Governor Tim Walz rolled out a revised supplemental budget proposal on March 22 that includes an additional $356 million to fund the state response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposal includes significant investments in services to help people hit hardest by both the virus and the economic fallout of social distancing measures.
Walz’s revised budget proposal focuses on critical needs. As we’ve previously stated, we need both near-term and long-term solutions to expand the ability of Minnesotans to care for themselves and their families as we take action to address the public health emergency. Government entities have a major role to play in protecting people, and the response should focus on low- and moderate-income folks who will be hit hardest and are least able to absorb economic shocks. The revised budget proposal addresses both economic stimulus measures and flexibility to maintain essential service delivery infrastructure.
Economic stimulus and additional funding for essential services
The governor’s proposal includes an additional one-time $500 in emergency assistance for the very low-income families participating in the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), funded primarily from the TANF fund. This will provide essential financial resources for some of the state’s most struggling families; it’s also good for us all, as the most effective way to provide economic stimulus is to get financial resources to low- and middle-income households, who are more likely to spend those dollars and shore up demand in the economy.
Walz’s proposal also includes funding for food and shelter for Minnesotans, including $9 million in additional funding for food shelves and $43 million in housing-related spending. That funding would go towards emergency shelters, hygiene and sanitation supplies for shelters, motel/hotel-based quarantine options for people experiencing homelessness, overtime and medical support for shelter staff, a temporary increase in housing support amounts, and additional funding for family homelessness prevention and assistance.
Walz’s revised budget request includes funding for several programs aimed at helping people and businesses make it through the pandemic. It includes $30 million in grants to child care providers, who are important frontline workers and business owners who face a great deal of uncertainty in revenues and demand. Other initiatives include $10 million for a small business loan guarantee program through DEED, and $6 million in emergency grants through Veterans Affairs.
Flexibility for essential services
The governor’s proposal includes $57 million for the Department of Human Services to implement temporary emergency measures outlined in the governor’s recent administrative orders EO 20-11 and EO 20-12, which will help ensure that Minnesotans can continue to access the services they need. As stated in the budget documents, “flexibilities already being implemented include regulatory changes designed to protect benefits and ensure people do not lose coverage during this outbreak, cover COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment costs, allow for in-person work to be converted to phone work, and other changes to allow Minnesotans supported by the Department of Human Services to shelter in place without losing their support.” 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.
In addition, the revised budget proposal includes additional administrative funding to counties managing MFIP, and flexibility for licenses and registrations managed by the Department of Commerce. The proposal includes a new $200 million COVID-19 emergency management fund at Minnesota Management and Budget. This fund would be flexible to respond to any state agency needs related to COVID-19.
The governor has issued many executive orders recently under his emergency authority, and this revised supplemental budget proposal includes funding for those measures as well as additional changes that would need legislative action and appropriation.
Walz’s revised budget recommendations include a wide range of necessary spending to support an appropriate, active response to the COVID-19 crisis and strengthen the safety net to help us all weather the coming storm.