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Compromise in works over Iron Range unemployment benefits

A series of bills and amendments being discussed in the House Ways and Means Committee March 14 are part of the unemployment benefits extension for Iron Range workers. Photo by Paul Battaglia

(UPDATED WITH COMMITTEE VOTE)

An agreement could be in the works to bring financial relief to northeastern Minnesota iron workers who have exhausted their unemployment compensation.

Sponsored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), HF2032, as amended, would provide 26 weeks of additional unemployment insurance benefits to “an applicant who was laid off due to lack of work after March 1, 2015, from an iron ore mining industry employer or from an employer that is a supplier of goods or services that are directly related to the extraction or processing of iron ore.”

House Ways and Means Committee - part 1 3/14/16

It would also ensure that the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund remain solvent, with new calculations put in place to better monitor the fund levels.

Garofalo suggested the new language came after talks between House and Senate leadership over the weekend.

The House Ways and Means Committee approved the potential agreement Monday and sent it to the House Floor.

House Ways and Means Committee - part 2 3/14/16

The issue became a political football with Republican demands that any extension to unemployment funds also address the financial levels of the state unemployment fund, which Garofalo has described as “morbidly obese.” The fund — financed through a tax on employers — has an estimated balance of $1.6 billion.

Last week, the Senate passed and sent to the House SF209, which only addressed the benefits possibly delaying action on the measure. The committee also amended this bill to conform to the House language and sent it to the House Floor.

Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul) expressed concern about the lack of public transparency in the process. “The sad part is that this became such a political football that it had to go into the backroom to reach a compromise.”


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