Special session Monday to focus on COVID-19 relief for Minnesota businesses, workers

After disagreeing on how long unemployment benefits should last, it appears lawmakers have reached a deal.

The Minnesota Legislature will convene Monday afternoon for its seventh special session of the year, during which lawmakers are expected to pass a COVID-19 relief bill to help businesses and workers impacted by the pandemic.

The governor and House Republicans previously shared what they'd like to see included in a relief package in late November, with Walz eyeing a package worth $300-$600 million

And last week, lawmakers said they'd reached an agreement on support for businesses.

A Senate proposal has $216 million in financial relief for impacted businesses, including about $100 million that would go to restaurants, bars, and gyms impacted by the latest four-week "pause." Another $102 million would go to counties to distribute to businesses at the local level and $14 million would benefit conference centers and movie theaters. 

The business relief proposal does not include any significant changes to state alcohol laws to allow off-sale cocktails, which the hospitality industry has said would help restaurants and bars bring in revenue. 

Lawmakers have also reportedly reached a deal on extending unemployment benefits for the more than 100,000 Minnesotans who are slated to lose their benefits at the end of the month. 

According to reports, Democrats and Republicans agreed to a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits for unemployed workers who are nearing their maximum benefit amount

The Democrat-controlled House had pushed for a 13-week extension of unemployment (end date of April 24), while the Republican-controlled Senate wanted it capped at about five weeks (end date of March 20), according to reports. Based on current usage, unemployment benefits cost about $40 million per week, MPR News said.

Democrats also sought to provide a one-time $500 stimulus check to about 30,000 Minnesota families. It's unclear if any stimulus money was agreed upon. 

House Republicans are expected to share details of their relief proposal at 10 a.m. Monday. 

The House and Senate will both be in session starting at 3 p.m. 

Announcement Wednesday on executive order

Gov. Tim Walz not only convened the special session to pass COVID relief but because the Minnesota Constitution requires him to do so if he wants to extend his peacetime emergency powers beyond 30 days. Doing this will allow both chambers to decide if they want to revoke the governor's powers.

Walz is facing a growing backlash from hundreds of businesses that are planning to reopen despite the executive order, according to ReOpen Minnesota. Meanwhile, he's also been sued by a parent group called Let Them Play MN demanding youth sports be reinstated. 

The governor's executive order that puts restrictions on youth sports, bars, restaurants, gyms and other businesses is in effect until Dec. 18. Walz now is not expected to announce until Wednesday whether he'll extend the "pause." Journalist Blois Olson says Walz's decision to push back the announcement from Friday to Monday to Wednesday may mean good news for lifting some elements of the restrictions, but that will remain to be seen.

Walz said last week that data suggest the mitigation measures in place to improve the COVID-19 situation in Minnesota are working as cases and hospitalizations are dipping after surging for the past several weeks.

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