I hope everyone is safe and in good health during these impossibly difficult times. While the health and economic impacts have been challenging, the uncertainty about when this all will subside has been tough, too. If there’s any silver lining, compared to other states, Minnesota is doing an excellent job of slowing the spread of COVID-19. By and large, lawmakers – both Democrats and Republicans – have worked in a bipartisan manner to aid in our state’s response to the pandemic and Governor Walz has done an excellent job navigating the crisis. He’s had to make tough choices, many of which aren’t universally popular, but have been necessary for our public health. Overall though, the credit goes to Minnesotans who have been taking the advice of public health professionals and practicing social distancing. What we’re doing is working, and we need to keep it up.
Looking Ahead: Reopening Businesses
Despite our success in containing the virus relative to other states, we’re not out of the woods yet. As anxious as many folks are to get back to normal as soon as possible, this isn’t something that can happen overnight because we can’t jeopardize the progress we’ve made. No one is immune from contracting the condition, and elderly Minnesotans and other vulnerable populations need to be protected. Nevertheless, it’s time for a conversation about how we can reopen the economy when the time is right, while proceeding responsibly to protect the health and safety of Minnesotans.
I’m pleased that this process has already started and yesterday, Governor Walz issued an executive order which will allow some workers in manufacturing and office settings to safely return to the job. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) is developing guidance for businesses once it’s determined more employees in non-critical sectors can return to work, too. You can learn more about the process here. In short, we can’t “flip a switch.” Instead, we will have to gradually turn the dials based on our ability to test and monitor for the condition, infection numbers, and health care system capacity. It will be critically important for every business to ensure they are following CDC and Department of Health guidelines, and a template plan has been put together for employers to implement if they choose to.
Businesses, workers, and health professionals must all be on the same page to implement new tools, resources, and systems to mitigate transmission and we have to be able to clearly communicate guidelines and expectations.
Unemployment Updates and Small Business Resources
These are uncertain times, and here on the Iron Range we’ve felt greater impacts with operations idling at Keetac, Norshor, and Hib-Tac. For workers, assistance with Unemployment Insurance is available here. As a result of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a 13-week extension of benefits has been implemented. Additionally, payments are now being made under the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, also authorized under the CARES Act, , and applications are open now at www.uimn.org. If you have already applied for regular unemployment benefits, you do not need to do anything extra to qualify for PUA. DEED will automatically establish a PUA benefit account for you if you are eligible. If you have not applied for unemployment benefits yet, special instructions for self-employed and 1099 workers are available here. These instructions include steps you can take to make your account easily identifiable as potentially eligible for PUA.
For businesses, DEED has a guide here with information on state and federal programs, with information on which programs make the most sense for certain businesses. Funding may be tenuous right now for some of the federal programs, but I encourage you to apply as Congress has approved another stimulus package aimed at small businesses.
House Approves 4th COVID-19 Response Package
Last week, the House approved another package of legislation aiding in our state’s response to the COVID-19 emergency; our fourth since the pandemic emerged. As we continue to adapt to our temporary “new normal,” the bill contains several proposals to provide needed flexibility and assistance to Minnesotans. The bill helps Minnesotans execute wills, allows local governments to meet remotely, suspends certain deadlines and expiration dates, allows marriage applications to be submitted without the need to appear in person, expands use of telemedicine, gives the Department of Health authority to set up alternative health care facilities, and more. Read more about the legislation here.
Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act Now Law
Also last week, the Minnesota House passed the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act. The Senate went on to approve it as well, and Governor Walz signed the bill into law. The bill – named after a young man from Richfield who tragically passed away because he couldn’t afford a refill of his insulin – will ensure access to insulin for those who need it in an emergency, and help Minnesotans access affordable insulin in the long-term. This bill is the result of months of work toward a bipartisan consensus, and the true credit goes to folks like Nicole Smith-Holt and James Holt – Alec’s parents, Travis Paulson from Eveleth, and other tireless advocates who kept up the pressure on lawmakers to get this done.
After offering documented inadequate services and deceptive billing practices, the Minnesota Department of Commerce recently reached a settlement with Frontier Communications. Following this, the Public Utilities Commission ordered rebates and bill credits to current and former Frontier customers.
By now, customers should have received a claim form in the mail. Customers must send in a claim form by mail at the address provided on the form, or electronically on the Frontier website. Frontier must review the claim and respond within 90 days of receipt. The deadline to apply is July 20. The Department of Commerce has more information.
For all the latest on our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit the state’s COVID-19 Dashboard for up to date information. The Minnesota House website also has a section devoted to COVID-19 with information on legislative actions and links to helpful resources. Finally, if I can be of help in any way, don’t hesitate to reach out to me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling my office at 651-296-0170.
Please take care of yourself and your family. Check in on friends and loved ones who might be alone, isolated, or vulnerable. Be kind and patient with one another. And of course, continue washing your hands often and practicing social distancing. We will get through this challenging time together.