(The Center Square) – Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday announced a COVID-19 economic relief package to help businesses he shuttered for four weeks in reaction to rising COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. He did not explain how the relief package would be funded nor did he provide a cost estimate.
Walz said he will work with lawmakers, but noted he will not call for a special session until after an agreement is reached.
Last week, Walz imposed another lockdown that restaurants and beverage groups warned would be “devastating.”
The restrictions prohibit in-person social gatherings with anyone of another household until Dec. 18; limits restaurants and bars to take-out and delivery only; and shutters gyms, fitness studios and event spaces.
“Our small businesses and the Minnesotans whose livelihoods depend on them are bearing a huge weight for the good of their entire community. As cases skyrocket and hospital capacity is pushed to the brink, our small businesses should not have to bear the financial consequences alone. We’re in this together,” Walz said.
“I am committed to turning over every stone to find funding that will help make sure our businesses stay afloat, our workers are supported, and our families can put food on the table.”
The COVID-19 relief package would provide direct aid to some businesses, waive state and regulatory fees for bars, restaurants, event centers, craft breweries, and freeze business evictions.
The plan would extend unemployment benefits for an additional 13 weeks, helping up to 100,000 workers whose benefits currently end next month and giving some families a one-time, $500 emergency payment.
“COVID-19 has brought unprecedented challenges to Minnesotans and businesses and we need to help them now,” Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said in a statement.
“Today’s package, crafted in response to requests from industry leaders and others, provides solid support to help businesses through this time and support Minnesota workers affected by the pandemic.”
Walz’s office didn’t respond to an inquiry about how the package will be funded.
The state is already facing a $4.7 billion budget deficit for fiscal years 2022-23 and a mandate to balance its budget. That number should be updated in a revenue estimating conference on Dec. 1.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, welcomed the plan.
“The burden of protecting Minnesotans from the spread of COVID-19 has hit some businesses and workers harder than others. While we join state leaders across the country in urging federal action to provide economic relief as soon as possible, we are working as quickly as we can on state measures to provide additional assistance,” Hortman said in a statement.
“We need to work together to help those struggling during this tough time, and then turn our attention in the 2021 Session to rebuilding Minnesota’s economy in the wake of this pandemic.”
Hospitality Minnesota President and CEO Liz Rammer, who previously asked for aid, also celebrated the announcement.
“We want to thank Governor Walz for stepping up and responding to our request for help for hospitality businesses. Hospitality Minnesota readily accepts his offer to be at the table working to make sure relief gets to those businesses that need it the most,” Rammer said in a statement.
“We are heartened that legislators and the administration are both moving in the right direction to provide swift emergency relief, as we all need to work together to save this industry and its workers.”