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$853 million in federal money to be released statewide for coronavirus relief

$12 million of it will go toward fighting hunger.

The Minnesota Legislature couldn't come to an agreement on how to distribute millions of dollars worth of coronavirus relief funds, so Gov. Tim Walz has done so himself.

In a news release Thursday, the Democratic governor has issued his plan to distribute $853 million of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act money to counties, cities and towns to support local government COVID-19 relief efforts.

“As we work to support the health and safety of all Minnesotans during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also taking steps to build a stronger and more equitable economy,” Gov. Walz said in the release. “This funding will bring much-needed relief to communities across the state as we continue to battle this pandemic together.”

The governor submitted his plan to the Legislative Advisory Commission for review and is requesting it is approved quickly so the CARES Act funds can be distributed as early as next week.

$12M to fight hunger

Of the CARES Act money, Walz is allocating $12 million toward food shelves and food banks to help combat hunger.

This comes as data this week predicted a Depression-era level of food need in Minnesota, with needs peaking in September.

According to the governor's news release, roughly 300,000 Minnesotans have visited food shelves each month since the coronavirus pandemic began, which is a 30 percent increase over the typical number of monthly visits.

Food banks are distributing roughly 2.4 million pounds of food per week, which is a 20-40 percent incrase since 2019.

“Access to nutritious food is a cornerstone of a safe and healthy life, and for too many Minnesotans, that need hasn’t gone away during this pandemic—it has increased,” Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said in the release. “Using CARES Act funding to alleviate this need is one way we can directly improve the lives of Minnesotans most impacted by COVID-19. While the Legislature was not able to come to a final agreement to distribute this funding, their work was critical in determining the greatest needs across our state.”

$841M for local governments

The Minnesota Department of Revenue will distribute the remaining $841 million of CARES Act money to local governments, which can use it to support government services or distribute as grants to businesses, hospitals and people who've been impacted by the pandemic, the release said. 

“Local governments urgently need this funding in order to effectively respond to this unprecedented public health emergency,” said state Department of Revenue Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly. “The Department of Revenue has a long track record of distributing aid to local governments. The infrastructure already in place will ensure this aid is distributed quickly and accurately.”

Local governments, which must certify their intent to follow federal guidelines for using the funds, will receive a direct payment based on the per capita formula developed by the Minnesota Legislature during the Special Session. This formula wasn't fully ratified by the legislature.  

The funds will be distributed on a rolling basis beginning the week of June 29. Any remaining unspent money must be returned to the state by Dec. 10, and the state must recoup money if local governments are found to have spent the money improperly.

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