The $330 million package is intended to help stabilize local economies, protect renters, authorize city and other deadline extensions, and modify the work of state agencies during the pandemic.
During unprecedented floor sessions involving logistics to accommodate social distancing recommendations, the Minnesota Legislature on March 26 passed a measure that provides $330 million to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Minnesota.
Gov. Tim Walz signed the bill into law on March 28 while in self-quarantine at the governor’s residence in St. Paul. The Legislature appropriated about $221 million earlier this month to support the Department of Health’s response and to help health care providers.
The package, Chapter 71 (HF 4531 /SF 4451) is intended to, among other things, help stabilize local economies, protect renters, authorize city and other deadline extensions, and modify the work of state agencies under the pandemic-related peacetime emergency. Most notably, the measure includes a $200 million general fund appropriation to create a COVID-19 Fund that Minnesota Management and Budget may draw upon to help state agencies respond to the outbreak.
A COVID-19 Response Commission, made up of legislative leaders and chairs of the House and Senate Finance committees, is established to review expenditures from the fund greater than $1 million. The bill also contains dozens of policy provisions.
Budget provisions included
Other budget items proposed in the bill include:
- $30 million to create an account for small business emergency loans at the Department of Employment and Economic Development, codifying provisions in an existing executive order.
- $29.96 million for a grant program to support licensed child care providers, who, in part, agree to care for the children of health care and other emergency workers.
- $26.54 million in emergency services grants, of which $15.21 million is intended to provide additional shelter space, $5 million is to purchase hygiene, sanitation, and cleaning supplies, and $6.33 million is for staffing.
- $11 million to help Minnesota’s 11 tribal nations address the crisis.
- $10 million to the small business emergency loan account to guarantee loans from private banks to small employers.
- $9 million in one-time funding for the state’s food shelf program, at least $3 million of which must be used to help regional food banks make specialized responses to community needs.
- $6.2 million to provide financial assistance to veterans and surviving spouses in need of assistance as a result of COVID-19.
- $5.53 million to provide housing support relief for low-income seniors and individuals under 65 with disabilities by temporarily increasing limits and rates for room and board and supplementary services—the program helps pay for rent, food, household supplies, and other necessities.
- $2.4 million to continue reissuing driver’s licenses and complete other motor vehicle transactions.
The package also includes numerous policy provisions of interest to cities:
- Transfers $20 million from the Minnesota 21st century fund and $10 million from the Minnesota investment revolving loan fund to fund the small business emergency loan program outlined in Executive Order 20-15.
- Allows for municipalities with uncommitted money from the repayment of Minnesota investment fund loans to use uncommitted funds to make loans to retail stores, service providers, and hospitality businesses until the end of fiscal year 2020, and requires any municipality that uses the exception to report how the funds were used to the Legislature by Feb. 15, 2021.
- Retools the small business loan guarantee program, which was unfunded since 2012, to provide state loan guarantees of 80% of a loan up to $200,000 made to a small business by a lender within 12 months of the declaration of COVID-19.
- Provides broad authorization for the commissioner of Commerce to delay, stay, or waive licensing and investigation deadlines. This could be applied to prevent expiration of municipal electrical utility staff certifications and licensure and to delay continuing education requirements.
- Extends the expiration date for driver’s licenses, Minnesota identification cards, and disability parking certificates and permits so they expire two months after the peacetime public health emergencies declared by the governor during 2020.
- Directs the Department of Public Safety to work with law enforcement agencies to ensure awareness about license expiration date extensions and to publicize information on the expiration date extensions to the general public.
- Authorizes the superintendent of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to delay submission of fingerprints as part of background checks for “essential workers” during peacetime emergencies declared by the governor. Provides a gross misdemeanor penalty for “essential workers” who provide false information as part of a background check while the fingerprint requirement is suspended. Requires the superintendent to report to the Legislature on the exercise of this emergency power.
Provisions not included
Several additional policy and funding ideas that did not make it into the final package were being discussed as the package was negotiated. Note that any of these could be revisited as the state continues to address pandemic-related challenges. Provisions not included are:
- $10 million for the Family Homelessness Prevention and Assistance Program that was called for by Gov. Walz.
- Funding for a statewide rental assistance program.
- Capital investments.
- Workers’ compensation provisions related to essential employees.