Minnesota frontline worker payments of nearly $500 start going out this week

More than 1 million Minnesota workers will get bonus payments of nearly $500 starting this week, a thank-you gift from the state that arrives more than two years after the COVID-19 pandemic started.

State officials said 1,025,655 people would get $487.45 each. The state will start sending out the payments on Wednesday. Everyone who applied will get an email between Monday and Wednesday about their final status.

Approved applicants who signed up to get their payment via direct deposit will see money deposited within seven to 10 business days, state officials said. People who chose to be paid via debit card should see the money in the mail within three to four weeks, the officials said.

The payments are "well-deserved and long-awaited," Nicole Blissenbach, the temporary commissioner of the state Department of Labor and Industry, told reporters at a Monday afternoon news conference. "These workers deserve our thanks, and I'm grateful to be part of the program that gives them a token of our appreciation.

Just shy of 1.2 million people applied for the bonuses. State officials initially denied 214,000 of them before approving roughly 40,000 applications upon appeal. That leaves 173,000 applicants who won't be getting any money.

Reasons for the denials varied, including a lack of identity verification, a higher-than-allowed income, or that a person didn't work in one of the 15 covered industries.

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The payments will be subject to federal income tax, though state lawmakers exempted them from Minnesota taxes.

The bonuses are 35% smaller than expected. When the state Legislature approved the $500 million bonus pool this spring, state officials said they thought 667,000 people would apply, meaning each person would've gotten $750.

Workers said they were happy that they'll finally receive the bonuses yet disappointed by both the smaller size and the slow process.

"It’s better than nothing. I would’ve liked it to have been a little more, but it is what it is," said Keith Farr, a meat cutter at Lund's and Byerly's who worked in the grocery store during the pandemic. "Everyone deserves it." 

The Legislature moved in fits and starts toward approving the funding. In 2021, lawmakers dangled the prospect of bonuses in front of workers without ever agreeing to the size of the checks or who would receive them.

"It’s surreal to know that what we did – just basic workers who came together – we helped 1 million Minnesotans get through something -- and get something at the end of the day," said Rachel Hanneman, a critical care nurse. "It feels really good to have helped that many people out of something that was really hard for us." 

The law requires state labor officials to report to the Legislature within 90 days following the end of payment processing with data on how they administered the program.