Deadlock in Minnesota Legislature delays frontline worker "hero pay"
We've reached the last week in October and Minnesota lawmakers remain locked in a stalemate over what was supposed to be a September special session on pandemic worker bonuses and other issues.
State of play: After months of public hearings and behind-the-scenes talks, there's still no agreement on how to distribute the $250 million in federal funding set aside for frontline workers.
- A move last week to kick the impasse to the full Legislature for votes on competing plans failed.
Where they stand: The Frontline Worker Pay Working Group released a side-by-side proposal comparison last week that breaks down the key sticking points.
- Republicans want to limit the bonus eligibility to long-term care workers, nurses and first responders, a move they estimate would give each person a $1,200 check.
- Democrats want to expand the pool to include an estimated 667,000 Minnesotans who worked "essential" jobs, which includes food services and child care, among other sectors. Depending on applicants, eligible workers could expect as little as $375, given current funding.
Between the lines: Other issues on the table, including a drought relief package and a tiff between Gov. Tim Walz and Senate Republicans over Health commissioner Jan Malcolm's job, are making the prospect of a deal more complex.
- Walz wants assurances that Republicans won't fire Malcolm before he calls a special session.
- Senate GOP Leader Jeremy Miller says his caucus won't agree to that given their issues with the pandemic response.
What's next: The working group meets again this Wednesday to hear any proposals for a compromise between the two plans.
- "Bring it to that meeting and we will find out if we have a basis for continued discussions or not," Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) said at the adjournment of last week's session.
The bottom line: Political sparring from both sides will continue to delay payments to eligible workers.
- Given the three-month window the Department of Labor says is needed to set up the system and process payments, there's no way bonuses would arrive before 2022 at this point.
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