Not all that long ago people were wondering how, or if, coronavirus was going to impact them. Fast forward two weeks and Minnesotans have watched as schools, bars and restaurants have been forced into temporary closure.
At the Capitol, things have also changed. Talks of tax relief and a bonding bill have subsided for now; COVID-19 funding and preparation is now front and center. Today I'd like to give you a brief update.
Legislature on standby
Officially the House remains in session. In reality, lawmakers are working very differently. Until April 14, committee meetings and floor sessions will only be scheduled when there is agreement between all four legislative leaders. When committee hearings are called, it is important that members of the public are not only informed but allowed to participate publicly and transparently. That said, I want to hear from you on any legislative topic — whether COVID-19 related or anything else. Please contact me any time by email at email@example.com or by phone at 651-296-3135.
COVID-19 emergency funding bill
On March 17, lawmakers unanimously approved $200 million in additional funding to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. This funding adds to the $21 million passed last week to assist the Department of Health and local health agencies, making resources available to hospitals, providers, ambulance services, long-term care facilities, and other entities who will be involved in the response to this outbreak.
There are also taxpayer protections in the bill including legislative oversight, consequences for unauthorized use of funds, and returning money that goes unspent back to the general fund.
Moving forward we'll continue to monitor the COVID-19 outbreak as it unfolds, and take additional measures if necessary to maximize our state's ability to respond and care for those who are ill, at-risk, or dealing with the consequences of the widespread school and business closures.
Unemployment insurance benefits
Gov. Tim Walz has issued an executive order to ensure workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic have full access to unemployment benefits. If your employment has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, visit the Unemployment Insurance Program website at www.uimn.org to learn more about applying for unemployment benefits online, or to seek answers to your questions.
I also want to let our small business owners know that lawmakers continue to discuss ways to best assist you during this crisis. I will keep you updated on any developments.
Helpful COVID-19 websites
The most accurate, up-to-date COVID-19 sites are the Minnesota Department of Health's COVID-19 page: www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/index.html, and the Center for Disease Control's COVID-19 webpage: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.
If you want to know how your local school district is handling the COVID-19 response, visit sowashco.org, hastings.k12.mn.us and stillwaterschools.org.
Many of the local small businesses that we rely on are going through extremely tough times right now. With the closure of restaurants to dine-in guests, many are relying on take-out as their only source of income. If you are in a position to so, please consider ordering from these establishments to help them get through this mandatory change to their business. Also please consider buying gift cards now to help provide cash flow to help them with their fixed expenses.
Another thing we can all do is to be aware of and thank those who are still working for us including trash haulers, medical professionals, first responders and store employees. And let's not forget daycare providers who remain open to care for the children so they can serve us. In many cases they've been asked to alter their way of doing business to accommodate the current normal.
As you buy groceries, consider this: dairy cows are producing the same amount of milk but if we buy less dairy products, the supply/demand result could be lower prices in a dairy industry that has already struggled with low commodity prices. So don't forget to continue buying milk, butter and maybe a little extra ice cream.
Again, please contact me if you have any questions or concerns, and I will do my best to answer them. And please stay healthy.