Minnesota Lawmakers OK $217M Financial Relief Package
Minnesota State Capitol building Shutterstock

Minnesota Lawmakers OK $217M Financial Relief Package

The funds are designed to serve as a stopgap measure until the federal government passes a relief bill of its own.
Minnesota State Capitol building Shutterstock

Minnesota lawmakers on Monday night signed off on a $216.5 million relief package to help small businesses hit hard by the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns.

The news provides a welcome sigh of relief for many business owners, though lawmakers have acknowledged that the package will only serve as a temporary stopgap measure until federal financial aid comes through.

Then there’s some uncertainty about when funds will reach businesses. Speaking to reporters on Monday, Rep. David Baker, R-Willmar, said that some of the money may not be distributed until early next month.

“Everyone knows the faster they move, the better our businesses will be and we will save more of them the faster we get it out,” Baker said in a Session Daily report from the Minnesota House. “Legislatively, they have to have all the money out by the middle of March, but we certainly hope it’s going to be within a matter of weeks, not months.”

Still, business groups are welcoming news of the package with guarded optimism. The legislation, which now goes to Gov. Tim Walz’s desk, would provide $114.8 million in grants, not loans, for small businesses. That chunk of funding would be administered by counties.

Another $88 million will be set aside for businesses that have lost at least 30 percent of their sales. Depending on the number of employees, each business will receive between $10,000 and $45,000 from that chunk of funding. The bill also provides another $14 million for movie theaters and convention spaces.

In a phone interview with TCB on Tuesday, Baker noted that the latter two chunks will likely be distributed much quicker than the county-level grants. “Businesses in those buckets should not have to apply. They don’t have to do anything to get that,” he said.

Laura Bordelon, senior VP of advocacy for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said her organization is “grateful and relieved.”

“It’s a well-crafted bill,” she said. “It’s targeted, which is good and important. It’s flexible, which is incredibly helpful. And hopefully, it’s going to be fast.”

Bordelon acknowledged that the bill is “absolutely a bridge” to federal financial relief. When the Minnesota Legislature resumes regular sessions, the Chamber will likely return to lobby for ongoing financial relief, which could include fee waivers or tax relief. She noted that the Chamber is continuing communications with Minnesota’s congressional delegation to hammer out details for a federal relief package.

Bordelon said the path to a federal package will be a “bumpy road,” but she’s optimistic that Congress will “get itself together” and get something passed.

In the meantime, there’s a lingering fear among many business owners that Walz will extend his “pause” on indoor dining and gyms. His latest order is set to expire Friday; he’s slated to provide an update on Wednesday.

Regardless of the governor’s choice, some businesses plan to reopen their doors this week. A group of businesses known as the “ReOpen Minnesota Coalition” has vowed to resume operations as normal, even after news of the financial relief package.

“If [Walz] extends the shutdown, they will open,” said Darius Teichroew, one of the group’s founders, in an email. “We have been told that the legislation does not tie the aid to adhering to the governor’s mandates.” On Tuesday, his group issued another statement saying that the financial relief package “amounts to a band-aid when a tourniquet is required.”

Bordelon said the Chamber is aware of the coalition’s plans, and that she understands the group’s frustrations. Her ultimate hope, though, is that the governor simply won’t extend restrictions again.