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Minnesota Lawmakers Aim To Move Fast On Frontline Worker Bonus Checks, Paying Unemployment Fund Debt

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- Frontline workers were excited when the divided legislature struck a deal to pass bonuses for them.

That promise came last summer, but today, still no checks.

"Morale is at its lowest. This is exactly what we need," said Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, told a House committee Wednesday, echoing calls of other workers who testified. "Can you just imagine what we feel like when I had to tell [nurses] over and over again 'it hasn't been solved, it hasn't been solved.'"

Republicans and Democrats have been at odds over who should qualify and for how much -- and they still are, even months after they passed a date set by law to strike a deal and pass legislation allocating money for bonuses.

But the DFL on Wednesday on with its proposal in the House, passing a bill out of a legislative committee that would increase the $250 million previously set aside to $1 billion. The checks would go to 667,000 workers at $1,500 a piece with some income restrictions.

"They are much deserving of it and it's long overdue," said Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, who authored the bill. He cited the projected $7.75 billion surplus as the reason to increase the pot of money.

Leaders in both chambers in the divided legislature have said bonus checks are a priority this year and that they want to act fast. But with no deal, it's unclear just how quickly that will move or if it will be further bogged dogged by negotiations.

Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, said last week that his caucus isn't interested in growing the funding four-fold.

Urgency To Pay Off Unemployment Insurance Debt, Refill The Fund

Another key issue that requires swift action is paying back unemployment insurance fund debt accrued during the pandemic, when a surge of jobless claims depleted the account and prompted the state to borrow.

The Senate Finance Committee unanimously passed a bill that would allocate $2.73 billion to not only pay off the $1.2 billion owed to the feds but also refill the account so it's sustainable moving forward.

If there isn't action, businesses in the state will shoulder much higher taxes.

"What a unique opportunity to have a bipartisan effort to do the right thing and frankly do it now," said Rep. Barb Haley, R-Red Wing, during a news conference this week.

A House plan, authored by DFL Rep. Rep. Mohamud Noor, would flag $1.15 billion for the unemployment trust fund issue, which would pay off the debt and spare tax hikes, but not restore the account to pre-pandemic levels.

"We have to be cautious in how we spend our resources that we have," Noor said during a Wednesday night committee meeting, citing the estimated $7.75 billion surplus as just a projection at this point.

Action must be taken by March 15 based on the schedule for tax payments to the state.

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