Pandemic bonus notices include personal note from Walz

A group of people surround a man at a desk.
With front-line workers and a bipartisan group of lawmakers looking on, Gov. Tim Walz held a ceremonial signing of a bill to provide worker bonuses and replenish the state's unemployment trust fund on May 2.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

Email notices alerting more than one million people of their pandemic front-line worker bonuses prominently feature DFL Gov. Tim Walz’s name and role in authorizing them.

The notices sent Wednesday begin with “A MESSAGE FROM GOVERNOR TIM WALZ” in bolded letters and offer a personal thank you. The notes go on to say that he “was honored to sign a bill to recognize workers like you for being on the front lines of the pandemic” and how he is “inspired by your work.”

An email says a message from Governor Tim Walz
An email that mental health practitioner Sarah Hardy of St. Paul received on Wednesday alerting her of her 'hero pay' funds.
Courtesy photo

There won’t be paper checks delivering the $500 million in frontline bonuses, so no state official’s signature will accompany them. The money will come in the form of direct deposits and debit cards, matching the preference of applicants.

The timing of the $487.45 payments is already a sore point for Walz’s Republican opponent, Scott Jensen. He posted a video on social media this week questioning the process.

“I hope that you understand what Tim Walz and his administration are doing here,” Jensen said. “They're desperately wanting to do something for the voters of Minnesota a month shy of the election. They want to give you some kind of gift from Santa Claus.”

But the Walz administration said Monday it moved rapidly to develop applications and implement a program that wasn’t authorized until late April. It needed to find a software vendor, develop an online application process and meet various sign-up and appeals deadlines set by the Legislature.

MPR News is Reader Funded

Before you keep reading, take a moment to donate to MPR News. Your financial support ensures that factual and trusted news and context remain accessible to all.

Temporary Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Nicole Blissenbach said it was a big job.

“We created highly effective cross-agency teams that were developed with a focus on different project tasks, developing an application portal, eligibility verification, fraud prevention, payment distribution, statewide communications and outreach in multiple languages, applicant support, and ultimately, our reporting structure,” she said Monday.

Applications were accepted starting in June and final appeals decisions came by September.

Blissenbach said a work group comprised of representatives from several agencies decided on the notice design and language.

"The Frontline Worker Pay program was an administration-wide effort. Governor Walz is not only a leader of the administration, he is a champion of the Frontline Worker Pay program," she said in a written statement Wednesday when asked about the notice format.

State Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, was among those who pushed for the bonuses over several sessions. He said he wanted to get the money out long ago but Republican legislators wouldn’t budge on a bill. 

“We can't control the timing. We began to negotiate this. This could have happened last year. It was the barriers and a resistance of our Republican colleagues that put it at this moment,” Frazier said at a news conference on Monday. “So this is merely coincidence. I'm just happy that workers are finally gonna get a token of our appreciation for what they did during the pandemic.”

The bonuses were part of a deal that also replenished an unemployment fund, which was depleted amid early COVID-19 shutdowns and would have otherwise meant steep assessments on businesses that pay into it.

There was an uproar in 2020 when then-President Donald Trump’s name appeared on the initial round of stimulus checks sent out early in the COVID-19 pandemic. His treasury secretary said he made the decision, but documents revealed considerable internal debate about including the incumbent’s name on the awards while he was running for a new term.

MPR News digital producer Sam Stroozas contributed to this story.