Skip to main content

Minnesota lawmakers can't seem to agree on how to give away $250 million of federal funding to frontline workers. 

The Frontline Worker Pay Working Group, which is made up of three DFL lawmakers, three Republican lawmakers and three Gov. Tim Walz appointees, has been meeting in recent weeks to come up with a plan to disburse $250 million in direct support from federal funds to those on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The group was supposed to submit its recommendations on who would get the pandemic pay bonuses to the Minnesota Legislature by Sept. 6. 

That didn't happen because they can't agree on who should get a cut of the money. Some group members support giving less money to more people while others want to give more money to fewer people.

Here's a breakdown of what's going on: 

More money for fewer workers

Republicans, who on Thursday — weeks after the deadline —unveiled their proposal on how to distribute the pandemic bonus pay, want the pool of frontline workers to be limited to those who took the highest sustained COVID-19 risk during the pandemic: nurses, long-term care workers, hospice staff, first responders, and corrections officers. 

Their proposal would amount to $1,200 per person, with bonus checks for about 200,000 people. To be eligible, the workers couldn't have worked from home, they had to receive less than one month of unemployment, and worked a minimum of 1,200 hours between March and December 2020 (about 30 hours a week). 

“We’ve said from the beginning, these bonuses need to be an amount that is meaningful, prioritized for those who took the most risk, and recognizes the workers who kept us safe,” working group co-chair Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, said in a statement.

"We only have $250 million to work with, but it’s enough to prioritize the healthcare workers who donned PPE and cared for COVID positive patients. It’s enough to recognize our first responders who doubled down on an already risky job when the work didn’t allow distancing or PPE. We can recognize the inspiring work of hospice staff who were there for our loved ones when we were not allowed to be.”

Less money for more workers

Meanwhile, Democrats are in favor of expanding the pool of eligible essential workers to those who helped keep society going during the pandemic and couldn't work from home, including meatpacking plant workers, grocery workers, janitorial staff, and daycare workers. This would be in addition to those mentioned in the GOP's plan.

Democrats' proposal, which they presented weeks ago, would open an application process for essential workers directly exposed to COVID. Workers would get a minimum of $375 per worker, benefitting more than 600,000 people who worked on the frontlines during the pandemic. 

Democrats and many frontline workers criticized the Republicans' plan on Thursday, saying it unfairly excludes hundreds of thousands of people.

The Minnesota Nurses Association, which represents nurses who would get more money with the Republicans plan, is asking lawmakers to come up with a plan that doesn't exclude other workers who were also at risk during the pandemic.

“Excluding any frontline workers is a slap in the face to someone who put their life at risk for our communities,” said Deb Tauer, president of the Minnesota Licensed Practical Nurse Association (MLPNA), in a statement. “Without the school workers who watched our children, many of our nurses would have had to stay home when schools went to remote learning. Without the food service workers and store clerks, we would have struggled to keep our families healthy. It was the sacrifices of all frontline workers that gave us the ability to show up and care for our communities.”

While the DFL's plan would amount to far less per worker than the Republican's plan, it's better than getting nothing, frontline workers said, noting the $375 payment would be meaningful to low-income workers, especially those who had to take unpaid time off during the pandemic. 

Follow Bring Me The News on Twitter for the latest breaking news

What's next?

The working group is expected to meet again early this month. If they can reach a deal, Gov. Tim Walz said he'd call a special session of the Minnesota Legislature so lawmakers can vote on the proposed legislation that would send direct payments to frontline workers. 

Even if the working group agrees on a plan, something unrelated could hold up the pandemic bonus pay: Senate Republicans have threatened to hold a confirmation vote on Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm — they could move to remove her from Walz's cabinet, marking the third cabinet official to be ousted amid the Walz administration's handling of the pandemic (a fourth commissioner resigned ahead of a planned vote on her confirmation). 

But Walz has said he won't call a special session if a vote on Malcolm is on the agenda. 

Next Up

Walz, Flanagan

Minnesota reports massive projected budget surplus of $17.6 billion

The huge surplus comes as the DFL prepares to assume a trifecta of the Legislature and the Governor's House.


Boil water advisory issued for part of Minneapolis after water main break

The main break caused significant flooding in an area of North Minneapolis Monday evening.


Deals struck between nursing union and hospitals, potentially averting strike

A strike was scheduled to start on Dec. 11 if a deal was not reached.

Minnesota Solar Installation - All Energy Solar

Make the Most of your Solar Panels with Energy Storage

Solar energy is great during the day, but what happens when the sun goes down?

Screen Shot 2022-12-06 at 7.34.26 AM

Man dies after shooting on St. Paul's East Side

It happened on the same night a man was fatally shot by police in the nearby Dayton's Bluff neighborhood.

Police tape

St. Paul police hit man with squad car, fatally shoot him

Police said officers responded to a domestic incident involving the suspect Monday night.


Charges: Minnesota elementary school teacher sexually assaulted 3 boys

The incidents were captured on video taken inside an elementary school classroom.

Police tape

Person shot by police in St. Paul Monday evening

It happened around 6:10 p.m. on the city's East Side.

Kollie Jr.

Woman killed in Moorhead identified as suspect's mother

An appeal has been issued to find the suspect's vehicle, which remains missing.


Ticket details released for 5-week run of 'Hamilton' in Minneapolis

The tour of the production has been delayed twice due to the pandemic.


pexels bar face mask covid

Minnesota frontline workers can now apply for 'hero pay'

State legislators estimate around 667,000 Minnesotans will be eligible for the frontline worker pay.

coronavirus, covid-19

Walz, frontline workers to address Minnesotans Monday afternoon

The state's health care systems are getting stretched "dangerously" thin.

Governor Tim Walz

Walz: Nearly 1M Minnesotans have applied for frontline worker pay

The governor noted that the checks could be smaller depending on the number of people who apply.

dr. michael osterholm

Relief fund will support families of healthcare workers who died of COVID-19

Dr. Michael Osterholm has partnered with the St. Paul and Minnesota Foundation to launch the Frontline Families Fund.

State Capitol.

DFL and GOP come to agreement on UI, frontline worker bonuses

It follows months of negotiations over topping up the state's unemployment insurance


Nonfatal drug overdoses continued to increase during COVID-19 pandemic

They mirrored the trend of fatal overdoses seen during 2020.

PPE, coronavirus, covid-19

U of M's Dr. Michael Osterholm discusses the future of the pandemic

Osterholm has been preaching what he calls "straight talk" about the pandemic.