ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers and commissioners on Thursday, Sept. 2, said they'd work through the weekend to draw closer to a deal on how to give out $250 million in front-line worker hero funds.
The Front-line Worker Pay Working Group on Thursday failed to reach an agreement on which workers should be eligible for state support and how much each worker could qualify to receive. The panel faces a Labor Day deadline to present a proposal to the state Legislature.
Members remain split over who should be up for a check from the state, with Democrats arguing for a broader group or front-line workers, while Republicans have prioritized nurses, long-term care facility workers and first responders for larger payments. Panelists seem to agree that workers will be able to apply for the hero pay and won't see an income tax placed on the dollars.
"I would hope that we could at least make some effort to make some headway before Monday," House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, said. "I know that Labor Day weekend is a time for a lot of things, travel and so forth, but it is Labor Day and we are discussing workers, so I don't mind putting in a little bit more work to see if we can get a little bit closer before Monday."
"Absolutely," the group's co-chair Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, said. "I'm not even going on vacation."
The push to keep working for a compromise came after half-a-dozen front-line workers made emotional pleas for payments from the state. They spoke about their experiences working in dangerous conditions during the pandemic and shared what they would view as a meaningful amount in hero pay.
"We nurses are exhausted. We're called five to 10 times at least a day and asked to come in and work more and give more," Brittany Westermann, a medical-surgical nurse at Alomere Health in Alexandria, said. "This money would show us that you can step up and care for us the way we cared for you."
Almost 1 million Minnesotans could be eligible for the funds as roughly that many had worked positions that the federal government classified as essential during the pandemic. And dozens of workers have come forward to share their stories from the front lines and to make a case for why they deserve a check.
Ultimately, seven of nine members on the work group will need to agree to advance a proposal. From there, Gov. Tim Walz could call a special legislative session where lawmakers could approve or reject the plan.