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Minnesota "hero pay" bonuses were sent to ineligible applicants, audit finds

Audit finds Minnesota COVID “Hero Pay” likely benefited ineligible applicants
Audit finds Minnesota COVID “Hero Pay” likely benefited ineligible applicants 01:58

ST. PAUL. Minn. — Hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans may not have been eligible to receive "hero pay" from state government, according to a new report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor.

"We concluded that the Department of Labor and Industry (DLI), the agency tasked with overseeing and implementing the Minnesota Frontline Worker Pay Program, did not comply with requirements for the program," the report, published on Tuesday, concluded. "The Legislature should consider the amount of risk the state is willing to accept when establishing programs quickly and with eligibility conditions that rely on self-attestation."

Roughly one million frontline workers received a payout in the amount of $487.45 for working through the pandemic; state officials had said about 15% of applications were rejected.  The state's initial estimate was that 667,000 people were eligible for hero pay, meaning they would get $750 a person.

According to the audit, 40% of those who received pay did not have their eligibility confirmed.

"There were some checks against state systems like unemployment requirements and adjusted gross income, which the Department of Revenue has," Legislative Auditor Judy Randall told WCCO News. "But for some of these other things, it was the honor system."

The Frontline Worker Pay Program was the culmination of two years of debate as lawmakers wrestled over eligibility requirements and how much taxpayer money to allocate.

GOP and DFL lawmakers on Tuesday were quick to pounce on their narratives.

"People of Minnesota should be furious with the Democrats and their disrespect for our hard-earned dollars," Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, said. "The program initially set the expectation of more than $1,000 for frontline workers who took enormous risk during the pandemic. However, based on so many applicants, and apparently many fraudulent applicants, that check was $487."

Rep. Cedrick Frazier, a Democrat from New Hope, countered that DFL lawmakers were the only reason frontline workers were given a payout in the first place.

"We should not ignore the success of this program," he told WCCO News. "We put this program in place to provide resources for those workers on the front lines and put their lives on the lines for Minnesotans - and we did exactly that."

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