The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented, difficult time. I want to thank our health care professionals, first responders, educators, truck drivers, retail workers and everyone else who is critical to helping our world function in this challenging time. I’m also inspired by the Minnesotans who have offered to sew CDC-compliant masks, donate to food banks, and give blood. Health care organizations have stepped up, including Mayo Clinic which now has the capacity to process 4,000 tests per day and has helped eliminate our state’s testing backlog. A resourceful U of M anesthesiologist has created a cheaper ventilator and is in contact with CEOs to acquire funding to start production and is awaiting FDA approval. I recently submitted a column to the Hibbing Daily Tribune sharing my thoughts on the situation.
Wednesday, Governor Tim Walz issued a “Stay at Home” order effective starting this Friday. For two weeks, Minnesotans are asked to stay home except for essential travel such as health and safety activities, outdoor activities, or getting necessary supplies like food. One of the main goals of this order is to buy us time to increase capacity within our health care system, especially the number of ICU beds and ventilators. The Governor also extended the period in which bars, restaurants and gathering places will be closed until May 1, and schools will implement distance learning until May 4. Workers in critical sectors are exempt from the Governor’s executive order, which includes iron ore mining and processing.
I want to share my deepest sympathies with Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan, who recently lost her brother as a result of COVID-19. I also want to give my best to Governor Walz, who is in self-quarantine right now after encountering someone afflicted with the condition. The best way we can slow the spread is to stay home unless absolutely necessary.
Legislature to Convene today
The Minnesota House and Minnesota Senate have worked in a bipartisan fashion to help our health care providers prepare for, plan for, and respond to the pandemic. Last week, lawmakers unanimously approved a $200 million emergency funding package to help ensure hospitals, clinics, ambulance services, and other health care providers are equipped to deliver the care Minnesotans need.
The Legislature is currently on a temporary recess to ensure we’re following social distancing guidelines. While many of us might not be at the Capitol physically, we continue to work on solutions addressing COVID-19 and Minnesotans’ health and their economic wellbeing are at the forefront of our efforts. Today at noon, the Minnesota House will meet in session to consider measures like a COVID-19 Minnesota Fund to protect Minnesotans from the pandemic, support for food, housing, and child care, certain licensing exemptions and more. Learn more about what’s on deck for today here. While collecting public testimony in person isn’t practical at this time, we’re still committed to offering the public a chance to weigh in. If you want to share your feedback with lawmakers, you can submit it on this form on the House’s COVID-19 portal.
Gov. Walz Executive Orders
Governor Walz has displayed thoughtful, measured leadership during this crisis and has worked to inform the public. Most days he holds press briefings at 2pm, which you can listen to on Minnesota Public Radio. To address the crisis, the Governor has issued a series of executive orders, some of which mirror our legislative efforts. Last Friday, he issued a pair of them to ensure critical services for some of the state’s most vulnerable residents can continue by giving the Department of Human Services some flexibility from certain requirements. This will help ensure that services for people with disabilities, mental health support, childcare, food support, housing, and other critical public health programs and services can continue.
Also Friday he signed an executive order prohibiting price gouging during a peacetime emergency. We have heard reports of extreme price hikes for common household necessities. Minnesotans can report instances of price gouging by calling the Attorney General’s office at 651-296-3353 or 800-657-3787. Complaints can be made online as well.
Governor Walz and MNsure are also launching a 30-day special enrollment period for qualified individuals who are currently without insurance in response to the potential growth of COVID-19 cases. This special enrollment period began Monday, March 23 and runs through April 21, giving uninsured individuals 30 days to enroll in health insurance coverage through MNsure.org.
To help ensure housing stability for Minnesotans, Monday he issued an order placing a moratorium on evictions.
Help available for displaced workers
Last week, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, Governor Walz ordered that bars, restaurants, gyms, theaters, and most other public gathering places be closed. This was a difficult step, and as a result, workers and business owners alike are facing an uncertain economic situation for themselves and their families due to no fault of their own. As challenging as this step is, it highlights what’s at stake for us to take this epidemic seriously.
Unemployment Insurance benefits are available, and displaced workers are encouraged to apply online at www.uimn.org.
Many restaurants are still open for business offering take-out, curbside delivery, and drive-thru options. If you’re able, consider supporting a local business for dinner or lunch.
Help for Small Businesses Available
The U.S. Small Business Administration has launched a Disaster Loan Assistance Program. The federal agency is accepting applications for businesses impacted by COVID-19, with loans of up to $2 million available to help small businesses and private nonprofits overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing. For more information, call the SBA's disaster assistance customer service center at 1-800-659-2955 or visit the COVID-19 section of their website.
Additionally, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development has established a Small Business Emergency Loan program that can help bridge the gap for businesses until their federal loans are approved, offering immediate assistance. Loans are available between $2,500 and $35,000, are 50 percent forgivable, and have a 0 percent interest rate. Learn more here.
Income Tax Filing Deadline Extended
The Minnesota Department of Revenue has announced that taxpayers filing their individual income tax returns for tax year 2019 now have until Wednesday, July 15, 2020 to file, without any penalties or interest. This deadline conforms with the deadline for federal tax returns, also recently pushed back to July 15. For more information, please visit the Department of Revenue’s website.
Friends, I know these are challenging times. We must remain vigilant and do our part to not only “flatten the curve”, but now to push the infection rate out a few more weeks. This will allow us to ramp up health care capacity and resources and to provide care for as many hospitalized patients as possible. It’s important to remember medical advances are happening daily! Pushing the date out buys us more time to make improvements to existing treatments and allows for the discovery of new ones. Please, be patient and cooperate for your own well being and that of others. Recent modeling through the University of Minnesota indicates these are the best measures for a successful outcome!
I hope you’ll continue to reach out with your input and ideas, or if I can be of assistance in any way. My email is email@example.com and phone number is 651-296-0172. I also invite you to “like” or “follow” my Facebook page here. It’s an honor to represent you.