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Heads of state celebrate frontline worker bonuses and insurance deal

Nurses and employers gathered with state leaders Monday at the Minnesota Capitol to celebrate the biggest achievement yet of this legislative session, which will result in hundreds of thousands of pandemic frontline workers. receiving payments of about $750 and preventing major tax increases for businesses.

It was a moment that workers and business owners had waited months to see, as lawmakers were unable to broker a deal until the final weeks of a legislative session that was tinged with politics. electoral.

“That $750 at the Minnesota median income, that’s equal to a month’s rent. That equals groceries … That’s money that can be put back into their savings accounts. So that’s important,” said Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, as she tried to hold back tears. “But we still have work to do.”

Nurses, long-term care workers, educators, first responders, child care providers, grocery store staff and others who were unable to work from home when COVID-19 hit will be eligible for bounties, said DFL House chair Melissa Hortman. Lawmakers estimated that 667,000 people would be eligible for the payments, totaling $500 million.

Monday’s signing of the bill was solemn. DFL Governor Tim Walz had already signed the deal on Friday, the culmination of a long-running dispute between legislative leaders.

“It’s a positive. I’m really grateful to the legislators who worked on this and all those who kept the faith. It bodes well,” Walz said. Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan called the action an “incredibly important first step” but said they also needed to reach agreements on earned sick leave, paid family and medical leave and increased child care. children.

It will likely take 10 to 12 weeks before frontline worker checks start to come out, Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Roslyn Robertson said. A supplier will create a system over the next two weeks where workers can apply for money and then there will be an application period, she said.

Many people don’t know they are eligible, Walz said, and the state will work to publicize the money and how to apply.

Business owners Raji Eid and Tez Hailu stood alongside the governor at Monday’s event at the Capitol. The deal lawmakers reached last week includes $2.7 million to replenish the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund that has been drained by the flood of jobless claims as workers have been laid off during the pandemic.

Many companies have seen their potential unemployment insurance tax rates rise significantly this year to fill the depleted trust fund. Walz and Senate Republicans had been pushing throughout the legislative session for a quick deal to funnel some of the projected budget surplus of nearly $9.3 billion into the fund to prevent interest rate hikes. ‘taxation.

As business owners anxiously awaited a resolution on their tax bills, labor advocacy groups demanding checks were also in legislative limbo.

Lawmakers had agreed last June to spend $250 million on “worker bonuses” for employees who had to perform critical work in person throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. But negotiations to determine exactly who should get the money and how much they should get broke down in the fall. As the legislative session approached, the Democrats demanded a much larger sum: they wanted the state to spend $1 billion and hand out checks for $1,500. The new law is a compromise approach, the heads of state said.

“This deal took a lot longer than any of us had hoped. But at the same time, I think the outcome was probably better than expected,” said the Senate Majority Leader of the GOP, Jeremy Miller.

Businesses were required to submit payroll tax payments for the first quarter of the year by April 30, state officials said. Employers who paid the highest rates can get an automatic credit to their Unemployment Insurance account, which will go toward next quarter’s payment, said Department of Jobs and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove . It will land in the accounts in about seven to 10 days, he said.

However, business owners who want the state to write them a check will have to wait longer, he said.

“If you need the money now, it’s going to take us – we don’t know, a month, two months,” Grove said.

Eid and Hailu’s company, EIDS Cleaning & Consulting, operates on a shoestring budget, Hailu said, and the two said a large tax hike would have taken a heavy hit.

“We would have been done. Honestly. Literally, that would have been impossible,” Eid said.