Iron Range woes: Fundraiser helps food shelves, leaders seek government action

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A fundraising event Monday evening hosted by Iron Range lawmaker Sen. Tom Bakk took on some added urgency this year as nearly 2,000 mining employees on the Range have lost their jobs.

Bakk has hosted the fundraiser in St. Paul for the past nine years, to help stock food shelves in northeastern Minnesota.

He said Monday this year the need is more urgent because of the economic downturn on the Iron Range, which comes at the same time the rest of the state is faring much better, MPR News reports.

The steel industry is in a slump in part because foreign countries are illegally dumping their cheaper steel in the U.S. and depressing prices. That's led to a dramatic slowdown in mining activity on the range and the layoffs of nearly 2,000 employees in the past several months.

Bakk said that means food shelves and other aid organizations have more clients who need help; the event raised $120,000 which will all go to food shelves on the Range, the Associated Press reports.

State, federal assistance being sought

Several hundred workers who were laid off earlier in the year will see their unemployment benefits run out shortly - before the Legislature is scheduled to return in March.

So Bakk and Gov. Mark Dayton are pushing for a special legislative session in the next few weeks to extend benefits for mine workers. But so far, Republicans who control the House have been cool to the idea.

House Majority Leader Joyce Pepin told MPR News her GOP caucus is planning to discuss the idea during a private meeting Tuesday.

In the meantime, Dayton and other top political leaders have requested a meeting with President Obama to discuss possible federal action to help the U.S. steel industry.

According to the Star Tribune, Dayton wants Obama to impose tariffs on imported steel and investigate countries like China and India for unfair trade practices.

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, a Democrat who represents the Iron Range in Congress, wants to go even further than that and ban the import of all foreign steel for five years.

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