Pandemic pay panel won't make Labor Day deadline

The Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul
The Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul, pictured on June 27.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News file

The Minnesota Legislature won’t receive recommendations by a Labor Day deadline on how to divvy up $250 million for frontline pandemic workers, a key lawmaker said Sunday.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley and chair of a working group that is developing eligibility criteria, said the panel would prefer to issue unanimous recommendations rather than advancing multiple plans.

“The biggest challenge really now is data. We don’t know exactly how many workers will apply for a check from the state out of this $250 million fund,” Winkler said. “And without a good understanding of how many workers would fit what categories, we have a hard time to deciding how much each worker should get.”

Sen. Karin Housley of Stillwater, the top Republican on the working group, didn’t return a phone message on Sunday.

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The size of the funding pool appears to be set because the Legislature would have to pass a new bill to increase the amount, which seems unlikely. But lawmakers could opt to cover administrative costs outside of the core account.

“We can revisit a larger payment or expanding to more workers in the next legislative session,” Winkler said.

Winkler said lawmakers on the committee are trading ideas about who should qualify and for how much. 

There is general agreement that long-term care workers and other health professionals will qualify. Child care staff, food processing workers and others in critical industries have made a case for inclusion, too.

The missed deadline puts the possibility of a September special session in doubt.

There are also complications due to leadership shifts in the Senate, which will soon pick new leaders of the GOP majority and DFL minority caucuses. Those lawmakers will be at the table to negotiate what items are on a special session agenda prior to one being called by Gov. Tim Walz.