The last year and a half was one of the most difficult periods that Minnesota has ever faced but if you need signs of optimism, look toward the investments that the COVID-19 Recovery Budget that Gov. TIm Walz signed at the beginning of July will be making in communities across the state.

Thanks to the Walz administration’s management of the state’s finances during the pandemic and a plan to get people vaccinated and the economy back open as quickly as possible, the state’s projected $1.3B budget deficit turned into a $2.7B budget surplus. This planning, combined with a huge influx of resources through the national Democrats’ American Rescue Plan, allowed them to make transformational investments in cities and towns all across the state.

If you’re a parent, you can celebrate the biggest investment in Minnesota’s schools in history, including the largest per-pupil funding increase in 15 years. Or you can celebrate the $600 million investment in making child care more affordable and accessible for families across the state. These investments will ensure that the youngest Minnesotans can thrive, and eventually lead us all into a brighter future for our state.

If you’re one of the millions of Minnesotans who works at, owns, shops at or cares about our small, locally owned businesses, you can celebrate the hundreds of millions of dollars on the way in direct relief for small businesses hit hard by the pandemic.

Finally, we should all celebrate the $250 million in direct payments to Minnesota’s essential workers, the very people that were on the front lines of the pandemic. While many of us stayed home to work, they put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe, and while we can never truly reward them enough for everything that they did, hundreds of millions of dollars to account for the long, hard hours that they worked to protect all of us is a good place to start.

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We all sacrificed a lot in the last year. But millions of people are now protected by the vaccine, Minnesota’s added new jobs for six consecutive months, and thanks to Gov. Walz, Lt. Gov. Flanagan, and a lot of hard work from Democrats in the state legislature, this budget is going to invest in you, your family and your community. If you need another reason for optimism, let it be this more help is on the way.

Charlie Rybak is the executive director for Leadership Matters MN, an organization that supports progressive policies for working people in Minnesota.