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$200m pool of state COVID funds nearly empty, lawmakers hear

A health care worker administers a test at a drive-up COVID-19 testing site in Minneapolis last April. Photo by Paul Battaglia
A health care worker administers a test at a drive-up COVID-19 testing site in Minneapolis last April. Photo by Paul Battaglia

When Minnesota’s first COVID-19 case was diagnosed in early March, it wasn’t long before both the federal and state governments started allocating funds to deal with not only the disease but its economic repercussions.

Signed into law that month, the federal government’s $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill sent $2.19 billion Minnesota’s way, and the Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz also agreed to put $200 million of state money into a COVID-19 Minnesota Fund.

Yet, as 2020 waned, there was much talk about how that money was almost gone, inspiring both Congress and the Legislature (in its final special session of the year) to pass legislation that allocated new funds to deal with the pandemic and its effects.

On Monday, the House Ways and Means Committee got a look at the balance sheet, courtesy of Minnesota Management and Budget. The committee learned where the March money has been distributed, and got a glimpse of what’s expected from the federal legislation signed into law in late December.

House Ways and Means Committee 1/11/21

Was the money running out? In the case of the $200 million COVID-19 Minnesota Fund, it would certainly seem so, as only $83 remains in that account. Yet that total is expected to rise again with expected FEMA and insurance reimbursements totaling $23.6 million. The fund’s largest allocations were for testing ($76.8 million) and critical care supplies ($66.5 million).

But that’s just part of the $796 million the state has appropriated for COVID-19 relief of various types. Among the largest allocations have been for a Health Care Response Fund ($150 million); county relief grants to small businesses ($115 million); small business assistance to restaurants, bars and gyms ($88 million); and $76 million for a Public Health Contingency Account.

A considerably larger sum has come from the federal government. Of the $2.2 billion in federal Coronavirus Relief Fund appropriations for Minnesota, $56.6 million remains unspent.

Of the $2.13 billion distributed in the state, $1.15 billion has gone to local governments. Other large outlays included $357.5 million for education and child care; $172.2 million for COVID-19 testing; and $105.1 million for at-risk populations.

As for the newest federal COVID-19 relief bill signed into law in late December, Minnesota is currently slated to receive $3.02 billion, although that number is expected to grow.

Of that total, $1.06 billion is earmarked for unemployment insurance; $588 million for ESSER (the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund); $375.4 million for rental assistance; and $324.6 million in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grants to the Department of Health for testing.

Other large allocations for Minnesota from the December federal act include $185.9 million in Federal Transit Administration “Urbanized Area Formula Grants”; $163.3 million in Federal Highway Administration surface transportation block grants; and $137 million in child care and development block grants.

A total has yet to be determined for how much Minnesota will receive for higher education, but it’s expected to be substantial, as the higher education category has the December act’s fifth-highest dollar total.

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