Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition launches statewide speed test initiative

COVID-19 has shown how important access to broadband is for every Minnesotan now that we are being asked to work, learn, or receive care from home. Broadband is no different than any other basic utility that people need. It is an essential part of our daily lives.

The Minnesota Speed Test Initiative wants to find out exactly where broadband service is available in Minnesota and what speeds households and businesses are receiving. A pilot program for speed testing is ongoing in St Louis, Koochiching and Itasca counties. The Range Association of Municipalities and Schools has been leading the way to create a different set of broadband maps based on approximately 7,000 broadband speed tests submitted by area residents and businesses. These speed tests, mapped by GEO Partners, clearly show the speeds available in cities and townships across the three northern Minnesota counties.

We encourage you to take the test at mnruralbroadbandcoalition.com/speedtest, and share it with others in your community as well. Continue reading

Reminder: Call for Border to Border Broadband Grant applications

Information provided by the Minnesota Department of Employment & Economic Development and the Office of Broadband Development:

The Office of Broadband Development (OBD) wishes to remind all potential broadband grant applicants for this year’s 2020 grant round that – prior to submitting a broadband grant application – every applicant must contact all existing wireline broadband providers in the proposed project area.  This pre-application outreach requires each applicant to include a description of the proposed project and a map of the project area with the written outreach.

Under current law, this must be completed no later than six weeks prior to the grant application deadline of September 30, 2020.  That makes the last allowable date for written (email) outreach to all existing providers in the project area to be August 19, 2020. Continue reading

Apply for broadband grants

The Office of Broadband Development (OBD) is soliciting applications for Border-to-Border Broadband grant funding of broadband infrastructure projects.

The application deadline is 4 p.m. on Sept. 30. Application submittals must be via electronic documents in Microsoft Word and PDF formats on a USB drive. Application proposals must be mailed to:

Office of Broadband Development
MN Department of Employment and Economic Development
First National Bank Building
332 Minnesota Street, Suite E200
St. Paul, MN 55101-1351

For questions regarding the application process, contact OBD staff at 651-259-7610 or deed.broadband@state.mn.us.

Governor Walz issues statewide mask mandate

Today Gov. Walz announced Executive Order 20.81 a statewide mandate requiring people in Minnesota to wear face coverings in public indoor spaces and indoor businesses. Masks are also required in outdoor spaces where social distancing is not possible. The order will go into effect Friday, July 24 at 11:59 p.m. Children under 5 years old and those with a disability or medical exemption are excused from the mandate.

As of today, 28 states in the country have implemented similar mask mandates. Gov. Walz said the goals of the executive order are to prevent overwhelming the healthcare system, keep businesses open, get kids back in school, and get closer to physically interacting with elderly relatives. More than 20 cities and local governments in Minnesota had imposed their own mask mandates before the Governor’s executive order, and local governments can still choose to impose stricter restrictions than the state mandate. Continue reading

Walz unveils $100M housing assistance plan

On Tuesday, Gov. Walz announced a $100 million housing assistance program aimed at preventing evictions and maintaining housing stability for individuals and families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Funds for the program will come from the state’s allocation made available through the federal CARES Act.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has hit families across the state hard. I’ve said throughout this fight that my top priority is Minnesotans’ safety, health, and wellbeing. And we know that stable housing is key to safety, health, and wellbeing,” said Gov. Walz in a press release announcing the program. “We hope this program will bring some relief to Minnesotans across the state who are struggling to afford their bills because of the pandemic.” Continue reading

Governor announces additional money for emergency child care grants

On July 7, Gov. Walz announced that he will allocate an additional $56.6 million from the state’s COVID-19 Relief Fund for emergency child care grants. These grants will support child care providers facing increased costs and decreased revenues due to the pandemic.

Eligible providers will receive a grant paid out over three months to help with the costs associated with adhering to the public health guidance. Family care providers will receive up to $1,200 per month and licensed child care centers will receive up to $8,500 per month. Grant awards will be scaled based on the number of eligible applicants. Eligibility criteria include:

  • Providers must have been open and caring for children as of June 15 and through the duration of the three-month grant period,
  • Demonstrate revenue losses or increased cost associated with COVID-19,
  • Provider must be providing financial incentives for working staff, and
  • Provider must have a license in good standing.

Continue reading

Notes from the Capitol – Special session edition

The first of what could be several special legislative sessions was held last week and into the weekend. Unfortunately, there was little agreement reached between the Republican-controlled Senate, the DFL-controlled House, and Governor Walz on most of the big-ticket items. As a result, it is likely that another special session will be called soon, possibly even within the next couple of weeks.

Accomplishments: Small business relief, child care assistance

Despite the incomplete finish to the special session, the Legislature was able to accomplish a few things.

Most notably, the Legislature passed — and Gov. Walz signed — a bill that created a small business relief grant program. As we have mentioned before, the program provides $60.3 million in grants to small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Half of the money will go to businesses in Greater Minnesota. Continue reading

State accepting applications for small business relief grants June 23-July 2

This week, the Legislature approved and Governor Walz signed a $60.3 million appropriation for grants for small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with $31.25 million dedicated to small businesses in Greater Minnesota. Today, DEED announced that the application period will open on June 23 and close at 5:00pm on Thursday, July 2 in accordance with the 10-day application period contained in the bill.

This is a bill that the Greater Minnesota Partnership worked closely on in the final weeks of the regular session and leading up to the special session, and we were pleased to see that the Legislature was able to pass it in the first hours of the special session last week. These funds are critically important to our communities, our entrepreneurs, and our families, and will help our businesses hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Continue reading

Bonding efforts fail to break logjam

Passing a robust bonding bill has been the GMNP’s top goal since before the pandemic and we had high hopes that the Legislature would follow through with their promises to get one done. As things stand today, the chances of a bonding bill passing during the special session are slim.

During a press conference on Thursday morning, House Majority Leader Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) stated that the House and Senate are close to an agreement on a bill. During his own press conference a few hours later, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-East Gull Lake) stated that legislative leaders have agreed on $1.35 billion as the size of the bill. Continue reading

New small-business relief grant program signed into law

One of the first things to happen during the special session was the passage by the House and concurrence by the Senate of a COVID-19 small business relief grant program. Gov. Walz signed the bill into law Tuesday.

The bill creates a $62.5 million grant program aimed at providing relief to businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on businesses ordered to halt operations by Gov. Walz’s executive orders. Of the grant total, $31.25 million will go to businesses in Greater Minnesota. The Greater Minnesota grants will be awarded to businesses via a partnership between the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and the six Initiative Foundations, with grantees receiving up to $10,000.

To be eligible for a grant, a business must be in Minnesota, owned by a permanent resident, and have a permanent physical location. Businesses must be in good standing with the state as of March 1, employ 50 or fewer full-time workers, and be able to demonstrate financial hardship as a result of the pandemic. Priority will be given to businesses that were restricted from operating at more than 50% capacity by executive order on May 18. Continue reading