What's in Minnesota's proposed COVID-19 relief package?

Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders unveiled economic relief proposals aimed at shuttered businesses and struggling workers Tuesday as the state deals with the fallout of the raging coronavirus pandemic.

Frameworks released separately by Walz and House Republicans both call for hundreds of millions of dollars in cash payments to businesses that have been affected by the governor's latest restrictions and mandatory closures. Walz, a first-term Democrat, is also calling for a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits. Republicans are seeking to loosen the state's liquor laws to allow more takeout beer and wine.

Minnesota has set new daily highs for hospitalizations several times this month, and state public health officials have reported 360 new deaths in the past week -- by far the most of any seven-day period. Walz says he wants to call the Legislature back for a special session to pass the package next week, but he needs a deal first.

"I say we go as soon as we have a deal," Walz told reporters outside The Nook, a well-known burger joint in St. Paul. "I don’t think we wait an extra day. I think what these (restaurant) folks would tell you is, the difference between getting something in the next week or so and getting something in a month is huge."

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler said 14,000 businesses have been affected by the latest emergency orders, which took effect last week and forced bars and restaurants to close except for takeout. Gyms must shutter. The restrictions are in place until at least Dec. 18.

What’s in Walz’s COVID-19 relief package?

The governor hasn't released a full proposal, only a framework, and has not outlined its total cost. Walz said his plan will:

  • Provide direct aid to 14,000 businesses. Winkler suggested that each business could get $25,000, which would be a total cost of $350 million  
  • Waive state and regulatory fees for bars, restaurants, event centers, craft breweries, and more
  • Block small businesses from being evicted  
  • Extend unemployment benefits for an additional 13 weeks, helping as many as 100,000 workers whose benefits currently end next month. The cost would be between $500 million and $550 million, economic development officials estimate  
  • Provide a $500 one-time emergency payment to 31,000 low-income families  
  • Establish one-time grant to restaurants to provide food for healthcare workers, homeless shelters, and long-term care facilities
  • Provide a tax credit for businesses that donate food that would otherwise spoil or be thrown away 

What’s in the GOP’s COVID-19 relief plan?

House Republicans also have not released legislation, but said their proposal will:

  • Include $400 million in grants to businesses, which would come from the state's budget reserve and would be backfilled if federal aid arrives. Businesses that have lost 35 percent or more of their sales would qualify
  • A three-month sales tax holiday for businesses that have curtailed their operations
  • Allow bars and restaurants to sell more takeout beer and wine; breweries to sell takeout growlers
  • Not include any extension of unemployment benefits

Mike Runyon, co-owner of The Nook, said he understood the need for the shutdown to provide hospital workers with time to handle the pandemic, but urged government officials to provide help.

"We’re on the brink of collapse in this industry. And we need everything we can do," Runyon said.

Walz said he had texted with Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, whose caucus is writing its own proposal. House Republicans said their plan will be similar to the one the Senate GOP is crafting.

House Republicans said they would pay for their proposal with money in the state's rainy day budget reserve, which sits at roughly $2.4 billion. The reserve fund will likely be needed to deal with a projected budget shortfall, though Walz and lawmakers said they were optimistic that the shortfall would end up smaller than the $2.4 billion deficit projected in May -- the same amount as the rainy day fund.

"We know our state’s budget is in a difficult position, but if there ever was a rainy day, this is it," said state Rep. Barb Haley, R-Red Wing.