FILE - Minnesota State Capitol

Inner dome from the rotunda floor of the Minnesota State Capitol.

(The Center Square) – The Minnesota Senate has approved a $216 million emergency relief bill to assist the state’s small businesses struggling during Gov. Tim Walz’s COVID-19 shutdowns.

The bill would also extend unemployment benefits for Minnesotans for 13 additional weeks.  

Although the bill passed on Monday has been heralded as a bipartisan effort, Senate Democrats are expressing concerns that it doesn’t provide enough protections for Minnesota residents and businesses.

“This is a bipartisan breakthrough that gets relief out as fast as possible to the people who need it most,” Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, said in a statement.

Pratt, chairman of the Senate Jobs Committee, authored the bill.

“Minnesotans are barely surviving due to the governor’s executive order,” he continued. “This relief will be a big help, but it’s not a long-term solution.

“Covid is serious, and Minnesotans should treat it that way. But we ultimately have to get back to a point where we can end the closures and allow businesses to open up again, safely and smartly,”  Pratt said.

The bill provides direct relief payments totaling $88 million for businesses directly affected by Walz’s executive order to limit public gatherings, including bars, restaurants and gyms. These businesses are not required to apply for the government assistance.

The $88 million will be divided according to the following schedule:

  • Businesses that are down 30% in revenue and have 0-20 employees will receive $15k
  • Businesses with 21-100 employees will receive $25k 
  • Businesses with 101-300 employees will receive $35k 
  • Business with more than 300 employees will receive $45k  

An additional $14 million is approved for such businesses as movie theaters and convention centers. An additional $114 million in relief grants will be distributed to counties based on a per capita formula for the purpose of redistributing to businesses in those counties.

Businesses are required to apply relief funds to payroll, rent, mortgage payments, utility payments and other expenses incurred during the regular course of business.

All funding must be distributed by March 15. 

According Rep. Michael Howard, DFL, Richfield, however, the bill does not provide meaningful housing assistance.

“Make no mistake, the lifeline we extended to Minnesota’s working families and small businesses is incredibly important, but so too is the need to keep Minnesotans out of the cold this winter,” Howard said in a statement.

“As a pandemic rages and snow falls, the Senate GOP said no to housing assistance for families struggling to get by. Renters, homeowners, and small ‘mom and pop’ landlords have rent and mortgages due in the new year, and for many there will be no help,” he said. 

In response to this perceived need, Howard introduced House File 7, which would appropriate $50 million in emergency housing assistance.

Regional Editor

Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.