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Lawmakers deadlock, punt $250M COVID-19 pay to Legislature

(The Center Square) – Minnesotans who showed up to work during the early COVID-19 pandemic might have to wait until 2022 for special hero pay.  

After more than a month of deliberations, a panel of lawmakers designated to divvy up COVID-19 hero pay punted the question to the full Legislature.

The lawmakers sent the Legislature two proposals, one from the GOP that gave fewer workers more cash and one DFL plan that gave more workers fewer dollars, after dozens of meetings in which they heard from essential workers. But the group couldn’t compromise on which workers should get the cash.

Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, said she believes the panel completed their work. After 13 meetings failed to break the logjam, the panel decided it was time to move on.

At issue was whether all essential workers – grocers, those working from home, and more – or just frontline workers who physically showed up to work like nurses, law enforcement, and corrections officers should get bonus pay. Housley said Gov. Tim Walz deemed 1.3 million workers statewide to be essential, and of those, 667,000 weren’t able to work from home. She said the ones who were directly exposed to COVID-19 should get paid.

“We heard from so many frontline workers during our 13 meetings, so many essential workers, but this money was supposed to be a ‘Thank you’ to those who had direct contact with COVID,” Housley said in a press conference.

The GOP called on Walz to call a special session to distribute hero pay. The Legislature isn’t due back in regular session until late January.

“Every week that goes by is another week that these checks aren’t into these frontline worker hands,” Housley said.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said the group failed in its mission, which “does not give me a lot of optimism for this next session.”

Winkler blamed the jam on the new Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, and GOP threats to fire Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm.

Winkler said the question now isn’t limited to $250 million, despite the GOP’s focus. He said the next legislative session could bring “a substantially larger amount and actually serve the needs of the workers.”


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