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Minnesota congressional delegation unites for COVID response

Emergency package includes about $1.2 billion for Minnesota's general fund.

Minnesotans in Congress lined up Friday behind the massive, $2.2 trillion stimulus package to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, even as they looked ahead to what else is needed to respond to the unprecedented crisis.

“It’s probably the most important bill a member of Congress has ever voted on,” said Rep. Dean Phillips, a Democrat who represents the western Twin Cities suburbs.

“People are literally losing their lives, getting sick, businesses are shuttering. We need to respond,” said Rep. Pete Stauber, a Republican from northeastern Minnesota.

The House passed the measure Friday by voice vote, following unanimous passage in the U.S. Senate late Wednesday night.

The measure, negotiated by the Trump administration and congressional leaders, includes $500 billion in loans and guarantees to businesses, state and local governments, including about $1.2 billion for Minnesota’s general fund; $350 billion in loans for companies with less than 500 employees; $260 billion in emergency unemployment insurance; $150 billion for health care providers, including direct grants to hospitals.

There are also direct, one-time payments to individuals capped at $1,200 per person, a number that shrinks for those who earn above $75,000 a year; and billions more for disaster relief, schools, transportation systems, veterans, food stamp beneficiaries and numerous other recipients.

While support from Minnesota’s 10-member delegation was on track to be unanimous, lawmakers from both parties raised concerns both about what was left out of the package, and the process of getting it done.

Rep. Angie Craig, a Democrat who represents southeastern Minnesota including some Twin Cities counties, said there’s not enough money for small towns and cities that are likely to lose major tax revenue due to shuttered businesses in their communities.

“I expect to support the bill and keep fighting for additional needs,” Craig said.

Stauber criticized Democrats for what he described as “a wish list of provisions that have absolutely nothing to do with mitigating the impact of coronavirus.”

The new stimulus package has faced some criticism from the left for what critics have called too much emphasis on bailing out corporations and businesses over the needs of idled workers.

“The largest corporations stand to access hundreds of billions of dollars with little public oversight,” TakeAction Minnesota, a progressive advocacy and organizing group, said in a news release Thursday. “Meanwhile, the safety net for many classifications of workers and undocumented working families is nonexistent.”

While acknowledging some of those concerns, Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minneapolis, said the crisis is too big to wait.

“We have a package that will help relieve some economic anxieties, help create relief for many parts of our state and country,” Omar said. Still, she said Congress and the Trump administration would likely need to consider more direct relief to individuals.

“I know many of my constituents are looking at relief of $1,200 and going, what’s this going to allow me to do?” Omar said.

Rep. Tom Emmer of central Minnesota also supported the stimulus measure. He was one of 40 House Republicans to vote against the prior coronavirus response bill earlier this month, saying lawmakers had been given virtually no time to consider massive, far-reaching legislation.

The latest package “will give medical professionals and financial institutions the tools they need to help our nation weather this storm,” Emmer said Friday.

Minnesota lawmakers say the full delegation has collaborated in response to the crisis, including joining in conference calls every few days. And several Minnesota members pushed provisions that made it into the stimulus bill and the previous COVID response legislation.

Phillips had been pushing for a congressional oversight panel that will oversee federal COVID-19 spending. It was included in the stimulus bill. “To me that seemed mandatory,” Phillips said.

Rep. Betty McCollum of St. Paul helped secure $1 billion in block grants to community action organizations to help low-income Americans suffering financial hardships.

Omar sponsored a measure that was tucked into the previous COVID legislation, which allowed students whose school was canceled to keep receiving federally subsidized free lunches.

A provision backed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar relieves small businesses from having to pay principal, interest or fees on federal loans for the next six months.