Walz says relief plan could pass as soon as next week

Gov. Tim Walz stands behind a podium with flags behind him.
Gov. Tim Walz speaks to reporters after an online address to the state of Minnesota, Nov. 10, 2020.
Peter Cox | MPR News

Gov. Tim Walz and DFL allies in the Minnesota House on Tuesday proposed a state package of COVID-19 relief measures for businesses and families that the governor said could pass in a special session as early as next week, if he can reach agreement with lawmakers.

The calls for relief come as the federal government remains deadlocked on another stimulus package and after Walz enacted new restrictions amid rising cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota.

Walz’s proposal includes:

  • Direct aid to affected businesses and regulatory fee waivers for bars, restaurants, event centers and craft breweries.

  • Extending jobless benefits for 13 more weeks, a move the state said will help up to 100,000 workers whose benefits currently end next month, and a $500 one-time emergency payment to struggling families.

  • A one-time grant to restaurants to provide food for health care workers, homeless shelters and long-term care operations.

The governor, who signaled the move on Monday, hasn’t yet put a dollar figure on the plan, but he called the need to aid businesses and workers “absolutely critical.”

Walz said he’s ready to call another special legislative session to offer COVID-19 relief and expressed hope of reaching a compromise with GOP lawmakers.

“The ball is rolling now,” Walz said Tuesday morning. He said he was “super hopeful” a deal can been reached with Republicans in the next week or so.

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A group of people stand outside of a restaurant.
Gov. Tim Walz joined the owners of Casper’s and Runyon’s Nook in St. Paul on Nov. 24, and called for a relief package for restaurants and other small businesses.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

"The difference between getting something in the next week or so and getting something in a month is huge,” Walz said as he announced his plan outside a St. Paul bar. “The sooner we do it and the sooner we get certainty to those families the better."

House Republicans proposed their own package Tuesday that includes $400 million in direct grants to businesses, as well as tax relief and temporarily allowing bars, restaurants and craft breweries to sell takeout beer and other alcohol from their taps.

Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, agreed that swift action is critical.

“My hope would be that we can have money in their pockets within 30 days,” he said. “Knowing that it’s coming for these operators and knowing that we have relief on the way will allow them to sleep a whole lot better and to be able to communicate to their employees that life is going to get better.”

In the Senate, Jobs and Economic Growth Committee Chair Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, said Republicans are committed to helping small businesses and their employees.

“I had hoped the governor would have worked with us behind the scenes so we could have presented one unified, compromise plan instead of competing proposals, but that will not affect our resolve to work for the best interests of Minnesotans,” Pratt said in a written statement. “We are continuing to work with stakeholders every day to figure out their needs and I anticipate our plan will be unveiled in the coming days.”

Walz welcomed the ideas from the GOP and said everything would be on the table as he and lawmakers try to reach swift agreement on a plan. 

"It feels like there's bipartisan momentum,” he said. “That is a really positive sign, and I think that's what I'm hearing from businesses — get together, work this out."

The restrictions Walz imposed last week limit bars and restaurants to takeout service only and close gyms and some other venues until Dec. 18.

Reaction to the proposals were generally positive from the hospitality industry. 

Hospitality Minnesota President Liz Rammer applauded the governor’s relief effort. She also shares his optimism that a package can soon make it through the Legislature.  She said 80,000 hospitality workers in Minnesota are already out of work and another 70,000 face the same fate unless their employers get help.

“We’ve been talking to both sides here, and everybody’s united in the same thought that the parties need to come together with the governor to craft a meaningful relief package and in short order,” Rammer said. “These are citizens that live in every city and every county of our state and they’re really depending on our elected leaders to come together and bring them some much-needed relief.”

But some bar and restaurant owners don’t have much hope. Kris Schiffler, who owns Shady’s Hometown Tavern in Albany, tried to defy the last shutdown in the spring. He said his employees are being hit the hardest, and that he’s skeptical the latest restrictions will actually end in mid-December. He said unemployment benefits are unlikely to keep up with the amount his bartenders will lose, and an aid package may already be too late. 

“In the industry that we live in, a lot of my employees borrow money from the owner,” Schiffler said. “And those people need it during Christmas time, and I can’t give them any because I don’t have any either anymore. There’s nothing left.”

Reporter Brian Bakst contributed to this story.