Frontline workers will get bonus checks by summer, Minnesota officials say

It will take 10-12 weeks before Minnesota workers who were on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic receive bonus checks, Gov. Tim Walz's administration officials estimate.

State officials expect 667,000 people from 15 eligible industries will apply for the rewards. The checks are likely to be around $750, though they will be larger or smaller depending on how many people apply. The state has launched a website where people can get updates.

The state's vendor will need three to four weeks to build out the application system before launching it, Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Roslyn Robertson said. The application period will be open for 45 days.

"We will take all applications in before we can make determinations as to exactly what the dollar amount will be," Robertson told reporters at a ceremony with supporters of the legislation.

To claim a bonus, a worker would need to: have worked at least 120 hours in an eligible industry between March 15, 2020, and June 30, 2021; not have been eligible for telework; and not have collected unemployment benefits for more than 20 weeks during that period. Income is capped at $175,000 for people who worked with COVID-19 patients and $85,000 for all others.

The worker bonuses are $500 million of a $3.4 billion package that Gov. Tim Walz signed late Friday. It includes $2.7 billion to refill the state's unemployment benefit fund and reverse a business payroll tax increase.

Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said his agency will recalculate quarterly payroll taxes due over the next 7-10 days. The state will automatically apply credit future tax payments, though business owners can also request a refund, Grove said.

The worker bonuses came together after a nine-month stalemate over how to reward people who worked at their job sites during the pandemic.

"Today, I keep pinching myself that we actually did it," said Mary Turner, head of the Minnesota Nurses Association. "The check for $750, it may not seem like a lot, but I’ll tell you what. That $750 to the median income of Minnesota, that equals a month’s rent. That equals groceries."

Walz insists on rebate checks

At Monday's ceremony, Walz and state lawmakers turned their attention to the remaining budget surplus, which totals more than $6 billion.

The first-term DFL governor insisted that any final agreements must have his $500 per adult rebate checks, which have fallen flat with both parties in the Legislature.

"I’m willing to compromise, but I’m not going to compromise out a top priority of mine," Walz told reporters. His proposal calls for direct payments of $500 to adults who make less than $164,400 a year and $1,000 per couple making less than $273,470.

Republicans who control the Senate favor permanent income tax cuts instead. House Democrats are seeking child tax credits along with more than $1 billion in new K-12 education spending next year.

"The next three weeks are going to be challenging," said Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona. "Today we can celebrate this (agreement), but know that there’s still a lot of work ahead."

Top lawmakers said Monday that they wanted more deals before the legislative session ends May 23.

"We still have a lot of work ahead of us. This agreement needs to be the first of many," said House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park.