Minnesota House passes $330 million COVID-19 aid bill

Published 6:50 am Friday, March 27, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Legislature was poised Thursday to pass a $330 million financial aid package to help soften the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic that has sickened more than 300 people and claimed two lives in the state.

The Minnesota Department of Health said Thursday that the state’s second COVID-19 death was a patient from Ramsey County who, like the first fatal case, was in their 80s. The state’s count of confirmed cases jumped Thursday to 346, up 59 from a day earlier, though officials caution that the actual total of people with the disease is likely much higher because many don’t qualify for testing.

The House passed the bill 99-4 and sent it to the Senate. Among the bill’s highlights are a $200 million fund that state agencies can tap for responding to the pandemic. It also would provide $30 million in grants to groups that provide child care for children of essential workers. And it also includes $40 million in emergency grants and loan guarantees for small businesses,

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“We have grave and difficult days ahead,” Democratic House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler said just before the vote. “We do not know — and probably not knowing is the most difficult part of what the course of this pandemic will take. … We have much work to be done. This is just the beginning. But it is an important first step.”

The bill was assembled via private conference calls to keep lawmakers from risking catching the disease, and the various proposals were rolled into one big bill to limit the number of votes that must be taken. Makeshift House and Senate procedures to maintain social distancing mean that lawmakers had to take turns for getting on the floors to vote or speak and wait elsewhere in the Capitol complex until their turn comes up.

Many had to shout their votes from the door to the House chamber, then leave without entering.

“Some of the best bipartisan work that we’ve seen in this chamber in years has been going on this past week,” Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said.

Walz, who signed a stay-at-home order for Minnesota residents that takes effect Friday night, planned to give an update on the state’s efforts in a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

Minnesota will also be getting money as part of the $2.2 trillion congressional relief package that the U.S. Senate passed late Wednesday and that the House is expected to pass on Friday. The bill includes nearly $2.2 billion for the state as part of a $150 billion stimulus package for state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“With this legislation, families will see direct financial help, local businesses will find a lifeline, and our heroic health care workers will know we have their backs,” Democratic U.S. Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota said in a statement.