All Things Considered

Many were denied Minnesota 'hero pay,' advocate says there were barriers

A person in a mask holds a sign that reads "Workers' health is essential"
Lynn Avery protests April 27 during a car rally outside the Caribou Coffee store in Roseville.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2020

More than 214,000 applications for Minnesota’s “hero pay” were denied. That’s 18 percent of all who applied. While some were issues of duplicates, identity verification or income limits, Matt Riley says the process still had barriers for some communities.

Riley, an organizer with CTUL Workers Center, worked to support Minnesotans during the application process.

“My job was to make sure that people were aware of the process, it was not widely distributed to everyone and we wanted to make sure they know about it,” he said.

Riley says the barriers he saw with the process included technology and language. Applicants needed an email address and some language came directly from the bill verbiage instead of being adapted. He says some immigrant communities weren’t sure if they qualified.

There were five different areas where applicants could be denied. CTUL Workers United encourages people to contact them or the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry to make sure they get the support and resources they need to appeal their decisions.

“For workers in downtown Minneapolis, the people I work with, this money is really important to them. It is going toward their rent, food — it is money that will definitely support them,” Riley said.

The application window to apply was 45 days. Nearly 1.2 million people applied, almost twice as many than officials excepted. The state set aside $500 million in frontline worker pay. While the list was long for who qualified, some essential jobs such as child care providers didn’t make the cut.

To fill out the application, applicants needed a mobile device or computer. The process was available in English, Spanish, Hmong and Somali.

Riley says it is important that people appeal their denials because workers have been fighting for the money and risked their lives during the peak of COVID-19.

“Workers have been vocal about wanting to be included. This is two years coming in for these people and to be included and represented with this pay, it is exactly what it is, hero checks. The essential workers are the ones getting us through this pandemic.”

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