Bold action needed to get through crisis, build equitable recovery

Nan Madden
May 01, 2020

Minnesota has resources to care for each other

Minnesotans are pulling together to get through this unprecedented public health and economic crisis. The situation has shone a spotlight on the ways we take care of each other through public services. There’s greater understanding that our schools not only educate our kids, but also provide nutritious food and access to physical and mental health supports. More of us have first-hand experience with the fragility of our child care system, challenges in accessing health care when we need it, the severe shortage of affordable housing, and the holes in the safety net that some working people fall through. We have new appreciation for the hard-working Minnesotans who make sure we can put food on the table, and who take care of those who are sick, elderly, or living with severe disabilities.

The current crisis also highlights the inequities that were already present in our state and economy. The pandemic is causing greater health and economic harm to people of color and Indigenous Minnesotans, and at the same time, these members of our communities are more likely to be left out of policy actions taken so far.

Minnesotans are doing their part. We must be able to count on Minnesota policymakers to continue to take aggressive action to meet the public health and economic security needs of everyday Minnesotans, and to draw on the resources needed to do so.

Meeting Minnesotans’ health, safety, and financial needs should be the state’s top priority

There’s more work to be done to ensure that all of us are getting the support we need to stay healthy and make ends meet. State policymakers should act quickly to enact proposals to provide emergency assistance to parents and kids struggling to get by on low wages, housing assistance, and other steps to ensure everyone can access the health care and income supports they need.

Funding public services that strengthen our families and communities is a smart strategy that limits the hardships caused by the pandemic. What’s more, those dollars are cycled back into our economy when they pay the wages of teachers, nurses, and other workers; when they fund nonprofits that partner with government to strengthen their communities; and when Minnesota families make purchases from local businesses.

The revenues that support these essential actions at the state and local government levels have also been hit by the pandemic and resulting economic disruption. But even in these tough times, Minnesota can and must draw on the resources we need to ensure we all are healthy, safe, and economically secure.

Three strategies the state can use are:

Maximize the use of federal dollars
. In an economic downturn, more people need some support to get by at the same time that state revenues drop. The requirement to balance the state budget puts Minnesotans and their families in a squeeze. That’s why in times like these, the federal government provides additional dollars to state and local governments to address emerging needs, so that public services can continue, and to prevent the further drag on the economy that would be caused by cuts in public services or laying off teachers and other crucial public sector workers.

The federal government has provided some funding to states, and Minnesota should maximize the use those dollars to meet Minnesotans’ needs. But more is needed - action so far falls well short of what the federal government should commit to support state and local governments to respond to the public health situation and to get through what’s sure to be a more prolonged economic downturn. Minnesota policymakers should take the ongoing federal deliberations and potential additional federal support into account in their state-level decision-making.

Tap into the budget reserve.
Minnesota has built a robust budget reserve; it’s time to draw on it to meet the challenges of this moment and to position the state for a stronger recovery.  

Fair revenues are part of the solution.
With state revenues dropping, policymakers should follow the saying, “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” Minnesota can’t afford to pass new tax cuts for those who are still doing well. Such tax breaks won’t be very effective in stimulating the economy, and they would get in the way of taking care of the pressing issues that affect us all.

Minnesota also needs to look to raising additional revenues. The current crisis is not impacting all businesses and people equally. It makes sense to ask those who have not been hard hit – profitable corporations and high-income people – to shoulder more responsibility for funding the essential investments that we need to make to help us all get through.

Minnesota ended its last fiscal crisis by turning to progressive revenue raising and investing in broader prosperity, and we came out of the recession the stronger for it.

Do you agree with these priorities? Contact your state legislators and federal representatives today.