Education committees, we recently held public hearings on the Increase Teachers of Color Act, a bipartisan bill to recruit and retain more teachers of color and Indigenous teachers to Minnesota classrooms. The bill seeks to accomplish this through goal setting, robust mentorship, hiring bonuses and other innovative strategies to help ensure the diversity of Minnesota’s teachers better reflect the diversity of our students. Minnesota’s opportunity gap is a problem legislators from both parties have long recognized, and now it’s time to take bold action to address it before another generation gets left behind.
Please continue to contact me with your input, ideas, or if I can ever be of assistance. It’s an honor to represent you.