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Work remains to advance health, safety, and economic security

Clark Goldenrod
Jul 02, 2020

June Special Session ends with plenty left on the table

Because much urgent work was left on the table at the end of the regular legislative session, this June policymakers were tasked in a special session with responding to the ongoing unprecedented public health crisis and the nation-wide economic downturn.

A week after the regular session ended, George Floyd was killed at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department on May 25, which sparked uprisings in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and serious conversations across the state about the future of policing and the urgency to create a state where all feel safe, regardless of race. 

Unfortunately, the special session ended with only a few positive steps to ensure Minnesotans can be healthy, safe, and get by economically in the near term, and invest in resilience in all communities for the future.

Governor Tim Walz and the Minnesota House advocated for proposals to advance economic security for Minnesotans striving to make ends meet and respond to the current health crisis, and supported the work of the legislators in the POCI (People of Color and Indigenous) Caucus to reimagine how the state’s policing and justice system works. Unfortunately, the Minnesota Senate set a one-week deadline for the special session and passed more limited legislation. 

The good news: policymakers passed a few bills

A win for ongoing access to health care and economic supports

State and federal pandemic emergency declarations passed in response to the coronavirus provide some essential flexibilities so that Minnesotans can continue to receive health care, housing, food assistance, and other essential services with fewer barriers and paperwork. During the special session, legislators passed House File 105 (Liebling) to extend some of this flexibility, which include things like automatically renewing eligibility and allowing health care services to be delivered through telemedicine. The amount of time these flexible options will stay in place varies based on state and federal requirements. The bill also appropriates some money from the state’s coronavirus response fund for emergency housing.

We’ll have a deeper dive into the details of this legislation coming soon to a Minnesota Budget Bites blog near you.

A bare-minimum win: increased child care assistance reimbursement rates

Minnesota’s child care assistance program, sometimes called CCAP, brings down the costs so that kids get the care that helps them thrive, parents can go to work or school, and employers have the workers they need. 

However, here in Minnesota the rates the state pays child care providers participating in CCAP are woefully out of date and far below federal minimum requirements, which could lead to financial penalties for the state. House File 41 (Pinto) draws on federal funds to raise those reimbursement rates up to the 25th percentile of market rates, which meets the bottom-rung standard to avoid federal penalties. While rates will still be very low, and problematic for providers who struggle to make their business math work as well as for parents who face limited choices of providers, this is a small and important step toward the investments needed so that all Minnesotans can afford child care that meets their family’s needs. 

Many urgent issues were left unaddressed

Policing and justice reforms

The POCI Caucus called on policymakers to enact a set of policy proposals to change the way justice and policing systems work across the state. These proposals ranged from changing police training methods to investing in community-based mental health services to restoring the right to vote for formerly incarcerated Minnesotans. It’s well documented that Black and Brown people are disproportionately policed, arrested, and incarcerated in Minnesota’s current criminal justice system. 

Enacting the POCI Caucus package would have been an important and bold first step - among many that will need to be taken at multiple levels of government - toward creating a state where we all can thrive and feel safe, regardless of race, religion, or region. Unfortunately, while the POCI policing legislation was passed by the House and endorsed by the Walz administration, the Senate supported a much more limited package of changes that included a ban on chokeholds but left out many larger structural changes to policing.  

Economic support for Minnesotans left out of previous COVID legislation 

Some of the Minnesota families and children most struggling to afford the basics were once again left out. House File 8 (Halverson) would have provided a one-time $500 emergency payment for families participating in the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP). These families face the same economic challenges as others yet are unlikely to benefit from other policy actions, such as expanded unemployment insurance. Despite passing the House and support from the Walz administration, this provision was not enacted in the special session.

State policymakers also have yet to provide COVID-related economic assistance to those left out of the federal CARES Act. The “economic stimulus payments” paid directly to Americans left out teenagers, young adults, and persons with disabilities whose families claim them as dependents on their taxes, as well as households in which a family member uses an ITIN (Individual Tax Identification Number). House File 10 (Gomez) would have provided funds for Community Action agencies across the state to address the economic hardships of those Minnesotans left out of prior federal stimulus efforts. This bill was heard in the House during the regular session but did not advance during special session. 

Federal aid to local governments

The federal CARES Act allocated $1.9 billion to the state of Minnesota to respond to emerging needs due to COVID, and encouraged states to distribute about half of that amount to local governments. Local governments have faced increased costs as they respond to the public health crisis; additional dollars would mean they can meet their residents’ needs while keeping public workers on the job and serving their communities.  

While the Senate and House reached an agreement of how to allocate this federal funding among different local governments, that legislation did not become law. The Senate did not agree to pass the House version of the legislation, which also included additional measures to address the economic impact of COVID, like supports for veterans, cash assistance for families participating in MFIP, and child care funding.

The governor will use his executive authority to disburse $841 million of CARES Act funds to local governments. 

Bonding and infrastructure

Under normal circumstances, 2020 would have been a “bonding year” in which policymakers’ main focus would be to put together a package of infrastructure projects. While the debate among policymakers about how big the bonding bill should be got much attention, there were also important proposals to advance equity in the process at play. 

Walz and the House advanced bonding proposals that included provisions to require projects funded by state general obligation bonds to comply with human rights provisions related to gender and race equity in hiring, similar to other state-funded construction projects. They also included funding for capital projects from community-based organizations that are led by and serve communities of color and Native Americans. The governor also included funding to raise awareness about the capital budget process among communities that have historically had less access to bonding.
 

Equitable rebuilding in the metro area

The Minnesota House passed a legislative package (called the PROMISE Act) to support equitable rebuilding in the communities most impacted by the damage to businesses and neighborhoods during events following the killing of George Floyd. This package aimed to target investment to those who built those communities in the first place, and avoid the loss of generational wealth and displacement that could happen without intentional investment. The proposals included provisions such as funding to preserve existing businesses and promote growth, tax reductions for impacted properties, rent control for some impacted properties, and the introduction of an 0.125 percent metro-wide sales tax to support redevelopment guided by a BIPOC-led board. 

What’s next

Minnesota, like the rest of the nation, faces the same challenges today as we did when the special session started on June 12: protecting and promoting our health in the face of a pandemic; taking measures to confront current economic challenges and lay the groundwork for a stronger recovery; and changing policing and justice to create a state where everyone is safe. 

The June special session was triggered by a 30-day extension of Walz’s emergency authority. Another special session could be held, perhaps on July 13, triggered by a similar extension. Whether through special session action or executive authority, Minnesota policymakers must take bold action to promote Minnesotans’ health, well-being, and safety.