As we wrap up 2020 – a year many of us can’t wait to leave behind us – I want to offer my best wishes for a safe, healthy, and enjoyable 2021. With COVID-19 continuing to threaten our public health and impact businesses, workers, and families, the Capitol has been an extraordinarily busy place. Here’s an update.
Economic Assistance Package
As public health guidelines remain in place to prevent community spread of COVID-19, our small businesses and their employees continue to experience economic hardship. Many of our bars, restaurants, and other mom and pop establishments are barely hanging on and urgently need our help.
Last Monday, the House approved a COVID-19 Economic Assistance Package to help businesses and workers survive the economic turmoil caused by the virus. Here are some highlights of the plan:
- A 13-week extension of unemployment benefits. Without this legislative action, over 100,000 Minnesota workers were on track to lose benefits on December 26 when funding under the federal CARES Act expires.
- $88 million of financial aid to businesses experiencing economic harm due to the pandemic. Those eligible businesses include restaurants, bars, coffee shops, breweries, wineries and distilleries with taprooms or tasting rooms, caterers, bowling alleys, and some gyms and fitness centers.
- $14 million worth of grants to movie theaters and large convention centers.
- $114.8 million for county grants to other affected businesses, including hotels, museums, arcades and live theater venues.
- Waiver or delay of a series of fees for the hospitality industry, including 2 a.m. liquor licenses for bars, caterers that serve alcohol, wastewater permitting fees for small breweries, and certain late payment penalties for food related businesses.
- Extension of the deadline for families to apply for free and reduced-price lunch.
In the coming days, the Minnesota Department of Revenue will reach out to eligible businesses directly to facilitate payment, and more information about this process is available on its website.
While a big help to businesses and workers, the bill doesn’t solve every problem Minnesotans are facing. Due to resistance from Senate Republicans, additional funding to address housing insecurity, help for long-term care facilities, child care grants, and direct financial assistance to struggling families was left out of the bill. We also need the federal government to do its part and deliver a more comprehensive COVID-19 recovery package, and a deal in Washington appears imminent.
The first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have now been distributed. Governor Walz has announced the state’s vaccine distribution plan, which was developed with these goals:
- Immunize for impact: Maximize immediate health benefit, reduce death, and minimize the harm created by COVID-19 by starting with those most susceptible to serious complications and those who care for them.
- Equitable distribution and access: Make sure no procedural or structural issues impact access to the vaccine among any particular group or population. And help ensure Minnesotans in every corner and every community know they can trust the process, the safety, and the effectiveness of the vaccine.
- Transparency: Share information as quickly as possible with Minnesotans.
Because the supply is so limited, the vaccine will be distributed in phases. The first phase – those in Group 1A – includes health care personnel and long-term care residents. Within this phase are sub-prioritization groups. Group 1B covers essential workers, including sectors like education, food and agriculture, utilities, police, firefighters, corrections officers, and transportation. Group 1C will include those 65 or older and those with underlying health conditions. In Phase 2, the vaccine will be distributed more broadly.
The vaccine likely won’t be available to all who want it (immunization won’t be mandatory), so we will all need to continue the basic precautions we’ve become accustomed to, like social distancing, wearing a mask, and getting tested if we have symptoms. Still, this is terrific news and we can finally see some light at the end of the tunnel.
Goodbye to the State Capitol
Serving in the Minnesota House of Representatives has been one of the greatest honors of my lifetime, and I’m incredibly grateful for the confidence and trust from folks in our community. While I won’t be among the legislators when the session begins in January, I look back with pride on the work we’ve done together, especially to increase access to justice, to improve opportunities for vulnerable Minnesotans, and to invest in the city we love to call home.
Here’s the video of my farewell message to the Minnesota House during Monday’s special session, where I offer some reflections on my time in the Legislature.
Plenty of challenges remain, and I certainly plan to stay engaged in activity at the Capitol, at City Hall, and elsewhere in government, and I won’t close the door to public service in the future. For now though, I look forward to having more hours available to be with my family this winter and spring; precious hours, too many of which are consumed during the legislative session.
Thank you to everyone for the incredible opportunity to serve our neighborhood the past 18 years. I look forward to seeing you around.
Happy Holidays to you and your family.