House OKs unemployment insurance bill with frontline bonuses

Published 6:25 pm Tuesday, April 26, 2022

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ST. PAUL  — The Minnesota House has passed a bill to replenish the state’;s unemployment insurance trust fund and get bonuses to frontline workers, in a potential breakthrough after months of stalemate.

The bill passed late Monday includes $2.7 billion to replenish the unemployment insurance trust fund and pay back the federal government for jobless aid, and Democrats’ $1 billion proposal for $1,500 checks for workers who took risks during the pandemic. It would also make hourly school workers eligible for unemployment benefits during the summer months.

House Democratic and Senate Republican leaders, along with Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, spent months trying to agree terms but leaders failed to reach a deal by a March 15 deadline, triggering an automatic payroll tax hike on Minnesota employers.

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Under the new legislation, employers who paid their tax bills before the April 30 due date would get a refund. House Democrats also included the full $2.7 billion that Senate Republicans and Walz said was needed to refill the trust fund, instead of the $1.2 billion that House Democrats have long insisted would be sufficient.

It passed on a 70-63 vote.

The bill now goes to the Senate, which passed its own bill in February on a bipartisan 55-11 vote. That version did not include bonuses or unemployment benefits for school workers. Both sides voted last year to earmark $250 million in “hero pay” for frontline workers but couldn’;t agree on how to parcel it out.

Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman, of Brooklyn Park, said Tuesday that the House had to agree to the Senate’;s request for $2.7 billion for unemployment insurance in order to get the bonuses for frontline workers. A 10-member House-Senate conference committee was appointed Tuesday to work out a deal.

“That’s how we resolve differences between the House and the Senate,” she told reporters. “It doesn’t do any good to have bills that are two ships passing in the night.”

Republican lawmakers said the unemployment insurance fix should have passed on its own and indicated they would chip away at other provisions in the House bill.

“While I’m happy to see the House take action, they loaded up the bill with other items making it more difficult to find agreement. I remain committed to working towards a compromise agreement,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, of Winona, said in a statement.

Walz asked lawmakers to reach a compromise during his State of the State address Sunday night, saying the issues should have been resolved in January.