Updated: 2 p.m.
More than one million Minnesotans will get payments of about $487 each from the state this week for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic, state officials said Monday.
The money is from a pool of $500 million set aside by the Legislature and governor for bonuses to those who worked in health care, child care, retail, food processing and other professions where working from home wasn’t an option.
Keith Farr is a grocery store meat cutter – and in the state’s eyes was an essential frontline worker during the uncertain days of COVID-19.
“Imagine if we would have shut the grocery stores down, it would have been another problem,” Farr said.
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Farr suffered through a bout of COVID-19 and the aches, fatigue and lost senses that came with. But Farr said he got right back to the meat department as soon as he was healthy.
He says he plans to put his check toward rent for his family of five and is gracious for the money – even if it’s less than less forecast.
“It’s better than nothing,” Farr said. “I would have liked it to be a little more. But it is what it is. Everyone deserves it, who worked at the time.”
When the bill establishing hero pay passed last spring, there were estimates that fewer than 700,000 people would qualify. That would have made each payment $750.
But applications poured in, 1.2million in total.
Some were turned down because an applicant made too much, was on unemployment for an extended period or didn’t work outside the house in a qualifying profession. Independent contractors weren't eligible. But 50,000 people who appealed an initial denial were approved in the end.
“These workers deserve our thanks and I’m grateful to be part of the program that gives them a token of our appreciation,” Nicole Blissenbach, who has spearheaded the program as temporary commissioner, Department of Labor and Industry.
The money will be sent out beginning this week in the form of direct deposit or debit cards depending on a recipient’s preference.
Those who choose payments through direct deposit will see funds deposited within seven to 10 business days; those who chose to receive payment via debit card will be mailed their funds within three to four weeks, according to several state agencies that collaborated on the project.
“More than the money, these payments represent the thanks of a grateful state to the folks that kept it running,” said Gene Sparks, an EMT who helped advocate for the payments as part of his union’s leadership.
Nurse Rachel Hanneman helped treat some of the sickest COVID patients. She was also involved in pushing for the payments and joined others at a news conference Monday to celebrate the end of an arduous recognition campaign.
“Being here in the Capitol, I wasn’t expecting to be emotional but I kind of am. I started my journey behind us at the Bethesda ICU,” Hanneman said, adding that whether people put the money toward groceries, gas or other bills, they should also reflect on what the bonuses represent.
"This is a thank you to those who made safe happen," Hanneman said.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the way the bonuses will be paid. Direct deposit or debit cards are the only methods.