Minnesota lawmakers agree on help for businesses but not workers

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 as COVID-19 cases have grown and the state has had to dial up restrictions on hospitality and other businesses.
Tim Nelson | MPR News file

With another special legislative session set to begin Monday, Minnesota lawmakers said Thursday they agree on some of what should be in a package of COVID-19 relief, but not on the entire plan.

The bill language rolled out Thursday would direct $216 million in aid to businesses, but other key relief proposals aimed at workers and families remained in flux.

Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, the chair of the Senate jobs and economic growth committee, said the relief is aimed at restaurants, bars, gyms and other businesses effected by Gov. Tim Walz’s recent restrictions.  

“The goal of this is while their doors are locked, we don’t want them putting plywood in the windows,” Pratt said. “We want them to be able to survive these next few weeks, and hopefully the governor ends this shutdown and we can get these businesses back up and running.”

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Under the plan, the Department of Revenue would make direct, one-time payments to eligible businesses totaling $100 million. Another $14 million would be used by the Department of Employment and Economic Development for grants to convention centers and movie theaters. There would also be $102,500,000 directed to counties for business grants.

The aid would bridge the gap until more federal funding arrives, said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove.

One big sticking point is a proposed extension of unemployment benefits. House Democrats say the 13-week extension they want is a critical provision, and there is no overall deal without it.

Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, the outgoing chair of the House jobs and economic development committee, stressed the linkage.

“There is no separation for me between the workers and the businesses,” Mahoney said. “We need to take care of both of them or both of them will go down.”

It is not clear if the two sides will be able to resolve the unemployment issue by Monday. Pratt said the House and Senate remain far apart.

“We understand that this isn’t just about business, that we have employees that have been laid off who are hurting as well. Those discussions are continuing,” he said.   

The House DFL plan for COVID-19 relief also includes support for child care providers, food relief, housing assistance and one-time payments of $500 to low-income families.

Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, said he is still pushing for some state aid specifically for the small businesses damaged during civil unrest in his city earlier this year.

“These are the small businesses that perhaps are hurting the most,” Davnie said.