Legislature passes COVID relief bill

The Legislature convened this week for its seventh—and final—special session of 2020, triggered by Gov. Walz’s extension of his emergency order due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When gathered on Monday, the Legislature passed a bill that provides significant grants for businesses impacted by the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as increased unemployment benefits for displaced workers. The Governor signed the bill on Wednesday.

The legislation provides $216 million in relief for businesses directly or indirectly impacted by the business shutdowns or capacity reductions that have occurred since April. Of that amount, $88 million will be provided to bars, restaurants, breweries/wineries/distilleries, fitness centers, and bowling alleys via direct payments from the Department of Revenue. Payments will be between $10,000 and $45,000 per qualified business based on the number of employees. To be eligible, a business must have experienced a 30% reduction in taxable receipts between April 1, 2020 through Sept. 30, 2020 when compared to the same time period in 2019. These checks will be processed in the coming weeks.

A second fund of $114.8 million was created for a county-based grant program for any business directly or indirectly impacted by the COVID-19 executive orders. The funds will be distributed to counties based on population, with each county receiving at least $256,250. Each county will be responsible for identifying which eligible businesses receive grants and for how much. The grants must be distributed by March 15, 2021.

A third fund was created for movie theaters and convention centers. Each movie theater will receive $15,000 per screen for the first two screens and $10,000 per screen for each additional screen up to a maximum grant of $150,000. A total of $5 million is available for convention centers with a capacity greater than 1,500, and grants will be processed by the Department of Employment and Economic Development based on size and workforce.

The legislation passed this week also extends unemployment benefits an additional 13 weeks, through April 10.

One critical area that has been heavily impacted by the pandemic that was not addressed in this package is child care. Since April, the state has provided monthly grants to child care providers in an effort to stabilize the market and protect providers from the sudden departure of families from their services as the pandemic took hold. As we know, demand for child care services is low right now, but as the pandemic ends families and businesses will once again need child care.

Between April and December, grants funded through the state’s allocation of the federal CARES Act dollars have helped replace providers’ lost revenue and encourage them to stay in the industry at a time when their minimal profits have all but evaporated. Unfortunately, those funds have run out, which means come January the grants that have propped up the child care sector in Greater Minnesota will come to an end. Without a renewal of the grant program, we anticipate a significant number of child care providers—both family care and centers—will close their businesses. As a result, we will be asking the Legislature to take action during the first week of the 2021 session to renew the grants.