Lawmakers reach deal on unemployment insurance, ‘hero pay’

Published 2:02 pm Thursday, April 28, 2022

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ST. PAUL — Minnesota legislative leaders announced a deal Thursday to refill the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund and to pay bonuses to frontline workers, resolving a months-long impasse.

The tentative agreement includes $2.7 billion to replenish the trust fund and pay back a debt to the federal government for jobless aid, as well as $500 million in bonuses for workers who took risks during the pandemic. House Democrats came down from their $1 billion proposal for bonus checks — cutting the amount per worker in half to $750 but keeping eligibility at about 667,000 workers.

The proposal — which would spend all of Minnesota’s remaining federal pandemic relief funds of more than $1 billion — also includes $190 million for a pandemic response account to support efforts that are already ongoing, like the state’s testing apparatus. A House provision making hourly school employees eligible for unemployment insurance during the summer months was cut in the compromise.

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“We tried to get it done earlier,” said Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, of Winona, citing the Senate passage of its unemployment insurance bill in February on a bipartisan 55-11 vote. “It took a little bit longer than we’d hoped but the final deal is a good deal for the people of Minnesota and we’re happy to get it done.”

Miller and Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman, of Brooklyn Park, announced the agreement during a MinnPost Festival panel discussion, saying they reached the compromise with Democratic Gov. Tim Walz Wednesday night. Hortman said she’s pleased they were able to increase the amount for frontline workers from the $250 million earmarked by a working group of lawmakers last year that was never parceled out.

“Maybe it took a little longer but we got an important victory for workers in Minnesota with getting the frontline workers pay finally approved at double the initial agreement,” Hortman said during the panel.

Republican Sen. Karin Housley, of Stillwater, told reporters Thursday it will likely take a few months for the bonuses application to be set up and checks to be mailed out.

Miller and Hortman said the bill was expected to pass off the Senate floor on Thursday before being voted on by the House later Thursday or Friday morning, The goal, the leaders said, is to get the bill to Walz’s desk for him to sign on Friday to avoid a Saturday due date for employers who saw their tax bills increase when lawmakers missed a March 15 deadline to replenish the trust fund.

Walz said in a statement that he’s proud the divided Legislature was able to come to a bipartisan agreement to get relief to businesses and workers. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce called the agreement welcome but long overdue.

“Economic recovery cannot wait for partisan politics, and employers face real challenges now, including historic inflation and worker shortages,” the group’s statement read. “We appreciate those lawmakers who supported and took steps to make this fix from the beginning.”