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Weeks After Deadline, Still No Deal For Frontline Worker Pay

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Three weeks after a self-imposed deadline, state lawmakers still haven't reached an agreement on the details of the $250 million for frontline worker bonuses, leaving some frustrated.

The working group was supposed to strike a deal by Sept. 6, but still are working through disagreements about who should qualify and how large checks should be.

Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, said she isn't surprised the deadline passed and that some of her coworkers in the COVID-19 unit doubt that any checks will ever come.

But with cases rising and the delta variant spreading, she hopes the money comes sooner rather than later. Through tears, she said it's not about the dollar amount, but the recognition "hero" pay would bring.

"We just need validation that what we did and what we're continuing to do is appreciated. And that's what this would do," Turner said. "At this point, this would be a much-needed boost for our morale."

The co-chairs of the working group expressed optimism that a deal is near, but still have their same differing views about the scope of the payments. DFL members of the panel want a wider pool of eligible workers, while Republicans want to prioritize long-term care and health care workers who had on-going exposure patients sick with COVID-19.

Health Care Worker Generic
(credit: CBS)

"We still really are focused on those healthcare workers and making sure that we get a meaningful amount of hero pay out to them first," Housley, R-Stillwater, said Monday.

A new estimate from an outside vendor, Housley said, puts the total number of potentially eligible workers at 670,000. Previously, the number was thought to exceed one million, which would make bonuses less than $200 if employees from all industries -- from meatpackers to transportation workers nurses -- were included.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said he believes the "smaller universe" of workers in question will make it easier for Republicans to meet them in the middle. But he questioned whether new Senate leadership, two senators running for governor and the "anti-vaccine politics" in that campaign would get in the way of a special session.

Gov. Tim Walz, who has the power to convene a special session, has said he is reluctant to call lawmakers back to St. Paul without assurances that Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm won't be fired by the Republican-led Senate.

"Based on my conversations with Republican leaders in the working group, I think we can get there. But we just don't know yet if they're prepared for a special session needed to make it happen," Winkler said. "We don't want to wait until there is a 'global agreement' on vaccines, commissioners and everything else and let that hold up our agreement on our $250 million distribution."

Amy Baldwin, a childcare provider in Farmington, wrote a letter to the panel asking that workers like her be considered for a slice of the money. She said she had forgotten about the bonus pay after weeks of no update.

If she were to get a check, though, she would keep it as extra security should her day care need to close due to exposure.

"It's kind of like a risk every day when you open your door," Baldwin said of working in the industry. "We've been putting a lot more out of our pockets, and then we have these possibilities of having to shut down. And, I mean, you can't plan on that. We don't have a system in place to protect us financially."

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