I hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. My colleagues and I know many Minnesotans are struggling right now, and we’re doing all we can to help. Here’s an update on what we’ve done to address the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges it has created, as well as some information and resources that might be useful.
Extended Stay at Home Order
As you’ve likely heard, Governor Walz has extended Minnesota’s stay at home order until May 4 with some modifications. You can find answers to frequently asked questions about what this means for you, your family, and your business here.
Governor Walz and his team made this difficult decision based on modeling done by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. The data shows that our efforts to “flatten the curve” are working, and Minnesota has a low number of COVID-19 cases per capita relative to other states. However, we need to continue slowing the spread of the virus and building capacity in our health care system to ensure that more people can be treated in the days and weeks ahead. More information about the modeling from MDH and U of M is available here.
Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act
Yesterday, I proudly voted in favor of the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act. This bill, which is named after a young man who lost his life because he couldn’t afford insulin, will help thousands of people get the insulin they need at a price they can afford. Minnesotans who are in urgent need of insulin will be able to get an emergency supply at pharmacies, and pharmaceutical manufacturers – who’ve made billions as the price of insulin has skyrocketed – will reimburse the pharmacies for these emergency supplies. The legislation will also help people who need long-term assistance by requiring insulin manufacturers to establish patient assistance programs. If they don’t comply, companies could be fined up to $3.6 million a year, doubling in the second year. You can read more about the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act here.
COVID-19 Response Legislation
I also voted to approve a package of legislation related to COVID-19 yesterday. Our fourth response bill provides needed flexibility and assistance to Minnesotans. It allows local governments to meet remotely, suspends certain deadlines and expiration dates, expands use of telemedicine, gives the Department of Health authority to set up alternative health care facilities, and more. I authored a provision that will assist medical examiners with making identifications to share with loved ones more quickly. Details are available here.
Like many Minnesotans, legislators are finding new ways to get our work done while following public health guidelines. Yesterday, I wore a mask and kept my distance from the few people on the House floor. Many of my colleagues voted from their offices, their homes, and even a nearby parking ramp.
Workers’ Compensation for Frontline Workers
First responders and health care workers put themselves at risk every day to help keep Minnesotans safe and healthy. They deserve to know we have their backs. Last week, we passed legislation to ensure nurses, paramedics, firefighters, peace officers, and other frontline workers are covered by workers’ compensation. The bill establishes a presumption that if these workers contract the virus, they did so on the job and should be eligible for the full pay and benefits available through workers’ comp.
A Plan to Defend our Democracy
Last week, we saw in Wisconsin what it’s like to hold an in-person election during a pandemic. It wasn’t a pretty sight. An untold number of Wisconsinites simply stayed home, absentee ballots failed to arrive for many who requested them, polling places were shuttered by a lack of volunteers, the National Guard was called in to help, and voters saw two-hour waits. It’s our responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen here in Minnesota.
Senator Nick Frentz and I have released a plan to ensure every Minnesotan can vote without putting themselves or others at risk. Our plan would make it easy to vote from home. Every registered voter would receive an absentee ballot with prepaid postage for return. Unregistered but eligible voters would be mailed a registration form and an application for an absentee ballot. The Star Tribune published an op-ed I authored with Sen. Frentz about our plan to defend our democracy from COVID-19 here.
Using the current health crisis to divide us or scapegoat Asian-Americans endangers us all. Unfortunately, I’ve heard many stories from constituents who’ve been on the receiving end of racist comments and worse. This has to stop.
Governor Walz and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights have launched a new Discrimination Helpline to help protect the civil rights of Minnesotans during the COVID-19 pandemic. Minnesotans who experience or witness bias or discrimination can report it by calling 1-833-454-0148 or filling out an online form here.
Update on Unemployment Benefits
Minnesotans who are eligible for unemployment benefits will receive an additional $600 per week as a result of federal legislation. If you’re already receiving these benefits, you’ll automatically receive the additional payment for every week you remain eligible. More information about these $600 payments is available here.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put part-time, self-employed, and contract workers in a particularly difficult position. Thanks to a new federal program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), unemployment benefits will soon be available for these workers. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) is working with the U.S. Labor Department to get a new system up and running so these payments can be made. In the meantime, these workers are strongly encouraged to set up their accounts on Minnesota’s Unemployment Insurance website, linked here. You may get a message that says you’ve been denied, but DEED will flag these applications and follow up when the program is ready to go. A step-by-step guide to the initial application process is available here.
Minnesotans who are already eligible for Unemployment Insurance can apply here. DEED is receiving record numbers of applications, so new applicants should apply on certain days based on the last digit of their social security number. This will help the agency deliver the benefits workers are depending on quickly and effectively.
Thanks to action taken by the Minnesota Department of Commerce and the Public Utilities Commission, over 100 utilities have voluntarily committed to maintaining heat and power services regardless of consumers’ ability to pay during the COVID-19 emergency. You can find information about your utility provider on the Citizens Utility Board website, linked here.
Minnesota’s Energy Assistance Program has also stepped up to assist Minnesotans who are struggling. This program provides grants to help renters and homeowners pay for heating costs, settle past due bills, get emergency fuel deliveries, and have furnaces repaired or replaced. More information is available here.
Helpful Information and Resources
Governor Walz recently launched a new COVID-19 dashboard to track the spread of the virus and help Minnesotans find information and resources. It also provides information on available ventilators, ICU beds, personal protective equipment (PPE), and testing. The dashboard, which is updated daily, is available here.
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH)’s website, linked here, is still an excellent source of accurate and up-to-date information. I encourage you to check out MDH’s mental health resources, linked here, as well as those dedicated to physical health.
Reminder: Be Counted in the 2020 Census
Finally, please remember to respond to the 2020 Census! By now, you should’ve received a postcard with instructions on how to be counted. If you haven’t completed the online form, please take a few minutes to do so here. Your response will help ensure Minnesota receives our fair share of federal funding for schools, hospitals, roads and bridges, and other services we all rely on.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can be of assistance during this challenging time. The best way to reach me is by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 651-296-5375.