The legislature just entered the last 4 weeks of the legislative session, a time that would be busy, passing bills to be sent to conference committee and working towards agreements. COVID-19 has changed the way the legislature is currently operating, but I remain committed to addressing the many issues that have arisen within the past month. We will continue to work as quickly as possible to address issues that have arisen due to COVID.
Below are just some of the updates from the legislature this week. As always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need assistance finding the resources that will help you.
Minnesota soon could have highest COVID-19 testing capacity in nation
Since the COVID-19 emergency began, Governor Walz and public health experts have said a plan to increase and expand testing would be a critical piece of reopening parts of society. This week, state leaders announced a partnership between two entities that have been developing tests – Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota – that will provide testing capacity to health systems across the state.
The coordination among health plans will help ensure every person in the state with symptoms of COVID-19 receives a test. The goal is to have the structure fully established in the next three to four weeks, at which point the state would have capacity to provide 20,000 molecular tests and 15,000 serology (antibody) tests per day.
The plan is partly funded by $36 million from the COVID-19 Minnesota Fund that the Legislature approved in late March. In partnership with the Minnesota Department of Health, the Mayo Clinic and the U of M will create a central lab to accommodate the expanded testing and a virtual command center in coordination with the health systems to monitor daily testing needs and coordinate rapid responses to outbreaks.
Governor Walz announced this new capacity should allow Minnesota to be testing at a rate higher than the rest of the country and perhaps the world. However, he warned it is not a guarantee that everything will reopen quickly. It gives the state more power to identify hotspots and provide rapid response when outbreaks occur, but social distancing is still critically important until a vaccine or other therapeutics can be secured.
State leaders said every Minnesotan who needs a test will receive one, regardless of health insurance status or finances. The Department of Health is working on a website that will allow Minnesotans to identify where tests are available on any given day. In the meantime, health leaders recommend that those experiencing systems still call their provider before leaving their homes so proper instructions can be provided.
Executive order allows more businesses to reopen
Governor Walz signed a new executive order on Thursday to begin reopening businesses that are focused on non-customer-facing businesses. This new order will mainly affect manufacturing, industrial, and office settings. A list of conditions and further information about the order is available here.
Under the order, businesses will need to create a plan that demonstrates employee hygiene processes and cleaning and disinfecting practices. Businesses will still be encouraged to allow those employees who can work from home to do so, and sick employees will still be required to stay at home.
Executive Order 20-40 makes no changes to the definitions of Critical Workers/Sectors from Governor Walz’s Executive Order 20-33. Critical Workers/Sectors can be open as they were before this order. This order allows non-Critical Sector Workers in industrial and office settings to go back to work, with certain conditions.
The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry has introduced a template for businesses to use in creating plans that adhere to health guidelines that would allow them to re-open.
The template for businesses is available online here: www.dli.mn.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/COVID_19_business_plan_template.pdf
More updates for workers and businesses are available at: www.dli.mn.gov/updates.
Funding for COVID-19 impacted businesses moving through MN Senate
The Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy heard a proposal this week that would provide additional assistance to COVID-19-impacted businesses. The proposal appropriates an additional $20 million to the state-run Minnesota Emergency Loan Program and expands eligibility. The loan program is designed for those impacted by Executive Orders 20-04, 20-08, and 20-09.
The bill also provides $10 million for a new grant program that will be awarded through the Minnesota Initiative Foundation in Greater Minnesota and the Otto Bremer Trust in the metropolitan area. There are two components to the $10 million grants that may be made available. One component focuses on businesses located in Minnesota who employ 10 or fewer workers and can show financial hardship as a result of the pandemic. The other program would reserve a portion of the $10 million for microbusinesses – which are defined as having four or fewer employees – that are located in Minnesota, can show financial hardship as a result of the pandemic, and have a combination of assets and annual sales of less than $250,000.
The funding contained in this proposal is entirely separate from the federal money appropriated for federal business programs by the U.S. Senate this week (SF 4481)