Walz, House Republicans release separate economic relief plans to help small businesses, workers

Gov. Tim Walz addresses reporters on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. Photo: KSTP. Gov. Tim Walz addresses reporters on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020.

Josh Skluzacek & Rebecca Omastiak
Updated: November 24, 2020 06:07 PM
Created: November 24, 2020 09:47 AM

Tuesday, Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota House Republicans announced separate COVID-19 economic relief plans aimed at helping small businesses and workers struggling amid the pandemic and current restrictions.

According to Walz's office, his plan includes measures to:

  • Provide direct aid to businesses through the Business Assistance Program,
  • Waive state regulatory fees for bars, restaurants, breweries, event centers and others,
  • Implement eviction moratoriums so small businesses can stay in their locations,
  • Extend unemployment benefits for 13 weeks,
  • Provide a $500 one-time emergency payment to struggling families,
  • Create a one-time grant to restaurants for providing food to health care workers, homeless shelters and long-term care facilities,
  • Establish a tax credit for businesses that donate food that would otherwise be thrown away.

"Our small businesses and the Minnesotans whose livelihoods depend on them are bearing a huge weight for the good of their entire community. As cases skyrocket and hospital capacity is pushed to the brink, our small businesses should not have to bear the financial consequences alone. We’re in this together," Walz said. "I am committed to turning over every stone to find funding that will help make sure our businesses stay afloat, our workers are supported, and our families can put food on the table."

"In the restaurant industry, we are all too familiar with 90-hour work weeks," Mike Runyon, co-owner of The Nook in St. Paul, said. "We know what it's like to wake up and head into work feeling like you just went to bed two minutes ago. And we're not out here saving lives! We understand the urgent need to support our health care workers and protect hospital capacity right now. But as we know, the hospitality industry is drowning. There's no stimulus money or extra unemployment for our staff. We are in desperate need for our governments to step in and help during these restrictions."

The governor's office says more than $100 million has been invested in local businesses during the pandemic, plus another $840 million to support local governments, much of which has gone to small businesses.

Walz is expected to announce a special legislative session to pass an economic relief package as soon as lawmakers agree on the measures.

Tuesday, Minnesota House Republicans also held a news conference to discuss efforts to provide COVID-19 relief aid to businesses affected by recent additional COVID-19 restrictions.

According to House Republicans, the "Main Street Relief Act" is a package of proposals that is "headlined by a $400 million grant fund designed to help restaurants, bars, breweries, bowling alleys, gyms, and other establishments that were ordered to close or limit operations last week with less than 48 hours notice."

In addtion to the $400 million grant program, the Main Street Relief Act proposal includes three months of sales tax relief for businesses limited to takeout or curbside-only operations, and three months of sales tax relief that begins upon reopening for businesses that are currently required to be completely closed.

The Main Street Relief Act proposal also includes temporarily doubling the current cap for takeout beer, wine, and liquor sales and granting flexibility to sell products in containers up to 64 ounces. The proposal also suggests waiving the state fee for establishments that sell alcohol until 2 a.m. 

Reps. Keith Franke (54A) and John Poston (9A) talked about the efforts their businesses have taken to meet state requirements, including working to be in compliance through a complete shutdown, outdoor-only dining, slowly-increased indoor capacity, and a readiness to close at 10 p.m.

Working to make adjustments through those changes "has cost a lot of money," Poston said, mentioning construction work to build a bigger patio and buying more outdoor heaters plus ionizers.

Franke, meanwhile, said, a key to supporting restaurants and bars during this time is to bring everyone together with discussions about COVID-19 aid.

"This pandemic is not a partisan issue," Franke said, also encouraging cities and counties to work with individual businesses on taking a look at waiving certain fees temporarily.

The legislation also pushes for the reopening of gyms and fitness centers before Dec. 18.

On that topic, Rep. Lisa Demuth (13A) talked about how critical fitness centers are during the pandemic for Minnesotans to maintain physical and mental health. She introduced physical therapist Cait Larsen who said with longer shutdowns of fitness centers, there could be an increase in mental health challenges, such as depression. Larsen also mentioned that many physical therapists work out of gyms and that work is difficult to accomplish when those facilities are closed.

Larsen suggested things to consider in order to keep gyms open during the pandemic, including rearranging equipment to create enough social distancing space between machines, new cleaning systems, added air purification options, and requiring all visitors and staff to wear masks during workouts.

In some of the final comments during Tuesday's news conference, Rep. Dave Baker (17B) said Minnesota is "very lucky" in that it has more than $2 billion in its rainy day account. He said he's also optimistic Minnesota lawmakers can work together, across the aisle, on a relief plan. He said vaccine progress is also encouraging news.

Though Baker said it may be difficult to get a bill written and ready by the end of the week, taking into account the Thanksgiving holiday this week, he said he hopes to get legislation moving swiftly for businesses to have money in their pockets within 30 days.

View that full news conference below:




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