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Frontline Worker Pay Group Diverges In Bonus Proposals Days Before Deadline

ST. PAUL, MINN (WCCO) -- The group tasked with deciding who gets a share of the $250 million set aside for workers on the frontlines of the pandemic is still working to find agreement just days before a proposal is supposed to be submitted.

During a meeting Tuesday, DFL members of the nine-person panel pitched creating a process for individual workers to apply for bonus pay. Those people would then get selected if they meet specific criteria, like working in-person with risk for infection and making less than an undetermined income threshold.

They want to capture more essential workers than just those in health care, including child care workers, teachers and food processing plant workers that were part of an earlier DFL proposal for emergency leave this year.

The baseline check would be $1,500 and would likely shrink based on the number of applicants, said House Minority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, who suggested the legislature approve more money next year.

"I think everybody wants to do as much as we can for as many people as we can," Winkler told the group.

Republicans want two "buckets": the first prioritizing health care and long-term care facility workers and then another covering other essential employees. It was unclear who else would qualify under their proposal.

Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, R-North Branch, and her colleagues argued those individuals faced the most risk and deserve a check that doesn't feel like a "token," but an amount more meaningful.

Health Care Worker Generic
(credit: CBS)

"It wasn't if they were going to be dealing with folks and caring for folks who were dying of COVID -- it was when," Neu Brindley said of long-term caregivers, nurses and first responders. "It was a part of their life."

If everyone who qualifies as an essential worker that worked in-person during the pandemic received some share of the money, it could amount to just a few hundred dollars.

Sen. Kari Housley, R-Stillwater, noted that the workers covered in the DFL's similar legislation that would total 1.3 million people and checks would be $191. Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, who crafted the bill, noted that figure did not exclude people teleworking, who wouldn't be subject to bonus payments under their criteria.

"We're calling them heroes because they were brave and they showed up every day to do the work that was asked of them," Frazier said.

The panel wants to make the bonuses, which would be distributed to people from the Minnesota Department of Revenue, to be exempt from state income tax. In a meeting last week, Revenue Commissioner Robert Doty told members they need more guidance from the federal government about federal income tax implications.

Tuesday marked the latest of several meetings over the last month where the group heard testimony from workers about the burdens they've shouldered over the last 18 months -- and why they should get a share of the money.

The working group was formed by the legislature in June, and state law requires recommendations to legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Walz by Monday, Sept. 6.

There is another meeting set for Thursday. Members said they were committed to reaching a compromise before the deadline.

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