On Monday, Minnesota lawmakers passed COVID-19 regulations that will help businesses and workers hurt by the pandemic. During the special session, the measure was approved giving grants to struggling small businesses and an extension of unemployment benefits for workers across the state.
“Our small businesses have made enormous sacrifices to their own bottom lines for the good of our state,” Gov. Tim Walz said in a release. “This is a critical lifeline for those businesses and for the Minnesotans whose livelihoods depend on them. This bipartisan bill will provide direct, targeted aid to keep our small businesses afloat, support workers struggling to get by and help families put food on the table while we work to get the virus under control.”
While both parties pushed for the relief package, Republicans made a statement that Gov. Tim Walz put businesses in financial peril with executive orders that restricted these businesses’ ability to operate the last three weeks.
“This package will help our businesses and employees who are struggling and I hope will be a bridge until additional help comes from the federal government. I hope it makes it in time for the businesses who were shut down with just two days’ notice,” Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, said. “Our message to the governor is that we can’t shut down our businesses again without a plan — we hope he will work with us so we can react more quickly in the future.”
The relief package for businesses is expected to be about $216 million, $88 million will be distributed through the Department of Revenue to restaurants, bars and other eligible businesses that have seen a 30% drop in business.
“It will help,” Fergus Falls Area Chamber of Commerce President Lisa Workman said. “There are a lot of businesses and employees that have been struggling, by no fault of their own, and are doing their best to keep their doors open. It is more than just the money, business owners miss their employees and their customers. It’s the mental aspect of it all. They want to be open for business.”
Also on the list are gyms, bowling alleys, breweries, wineries and distilleries.
“They really should assist these businesses that they forced to close. They took away their income and they are unable to offer takeout like restaurants. A while takeout is appreciated, the business plans that these businesses have are not setup to just run takeout,” Workman added.
“We are grateful and, sadly at this time in need of relief from the legislature,” Northern Aire Lanes manager Luke Loeffler said. “Without knowing what the latest aid will be, any little bit is appreciated. Being completely shut down for the second time and running at a restrictive level for the majority of 2020 is a huge financial burden. What we want even more is to be open to see our wonderful staff and smiling customers be able to continue bowling in the community for another 60 years at Northern Aire Lanes.”
The bill also provides $14 million through the Department of Employment and Economic Development to help convention centers and movie theaters. The remainder of the $114 million would go to counties to distribute to businesses in need.
The package will also extend unemployment benefits by 13 weeks to workers who have lost their jobs due to COVID this year. Many receiving unemployment were set to see their benefits cut off at the end of the year.
Lawmakers stated that if the federal government passes something similar for unemployment relief, the federal program will replace the state-run program and use federal funds.
A few items did not make it into the bill. A proposed $500 payment to low-income families, homeless aid and child care support, as well as a proposal to allow establishments to sell more beer and hard liquor as takeout items were left on the cutting room floor.