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Legislature approves new economic aid for small businesses and workers

A lot has changed from the time you read my last column in this newspaper. In the past two weeks, the Legislature and Governor Walz have taken sweeping emergency actions to address an unprecedented public health crisis. Life as we know it has largely come to a halt and all of us are being asked to make sacrifices to protect health care workers, senior citizens, and Minnesotans who are at higher risk. No one takes these decisions lightly.

With this new reality thrust upon us, Minnesotans continue to take care of each other. Extraordinary acts of kindness and generosity are happening every day, and our local school districts, corporate partners, and community organizations are working overtime to meet our needs. We are blessed to live in a close-knit community that truly looks after one another in times of hardship.

The Minnesota Legislature has an important role to play in providing economic security for those hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. Working in concert with Gov. Tim Walz, state lawmakers are taking thoughtful action to prevent our health care system from becoming overwhelmed, while creating a safety net for small businesses and workers impacted by the temporary closure of restaurants, bars, movie theaters, fitness centers, and other public places.

On March 9, the Legislature unanimously approved $21 million for public health officials to begin preparing for an outbreak in Minnesota. The following week, the Legislature unanimously approved $200 million in financial support for hospitals, clinics, and health care providers. I am pleased to report that on March 26 we approved a new package of economic aid to help small businesses, workers, childcare providers, farmers, food shelves, people facing housing insecurity, and Minnesota’s 11 sovereign tribal nations.

This bipartisan legislation provides one-time grants for childcare providers, loans for small businesses, funding for regional food banks and food shelves, and investments in safe housing for senior citizens, people with disabilities, and Minnesotans experiencing homelessness. I was proud to author language in this bill that modifies the Rural Finance Authority Disaster Recovery Loan program. As a result, the RFA will allow applications related to any highly contagious animal disease, and an infectious human disease such as COVID-19 for which the governor has declared a peacetime emergency.

This latest round of legislative action is an important downpayment on what will need to be a long-term strategy to help Minnesotans recover. Progress is being made on a sweeping economic stimulus package at the federal level, and we expect to soon learn what it would mean for Minnesota if it is approved and signed into law. As we confront the unpredictable and lasting impacts of COVID-19 on our state, please continue to care for each other, treat each other with kindness, and do your part to follow public health guidelines.