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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL)

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Minnesota House passes new COVID-19 assistance legislation

Monday, December 14, 2020

St. Paul, Minnesota — Today, the Minnesota House of Representatives passed new COVID-19 assistance legislation for Minnesota workers and businesses. The legislation includes a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits for workers and assistance for businesses most impacted by the pandemic.

“Minnesotans deserve economic security, and I'm pleased we were able to provide assistance to workers and businesses today,” said Speaker Melissa Hortman. “This economic assistance package provides some help – but more substantial resources are needed. I hope the federal government follows Minnesota’s lead and reaches a bipartisan agreement soon to help workers and businesses get through what we hope are the last difficult weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, until vaccines are widely available.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of workers in Minnesota and millions across the country exhausted their regular unemployment benefits in the summer and fall and remain unable to find a job. The federal CARES Act provides these workers with another 13 weeks of benefits, but that extension will expire on December 26. This bill is designed to fill this gap if federal leadership is unable to reach an agreement on a federal extension. Under this bill, workers could collect up to 13 weeks in additional unemployment insurance if they exhaust all their unemployment any time between December 19, 2020 and April 10, 2021.

“Minnesotans are tired of seeing the wealthy and well-connected get bailed out. House DFLers put working families first during negotiations with Senate Republicans and we refused to compromise our values,” said Majority Leader Ryan Winkler. “Time is of the essence, and this bipartisan assistance package will get money out the door quickly to small businesses that need it most and ensure no interruption in unemployment benefits for more than 100,000 Minnesotans.”

In addition to the 13-week extension of unemployment benefits for more than 100,000 Minnesotans, the new assistance package directs the Department of Revenue to send checks directly to restaurants, bars, and other businesses impacted by the latest public health guidelines, with no need for businesses to fill out an application. The Department of Revenue estimates that 5,800 small businesses will receive $82-88 million beginning before the end of the year. Another $114.5 million will be distributed to counties to provide grants to impacted businesses, and movie theaters and convention centers will receive $14 million.

“The measures implemented to address the surge of COVID-19 are saving lives, but they must also be balanced with economic assistance not only for the impacted small businesses, but for the working men and women of our state as well.” said Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL - St. Paul), the chair of the House Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division. “More is sorely needed, especially from the federal government, but this legislation offers a lifeline that could make the difference as our working families face an uncertain new year.”

“Minnesotans have been struggling economically for months due to the pandemic. Today, we were able to provide some assistance to more than 100,000 families who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own,” said Rep. Mohamud Noor (DFL - Minneapolis), who played a key role in negotiations. “Our action today will also help businesses in hard-hit industries who have suspended operations to help keep Minnesotans safe during this health emergency. We hope the federal government also steps in soon to provide additional help until the worst of this pandemic passes.”

Rep. Liz Olson (DFL – Duluth) crafted a provision that waives and delays certain fees for the hospitality industry. Among the fees waived include 2 a.m. liquor licenses for bars, caterers that serve alcohol, wastewater permitting fees for small breweries, and certain late payment penalties from the Dept. of Agriculture for food manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers.

“Our bars, restaurants, breweries and other small businesses aren’t only our state’s economic engine; they greatly enhance the vibrancy of our communities,” Olson said. “They are facing an urgent situation to hang on, and we should be doing anything we can, no matter how small it may seem, to help them through this crisis.”

The assistance package also contains a provision that would give an extension to school districts during the current pandemic to collect forms from families eligible for free and reduced lunch. The legislation extends the current deadline of December 15 to January 4, 2021.

“The COVID -19 pandemic has presented a host of challenges for students, families and schools,” said Education Finance Chair Jim Davnie (DFL-Minneapolis). “Extending this deadline for reporting students who are eligible for meal support helps assure more stable school finances so schools can better meet the needs of these children.”