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Gov. Walz, House Republicans unveil separate COVID-19 relief packages

Walz's plan includes direct aid to businesses, extending unemployment 13 weeks and enlisting restaurants and businesses to feed the hungry.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Governor Tim Walz rook the wraps off a COVID-19 relief package Tuesday designed to help keep businesses, displaced workers and families afloat until the pandemic has passed.

Speaking in front of The Nook restaurant in St. Paul, Walz detailed the three point plan, saying owner Mike Runyon and his family are the perfect example of how fallout from the coronavirus has impacted Minnesotans. "A microcosm of a family business," Walz said of the famous burger joint. "These are the folks who are really being impacted by COVID-19."

Meanwhile, House Republicans unveiled their own relief plan.

The plan being pushed by the Walz administration involves three tiers: 

Keeping small businesses afloat

    • Provide direct aid to businesses through Business Assistance Program
    • Waive state and regulatory fees for bars, restaurants, event centers, craft breweries, and more
    • Establish eviction moratorium so small businesses can stay in their locations

Supporting workers struggling to get by

    • Extend unemployment benefits for an additional 13 weeks, helping as many as 100,000 workers whose benefits currently end next month
    • Provide a $500 one-time emergency payment to struggling families

Helping Minnesota families put food on the table

    • Establish one-time grant to restaurants to provide food for healthcare workers, homeless shelters, and long-term care facilities
    • Provide a tax credit for businesses that donate food that would otherwise spoil or be thrown away

The House Republicans' plan, the "Main Street Relief Act," also featured monetary aid and sales tax relief for businesses. Unlike Walz's proposal, it centers greater flexibility for liquor takeout and calls to reopen gyms. A news release listed five key areas of the plan:

  • Grant program for businesses: "A $400 million grant program for businesses who have been impacted most by the recent executive orders." The grants would use CARES Act funding and be distributed by county-level governments. 
  • Sales tax relief: "A 3 month sales tax holiday for businesses that have been limited to takeout or curbside-only operations, and a 3 month sales tax holiday that begins upon reopening for businesses that are currently mandated to be closed altogether."
  • Liquor flexibility: Temporarily doubling the current cap for takeout beer, wine, and liquor sales and allowing breweries and others to sell their product in containers up to 64 ounces.
  • License fee relief: Waiving the state fee for establishments who sell alcohol until 2AM.
  • Open fitness centers and gyms: Legislators said physical activity is "crucial" for keeping people safe during the pandemic. "Available data does not support keeping our gyms closed," the release stated. 

The governor and the family of Nook owner Mike Runyan urged state lawmakers to put politics aside and approve a package that will help Minnesotans who are struggling. 

"We understand the urgent need to support our health care workers and protect hospital capacity right now," said Runyon. "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.”

Hospitality Minnesota, an association for lodging, restaurant, resort and campgrounds, also voiced support for the proposal. 

“We want to thank Governor Walz for stepping up and responding to our request for help for hospitality businesses," said CEO Liz Rammer. "Hospitality Minnesota readily accepts his offer to be at the table working to make sure relief gets to those businesses that need it the most."

The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association released a short statement of support for both plans. 

“We’re encouraged by these proposals -- and we’ll continue to work with the governor and legislature on meaningful and swift action to provide assistance to our state’s struggling hospitality industry," Executive Director Tony Chesak wrote.

The governor made clear that while the his proposed aid package would help Minnesotans now, he is asking federal lawmakers to get back to work, and come together on a larger relief package. He plans to call a special session as soon as state lawmakers can agree on a plan. 

Walz referenced the relief package Monday during a press conference to announce a new COVID-19 contact tracing app. It comes on the heels of last week's surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths, as well as the beginning of Walz's four-week pause of indoor dining, gyms and youth sports. 

"It's absolutely critical that we get something quickly to these businesses, something that makes a material difference to them and bridges the gap until the federal government can do what they need to do to make a substantial impact on the economics and well-being of Americans," Walz said. 

Walz sent out a press release after the announcement, including a letter he said was sent to state legislators. The letter urged quick action, saying that Minnesotans "can't wait" for help from the federal government. 

"Let’s come together to ensure our businesses stay afloat, our workers are supported, and our families can put food on the table," Walz wrote. "I will call a special session as soon as the legislature agrees on a package to provide this much-needed relief."

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"This is the best that Minnesota can do and it makes financial sense," he said.

He said there's no definite decision by the legislature yet, but "it appears to be very bipartisan."

"I feel very optimistic that this would be one where I think we could find a good compromise," Walz said.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said Monday that House Republicans had not been informed about a possible special session, and do not know what Walz will propose.

“House Republicans have been working since last week on solutions to help businesses impacted by the governor’s latest shutdown," Daudt said in a Monday statement. "We hope the governor will work with the legislature, but have yet to hear from him on what he is proposing for a potential special session.”

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka released a similar statement on the governor's plan Monday. 

"Senate Republicans are committed to recovering our economy that has been harmed by broad and prolonged shutdowns," he wrote. "We will work with anyone to find solutions and have not yet received any special session notice or relief proposal from the Governor.”

After announcing the upcoming package, Walz urged the United States government to pass another federal COVID-19 relief package as soon as possible.

"Again, I would reiterate to our federal government, to the outgoing administration and the incoming Biden administration: Please work together, please find a compromise, please, if you have to, move a package now with the idea that you will come back and move one later," he said. "COVID is not going to end at the end of the month. We are in an unrelenting spike and again, it forces us to make the moves we made."

The governor's Monday press conference is available in the video below.