One day after Mayor Emily Larson asked Gov. Tim Walz for help, the city of Duluth learned it will receive $6.57 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act assistance.
Walz used his executive powers to distribute $841 million in allocations to local government units across the state, with those funds expected to begin flowing next week.
Walz announced Thursday he would distribute the funds to counties, cities and towns on the basis of their respective population counts. Local governments have borne a financial burden in combating the COVID-19 pandemic and have seen revenues shrink as businesses were forced to close as the state aimed to limit the coronavirus' spread.
St. Louis County expects to receive between $24 million and $24.5 million in assistance following the governor's actions, according to spokesperson Dana Kazel.
County and city leaders had urged lawmakers to approve the funding last week as part of a special legislative session, but the measure failed after the Democratic-Farmer-Labor-led House of Representatives added to the measure Walz's proposed supplemental budget, which included additional aid for families on welfare, personal care attendants and others.
The DFL governor on Thursday announced he would distribute the funds with approval from the Legislative Advisory Commission. And he also proposed spending another $12 million to support food shelves and food banks.
The money from the federal CARES Act can be used to fund local government services, grants to businesses, hospitals or individuals who have been impacted by COVID-19.
“As we work to support the health and safety of all Minnesotans during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also taking steps to build a stronger and more equitable economy,” Walz said in a news release. “This funding will bring much-needed relief to communities across the state as we continue to battle this pandemic together.”
Local leaders on Saturday blasted legislators for leaving St. Paul without passing the measure or a bill to allow the state to borrow to fund construction projects around the state. But city and county officials on Thursday said they were glad to see the funds come through.
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Larson said: “I am grateful to Gov. Walz and the State of Minnesota for listening to our request to release these funds. The city of Duluth is not alone in needing reprieve from the toll that COVID-19 has had on our budget, and we appreciate the governor being willing to use executive powers to allocate these funds on our behalf."
"After waiting more than 90 days since Congress passed the CARES Act, I’m happy and relieved to see that local governments will finally receive their share of this funding," Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities President and Willmar City Council Member Audrey Nelsen said in a news release. "COVID-19 has had a major impact on every corner of the state — even the areas that have not been hit by a wave of cases — and this funding will help local governments continue to deal with the public health crisis and start to revive their local economies."
Senate leaders grew frustrated and closed out the special session Saturday after Democrats added the additional spending to the proposal that had been approved by lawmakers in both chambers. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said the move to get the funds out the door was a good step.
“It is important that our local communities get that. As a result of shutting everything down, businesses not being able to pay taxes and do all the things they do, all of our local governments are hurting right now,” Gazelka said.
The relief funds may only be used to cover unanticipated costs related to the COVID-19 health emergency, incurred between March 1 and Dec. 30, 2020.
Examples of allowed reimbursable allocations include cleaning supplies; personal protective equipment; sanitizers that help prevent the spread of COVID-19; workers' compensation; Family Medical Leave Act and emergency sick-leave compensation; unemployment costs; and supplies to allow staff to work from home, including but not limited to technology supplies and software.