OP-ED: Legislators trying to lessen impact of pandemic response
March 27, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our daily lives in unimaginable ways. This is a time of tremendous uncertainty with the situation evolving hour by hour and workers, families, and businesses are working to adapt to the new landscape in which we find ourselves living.
If there’s anything to find comfort in during such a challenging time, it’s that Minnesota is a leader when it comes to public health. With world-class labs at the Minnesota Department of Health and innovation at institutions like the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota, our state is in a prime position to plan for, prepare for, and respond to this pandemic.
I was proud that lawmakers quickly worked on a bipartisan basis to deliver funding to address COVID-19, first with $21 million for our public health response, and soon after, an investment of $200 million to ensure our hospitals, health clinics, long-term care providers, ambulance services and other health care providers can treat Minnesotans who may become afflicted with the condition.
Throughout this challenging time, Gov. Tim Walz has displayed steady, thoughtful leadership for which we should all be grateful. Part of this leadership has included difficult decisions that — while they aren’t universally popular — are necessary to protect Minnesotans. The governor declared all schools closed from March 18 through March 27 to allow educators to develop distance learning plans to ensure students can continue to learn during the pandemic. As part of this order, he’s ensured elementary-age children of health care professionals, first responders, and other emergency workers can receive child care during the day, and school meals have been made available, too.
He’s now extended the order into May.
Following these actions, to prevent COVID-19 from spreading among groups congregating, Walz made the difficult decision to close bars, restaurants, gyms, theaters, and many other gathering places. This has led to nearly instant economic hardship for many workers and business owners alike who have suddenly seen their income slow to a halt through no fault of their own.
To help struggling Minnesotans, the governor made unemployment insurance immediately available for impacted Minnesotans, who are encouraged to apply for benefits online at uimn.org. Help for businesses is also available, with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development launching a Small Business Emergency Loan program (details available at mn.gov/deed) and the U.S. Small Business Administration offering small businesses and private nonprofits loans up to $2 million through its Disaster Loan Assistance Program (details available at disaster loan.sba.gov).
Gov. Walz has also issued several other executive orders during this peacetime emergency. Examples of such actions include a ban on price gouging, a moratorium on evictions, a 30-day special health insurance enrollment period, and relaxation of certain requirements to better ensure vulnerable Minnesotans can receive services including people with disabilities, those needing mental health support, those depending on food, housing, and other critical public health programs and services.
The legislature is taking seriously social distancing guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and as such, is largely working remotely. While many of us aren’t spending a great deal of time at the capitol, we’re still working on solutions to address the public health and economic consequences of the pandemic. Lawmakers are working to reach bipartisan consensus on measures to ensure workers have paid time off for COVID-19-related illness or business closure, ensure hourly workers and contract workers at our schools get paid, deliver support to child care providers, address food and housing insecurity, provide licensing flexibility for businesses, and more.
I’m most inspired by the regular Minnesotans stepping up to look out for one another and help our state overcome this crisis, especially our front-line health care professionals. Our entire state at every level, from the governor, to legislators, to business owners, and — most importantly — our residents, are doing everything we can to respond to this pandemic. This is a challenging time unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. I encourage Minnesotans to keep doing their part: wash your hands, cover your cough with your sleeve, stay home if you aren’t feeling well, and practice social distancing by staying at least six feet away from others, and avoid going out into public places unless you absolutely must. We can “flatten the curve” and ensure Minnesotans remain safe and healthy.
Rep. Mike Sundin, a DFLer from Esko, serves the residents of Carlton, Pine and St. Louis counties in the Minnesota House and chairs the House Labor Committee. He encourages constituents to contact him at 651-296-4308.
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