ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers and commissioners on Monday, Sept. 6, blew past a deadline to strike a deal on how to dole out $250 million to front-line workers who took unpaid time off to quarantine or were sickened with COVID-19 during the pandemic.
The Minnesota Legislature in setting aside the funds gave the front-line working group a Labor Day deadline to reach a recommendation for the funds but members worked through the weekend but came up short of an agreement.
The two lawmakers leading the panel on Tuesday, Sept. 7, said members were hoping to reach a unanimous agreement on a path forward, and that would likely take more time. They didn't set a timeframe for reaching a deal.
“We understand and share the sense of urgency to move forward with a recommendation. To get this right and get unanimous support among working group members, it’s going to take more time to collect and analyze data about the state’s workforce," House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, and Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, said. "We will continue to work until an agreement is reached.”
Prior to entering private meetings over the weekend, Republicans on the panel had said lawmakers should prioritize larger payments for nurses, nursing home staff and first responders who directly worked with COVID-19 patients and vulnerable people. Democrats, meanwhile, said the state should open the application to a larger pool of frontline workers who'd faced health risks during the pandemic.
And splits remained among members as to the best course moving forward.
"This pandemic has been difficult and has been scary for a lot of people but I think that we have to acknowledge that folks working in long-term care, nurses in hospitals and ICUs and emergency rooms and first responders, those working in our correctional facilities were taking on a different level of risk," House Assistant Minority Leader Anne Neu Brindley, R-North Branch, said. "These folks absolutely knew that they were going to work every day directly with COVID-positive patients and they still showed up."
For more than a month, the workgroup has aimed to identify the front-line workers who put themselves at the greatest risk during the pandemic and should be considered for state aid. Almost 1 million Minnesotans could be eligible for the funds as roughly that many had worked positions that the federal government classified as essential during the pandemic.
Seven of the panel's nine members need to agree to a funding plan to advance it to the Minnesota Legislature. Gov. Tim Walz could then call lawmakers back to St. Paul for a special legislative session to approve a proposal.