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Minnesota Legislature passes support package for COVID-hit businesses, unemployed workers

The deal will help businesses shut down during Gov. Tim Walz's four-week "pause."
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The Minnesota Legislature passed a financial support package that will help businesses and workers 

At the urging of Gov. Tim Walz with no sign of a stimulus bill being passed at the federal level, state lawmakers passed a bipartisan bill that will provide $216 million in aid to restaurants, bars, gyms, and entertainment venues hit by the latest four-week shutdown, imposed by Walz as COVID-19 cases spiraled in Minnesota.

The package also extends unemployment benefits for a further 13 weeks, coming just in time with the current round of benefits set to end on Dec. 26.

Of the $216 million for businesses, $114.5 million will be distributed by counties to hard-hit local businesses. A further $82-88 million will be available to bars, restaurants, entertainment venues and gyms, which will receive an amount based on the size of their business and how badly they've been affected by COVID measures. It is expected to help an estimated 5,800 small businesses.

A separate pot of $14 million will be made available to movie theaters and convention centers.

Other aspects of the bill include an extension of the deadline for schools to collect forms for free or reduced school lunches, which was due to be today, Dec. 15, but has been pushed back to Jan 4.

Not all proposals put forward made it into the final bill. The DFL had wanted to include additional aid for child care workers, and a one-off $500 payment to struggling families.

St. Paul DFL Sen. Sandy Pappas put forward an amendment that would allow restaurants and bars to sell to-go cocktails, lift the limits on growler sales, and expand the maximum amount of beer and wine they can sell with takeout. This was met by GOP opposition however, and failed 31-35 in the Senate.

Nonetheless, the final bill got overwhelming support in both the House and the Senate.

“Minnesotans have been struggling economically for months due to the pandemic. Today, we were able to provide some assistance to more than 100,000 families who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own,” said Rep. Mohamud Noor (DFL - Minneapolis), who was among the DFL's key negotiators.

“Our action today will also help businesses in hard-hit industries who have suspended operations to help keep Minnesotans safe during this health emergency. We hope the federal government also steps in soon to provide additional help until the worst of this pandemic passes.”

Rep. Dave Baker (R-Willmar), who has been one of the leading voices in pushing for aid for the hospitality industry, said: "This package will help our businesses and employees who are struggling and I hope will be a bridge until additional help comes from the federal government. I hope it makes it in time for the businesses who were shut down with just two days notice.

"Our message to the governor is that we can't shut down our businesses again without a plan — we hope he will work with us so we can react more quickly in the future."

Gov. Tim Walz is expected to make a decision on whether he will extend his four-week pause on Wednesday.

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