Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Looks like a sunny weekend is ahead for us. I hope you all get a chance to be outside and enjoy it! A lot of news to report this week. This update will cover the Governor’s announcements on the Stay At Home order and business restrictions, work I am doing regarding on re-opening care for elective surgeries, an update on unemployment insurance, and the crisis facing our pork producers.
On Thursday Governor Walz made the decision to extend Minnesota's stay at home order until May 18. He's also allowing more retail businesses to open with restrictions, such as providing curbside sales to customers.
I'm disappointed the governor isn't giving the same consideration to our Main Street businesses as he is to the larger - and fully operational - retail stores. I have stated we can be both principled in our duty to protect Minnesotans and be pragmatic in our approach to get people back to work. This is not an either/or decision; it can be a both/and. While his decision is a small step in the right direction, our small business owners need more from the governor right now as they cannot stay closed for much longer. The extension to the stay at home order also shutters hair salons and barbers. I’ve heard from many of you and understand your frustrations. Know that we are working with the Board of Cosmetology on safety guidelines and will continue to seek the Governor’s support.
UPDATE ON THE BAN ON ELECTIVE SURGERIES AND OTHER MEDICAL APPOINTMENTS:
On Thursday, it was announced that there will be a modification of the executive order on elective procedures in the coming days. This week I penned a letter to Governor Walz asking the governor to reconsider that order and allow hospitals and other healthcare providers to have flexibility in how they treat patients, and allow them to consider how and where they can safely treat COVID-19 patients and those seeking non-COVID care while maintaining hospital capacity and without compromising PPE. I was pleased to get all of my House caucus colleagues and many Senators to join me in signing on to this request. If you want to read the letter, click here.
The Governor's Office responded to me yesterday by stating that more guidance on this topic will likely be provided next week. In the meantime, they are requesting feedback on the topic. Click here to share your thoughts.
I continue to work with hospital leaders on this issue an hope we have good news to report on this front next week.
Right now, Minnesota has 600,000 people on unemployment - three times the number we had at the height of the great recession. For further perspective, in March, we had 60,000.
I have received dozens and dozens of calls and emails to my office regarding questions and concerns with unemployment. The good news for this week is that DEED has begun processing the PUA (pandemic unemployment assistance) claims for the self-employed and independent contractors. In fact, 40,000 people starting getting those benefit checks this week. If you already applied for UI, you don’t need to do anything further. DEED will have established an account for you and will be working through those backlogs; you should receive notification via email on the status of your account. I know there’s been a lot of worry and frustration during this time, but I want you to know that Minnesota is the first state in the country to be processing all of the unemployment benefits that were expanded through the Federal CARES act. The teams at DEED are truly working around the clock.
OUR PORK PRODUCERS:
Finally, with the closure of multiple pork processing plants in Minnesota and across the Midwest, halting needed livestock production, a number of lawmakers penned a letter to President Trump urging immediate action to prevent major disruptions to our food supply, farm bankruptcies, job losses, and devastating impacts on rural economies that are already struggling.
I've talked to local producers in my district - the situation is dire and they are very worried. There is no easy solution and there's not a lot of time before euthanizing hogs is the only option.
The lawmakers asked the President for a national strategy and assistance with the following:
- Direct the Centers for Disease Control and/or the United States Department of Agriculture to coordinating efforts or oversee coordinated efforts between relevant state-level agencies to quickly develop plans to safely re-open processing plants, including prioritizing delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitation resources that are available to other front-line workers.
- Continued augmentation off the supply chain, working with small processors to get license exemptions to ensure as many pigs can be processed as possible.
- Working with regional governors to coordinate and mobilize the National Guard to assist where possible.
- Coordinate destruction of pigs, if necessary, at processing plants rather than having them put down on-site at farms.
- Immediately authorize or expand access disaster assistance programs.
The President responded by issuing an executive order that keeps processing plants open. It was also learned this week that a previously-closed plant in Worthington will reopen for the sole purpose of euthanizing pigs so that responsibility won't fall on farmers.
Clearly we need to address this problem - and soon. Any disruption in our food supply will cause massive problems not only in our state but nationally. Moving forward I will continue to seek the input of our local farmers and try to determine how we can prevent an already bad problem from becoming even worse. Whether you are a pork producer or any other valued farmer, please don’t hesitate to call me and share your story.