Elected leaders discuss plans for federal relief funds for Minneapolis

A woman speaks into a microphone outside.
Rep. Ilhan Omar speaks with reporters at Mercado Central in Minneapolis. Omar told the Minneapolis City Council Thursday morning that she and others in Congress are continuing to push for changes to policing a year after George Floyd’s killing.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2020

Updated: 4:11 p.m.

U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar told the Minneapolis City Council Thursday morning that she and others in Congress are continuing to push for changes to policing a year after George Floyd’s killing. She also outlined her priorities for $270 million in federal pandemic relief funds — half of which the city has already received. 

Money from the American Rescue Plan Act is intended to be used by the city to make up for revenue losses or other effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Omar, whose district includes Minneapolis, told the council that she supports using some of those funds to create a universal basic income pilot similar to one launched in St. Paul last year. 

Omar also said she supports a program to provide free meals to all students, childcare in city parks and a Minneapolis Green New Deal. 

“While stock prices soared and wealth accumulated in the hands of fewer and fewer people, businesses have been shattered, people are without work, and what little work they can find pays less and less,” Omar said. “Our communities need this support now. These funds should be distributed as quickly as possible to those who need them most.” 

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Omar also briefed the council on matters not directly tied to the relief funding. She said her office is pushing the U.S. Department of Justice to expand its pattern or practice investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department to include other nearby cities where officers have killed people of color. 

Omar told the council members that she has also proposed bills to create a federal agency responsible for investigating killings by police officers and another that would make it a crime for officers to injure or kill peaceful protesters. 

“We must ensure that the Constitutional right to protest is duly protected, and not threatened or stifled by law enforcement officers,” Omar said. “Discipline against officers has been slow and lacking in public transparency, my bill would fix that.” 

The Minneapolis City Council heard reports from staff Thursday outlining some of the parameters for the first round of pandemic relief funding. The city will get an additional $135.5 million next May. City staff have begun gathering input on the spending from city departments and are recommending spending up to $90 million this summer to deal with immediate community needs like housing, economic rebuilding, public safety and public health. 

Council member Linea Palmisano reminded her colleagues that the council quickly crafted a budget when the pandemic hit last year. 

“I see it as our job to get relief money out the door as quickly as possible. We do have experience doing exactly this when necessary,” Palmisano said. “I’m hopeful that we can start this process and I’m eager to do it.” 

Council President Lisa Bender said that the mayor’s office has signaled that it will send the council the mayor’s recommendations for the spending late next week. Bender said coming up with a plan within a few weeks might be difficult when many in the community are still in pain after the events of the last year. 

“We know that urgency is one of the markers of a culture of white supremacy, so I think we have to be very careful when we’re operating in systems that have been designed for so many years … to perpetuate white supremacy and perpetuate privilege,” Bender said. “We really have to balance our goals with our process.” 

Council member Steve Fletcher said he understands the urgency of the funding, but that a short timeline may make it challenging to get input on the spending from city residents. 

“It’s important for us as the representatives of these small geographic units who can bring our local perspectives to this conversation to stand up for community engagement as part of this process, to make sure that our constituents do get a chance to weigh in,” Fletcher said.

City staff said there will be more community engagement about the funding over the summer, with the second phase of the spending being planned in fall or winter. 

The state of Minnesota will also receive $2.8 billion in relief funds. Hennepin County will get $245 million and Minneapolis schools will receive $160 million. The pandemic relief funds need to be spent by the end of 2026.