STATEWIDE- For Minnesota’s restaurants, bars, fitness centers, and others laboring under the COVID-19 restrictions imposed Nov. 20 by Gov. Tim Walz, the catch phrase for this week is “the …
STATEWIDE- For Minnesota’s restaurants, bars, fitness centers, and others laboring under the COVID-19 restrictions imposed Nov. 20 by Gov. Tim Walz, the catch phrase for this week is “the state giveth, and the state taketh away.”
The Minnesota Legislature approved a $242 million COVID-19 relief package on Monday targeted for the state’s hardest hit businesses and the unemployed, but in return Walz was set Wednesday to continue closures for select businesses through the holidays.
“Governor Walz will lay out a strategy tomorrow (Wednesday) that prioritizes in-person learning for elementary students and continues to protect health care capacity by keeping indoor dining at bars and restaurants on pause through the holiday season,” press secretary Teddy Tschann said in a release Tuesday evening. “This plan will help bridge the gap to vaccination.”
Walz’s continuation of the shutdown comes on the heels of a bill designed to get short-term relief into the hands of business owners quickly as Congress wrestles with a new COVID-19 package that has been on the table since the Democrats introduced a massive bill last May.
The business relief money will be divided into three pots:
$100 million will be distributed by the state Department of Revenue, which will use tax records to find the businesses impacted by the most recent closure and have lost at least 30 percent of revenue compared to a year ago. Businesses will not need to make applications for the money, and checks could arrive by the end of December or early in the new year.
$14 million will be doled out by the Department of Employment and Economic Development, which will process requests from convention centers with capacity of 1,500 or more and from movie theaters based on the number of screens. Not included in these grants are live music venues or performing arts theaters.
$112 million will be distributed by counties, based mostly on population, for more-flexible grants to businesses within each jurisdiction. These grants would be determined by county officials and could be done in-house or contracted out to a bank or other entity. Money from this fund is expected to go to businesses not covered by the Department of Revenue checks, businesses such as dry cleaners, music venues, recently opened restaurants or a business that lost revenue but didn’t hit the 30 percent threshold to get money from the Department of Revenue.
But a coalition of small businesses says the aid is too little too late as they plan to re-open their doors on Friday in defiance of Walz’s order.
The ReOpen Minnesota Coalition, which has garnered more than 17,000 followers on its Facebook page, released a list last night of 212 businesses, including restaurants, bars, fitness centers, and others that will try to cut their losses by risking enforcement actions from Attorney General Keith Ellison to open for business.
Ellison recently filed court actions against restaurants/bars, while another restaurant had its licenses revoked for COVID-related health violations among employees.
As of Tuesday, 139 restaurants and bars have had COVID outbreaks large enough to be investigated and reported by the state, including 59 in October and 28 in November.
“The relief fund package approved by state leadership amounts to a band-aid when a tourniquet is required,” said ReOpen Minnesota organizer Darius Teichroew in a statement released Tuesday. “The last nine months have needlessly put small business owners and employees in the regrettable position of watching their dreams evaporate before their eyes. It is far too late to course-correct with half measures. Just this last weekend one esteemed national news journal called out this egregious restriction as ‘The Restaurant Lockdown Massacre’ and we couldn’t agree more.”
While the boycott of Walz’s order is intended to drive home a point, the overall impact may be minimal. The National Restaurant Association estimates that Minnesota has about 200,000 restaurants and bars, and Walz and others have praised how the overwhelming majority of them have responded to the public health crisis, most at significant cost to their business and employees.
The recommendation to do whatever is possible to keep elementary schools in in-person learning mode is a significant departure from guidance in August that set benchmarks for transitioning to hybrid and distance learning models. The move responds to ongoing research and findings that indicate the health risk to elementary students is low, while the effect on their education and social and emotional needs from distance learning is increasingly harmful.
Unemployment payments have been extended to April. These payment were due to run out this month.
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