COVID-19: Here's what Gov. Walz, Republicans are proposing to help businesses

Once they come to an agreement, Walz will call a special session to pass the legislation.

Gov. Tim Walz and House Republicans on Tuesday released their respective COVID-19 economic relief packages, which are aimed at helping small businesses and workers amid the state-ordered four-week shutdown that includes bars, restaurants and gyms. 

The hospitality industry and others called for immediate help after Walz announced the new COVID-19 restrictions. Last week, Walz asked Congress to pass a federal relief package and said he was looking into what the state could do to help. 

“Our small businesses and the Minnesotans whose livelihoods depend on them are bearing a huge weight for the good of their entire community. As cases skyrocket and hospital capacity is pushed to the brink, our small businesses should not have to bear the financial consequences alone. We’re in this together,” Gov. Walz said in a statement.

"I am committed to turning over every stone to find funding that will help make sure our businesses stay afloat, our workers are supported, and our families can put food on the table," he added.

Walz, a Democrat, says he plans to work with Republicans to come to an agreement on a relief package, noting there is bipartisan support for one. Once they agree on the details, he'll call a special session to quickly pass the legislation. 

He revealed his relief package at The Nook in St. Paul, where he was joined by co-owner Mike Runyon.

"We understand the urgent need to support our health care workers and protect hospital capacity right now," Runyon said in a statement. "But as we know, the hospitality industry is drowning. There's no stimulus money or extra unemployment for our staff. We are in desperate need for our governments to step in and help during these restrictions.”

Walz's relief package 

In the governor's package, he calls for keeping small businesses afloat by providing direct aid to businesses through a Business Assistance Program; waiving state and regulatory fees for bars, restaurants, event centers, craft breweries and others; and establishing an eviction moratorium so small businesses can stay in their locations. 

The governor's plan does not say how much aid would be provided or how it will be funded. But House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler mentioned $350 million for the small business grants, which would equate to $25,000 for each of the 14,000 small businesses that have been impacted by the governor's executive order, FOX 9's Theo Keith tweeted.

Meanwhile, the state's upcoming budget forecast, which will be released on Dec. 1, is expected to be "materially better" than the spring forecast, which projected a $2 billion budget deficit, MPR's Brian Bakst tweeted.

To support workers who are struggling during the pandemic, Walz seeks to extend unemployment benefits for an additional 13 weeks (benefits for 100,000 workers end next month) and provide a $500 one-time emergency payment to "struggling families."

Walz also hopes to support families in need of food by establishing a one-time grant to restaurants to provide food for healthcare workers, homeless shelters, and long-term care facilities. He also seeks to provide a tax credit for businesses that donate food that would otherwise spoil or be thrown away.

“COVID-19 has brought unprecedented challenges to Minnesotans and businesses and we need to help them now,” Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said in a statement. “Today’s package, crafted in response to requests from industry leaders and others, provides solid support to help businesses through this time and support Minnesota workers affected by the pandemic.”

Grove said this week the state will launch a campaign called "Great Takeout MN" to encourage people to order takeout from local restaurants to help keep them afloat.

House Republicans' plan

Republicans in the Minnesota House also unveiled their relief package Tuesday, called the Main Street Relief Act, with the goal of helping businesses impacted by the governor's latest executive order. 

"We are in a crisis situation, and need to work together as quickly as possible to get help to the Main Street businesses that are beloved staples of our communities," Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar said in a statement. "We have been hard at work over the past two weeks engaging businesses, industry groups, and legislators from both parties on how we can help as many businesses as we can, as soon as we can."

Their plan includes $400 million in direct grants using money from the state's budget reserve, which would be distributed at the county level for faster relief. Money from federal relief will be used to back-fill the reserve. 

To improve cash flow for impacted businesses, Republicans are proposing a three-month sales tax holiday for bars and restaurants who've been forced to shift to takeout-only, and a three-month holiday for businesses that are mandated to be closed, which would begin when they can reopen. They're also proposing rebates on state licensing fees for establishments that sell alcohol until 2 a.m. 

The act would temporarily expand the current cap for takeout beer, wine and liquor sales and grant flexibility to breweries to sell their product in containers up to 64 ounces. 

Republicans are also calling on Walz to allow gyms and fitness centers to reopen before Dec. 18, saying it is something the governor can do immediately to help businesses. They say available data that links gyms to the spread of COVID-19 does not support keeping them closed (this is something Life Time Fitness has also questioned).

According to state data, 48 outbreaks at Minnesota clubs have contact traced for a total of 747 cases out of the 242,043 total cases, though health officials have noted that the point of transmission in the community in a growing number of cases is unknown, and so the total number of cases linked to certain businesses and activities may be significantly higher. More on that here.

Both Democrats and Republicans have expressed interest in working together to pass a bipartisan relief package as soon as possible. 

"We do our best work when we work together — we still haven't seen details of the governor's proposals, but I hope we're able to get all four caucuses and the governor's office working together quickly. We need to do this quickly," Baker said.

Senate Republican's relief package will reportedly resemble House Republican's plan.

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