The debate over how to divvy up $250 million in bonus "hero pay" for the pandemic's frontline workers picks up today, as Minnesota's nine-member working group holds its first hearing on distributing the funds.
Why it matters: Essential workers put themselves at risk to provide medical care, education, food and other essentials to the rest of us as the pandemic raged.
- Many missed work — and pay — because of illness and quarantines.
The catch: Yes, $250 million is a big chunk of change. But the universe of frontline workers is also large — hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans showed up to work at hospitals, grocery stores, meatpacking plants and schools throughout the pandemic.
- The more workers you include in the bonus pool, the smaller the bonuses become.
Between the lines: The language establishing the working group, which passed as part of the state budget, doesn't specify who, besides long-term care workers, should be eligible for a bonus.
- Instead, it says the appointees should consider workers faced with "increased financial burden and increased risk of virus exposure due to the nature of their work."
What they're saying: Even before the first meeting, lawmakers appointed to the panel signaled differing approaches.
- GOP Rep. Anne Neu Brindley told us her priority is helping those who "really were dealing with COVID day in and day out," including long-term care staff and personal care assistants.
- "I want to make sure that this doesn't get so watered down that it's not meaningful," she said of the bonus size.
- DFL Rep. Cedrick Frazier said $250 million "just isn't enough." He'll advocate for more funding to cover more workers, an idea likely to face resistance in the divided Legislature. "We've called them heroes. We have to actually treat them like that."
What to watch: Expect heavy advocacy from influential unions representing some of the potentially eligible workers.
What's next: The panel faces a Sept. 6 deadline. If they can't come up with a proposal that wins support from the seven appointees, they can advance up to three ideas.
- A plan is expected to head to the full Legislature for a vote, likely in a September special session.