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Walz and Legislature working to combat coronavirus

Clark Goldenrod and Betsy Hammer
Mar 26, 2020
Even though goings on at the Capitol look a little different right now in response to the novel coronavirus, policymakers have still been at work to support Minnesotans in a time of a rapidly changing health and economic landscape.  

We’ve called for strong policy action at all levels of government to help stop the spread of coronavirus, support the economic well-being of our Minnesota neighbors, and reduce the virus’s overall economic harm.   

Here are a few highlights of the state’s response so far:  

Earlier this month, the Legislature passed nearly $21 million for the Public Health Response Contingency Account. This funding is intended to support the state's COVID-19 health care response, including increased staffing, lab supplies, personal protective equipment, and local public health needs.  

Starting on March 13, Governor Tim Walz has announced a series of executive orders aimed at supporting Minnesotans and curtailing the spread of coronavirus. They range from closures of schools and many restaurants and bars, to delaying elective medical procedures.  

An important measure that Walz has taken to address the economic impact is to expand access to Unemployment insurance (UI). Unemployment Insurance can provide partial wage replacement to workers when they become unemployed or have had their hours greatly reduced. The governor waived the normal waiting period for unemployment benefits in order to get support to workers as quickly as possible. He also adjusted the requirement that one needs to be looking for work while receiving UI benefits. UI eligibility has been expanded to include workers who face situations such as:  

  • Have been told by a health professional to avoid contact with others,   
  • Have been told to not come into work because of the outbreak, or  
  • Are unable to work due to canceled school or unavailable child care.

Folks who want to apply for unemployment benefits in Minnesota should go to www.uimn.org

Walz also issued several executive orders to ensure that Minnesotans can continue to access vital services like health care, child care, nutrition assistance, and housing. The new authority will allow the Department of Human Services (DHS) and community-based service providers to continue their essential work even as our world changes. Important flexibility is being provided, for example, waiving requirements for in-person meetings with caseworkers, expanding the ability to provide mental health services through telemedicine, and allowing automatic renewals for critical health care and income support services. There is also a special enrollment period for those seeking health insurance coverage through MNsure

The emergency powers granted to DHS will allow for flexibility so that folks can get what they need safely and securely. However, more is needed to provide the financial resources that critical parts of our service infrastructure, such as Minnesota’s child care providers, need in order to stay in operation and keep serving their communities. 

More will need to be done to make sure that Minnesota’s workers, families, and local businesses are supported as we navigate this public health and economic crisis. These responses should be rooted in equity, especially considering that recessions inflict the greatest harm on people with low incomes and people of color. Both of these groups are more likely to lose their jobs in an economic downturn, and people of color already often have much less income and wealth than they would have otherwise because of historical racism and ongoing forms of bias and discrimination.  

 Keep watching our blog for updates on further federal and state policy action.