ST. PAUL — Officials from several prominent Minnesota-based nonprofit organizations on Monday, Aug. 24, called on U.S. lawmakers to approve additional coronavirus relief funds for states whose finances have been battered by the pandemic.
Congress failed to reach a deal on a second coronavirus relief package before the U.S. Senate adjourned for the summer, leaving open the question of additional state funding. More is included in the package already approved by the House, which would furnish Minnesota with an additional $8 billion in new aid, but that is unlikely to fly in a Senate, where a proposed second round of state aid has been roundly decried as a bailout.
Funding for states included in the House package, known as the HEROES Act, totals roughly $540 billion in new grants. A counter-proposal introduced in the Senate, called the HEALS Act, includes no such thing.
In an online press conference Monday, nonprofit leaders said Congress must act to prevent the disruption of public services and job losses in the public sector.
"We need all hands on deck to weather this economic and health crisis," said Liz Kuoppola, executive director of the Mahube-Otwa Community Action Partnership.
Monday's conference came days after the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits urged Minnesota's congressional delegates to take action on the HEROES Act in a letter signed by more than 100 nonprofit organizations in the state. The initial relief package, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES, provided Minnesota with approximately $2.2 billion of a $150 billion pool of state relief funds.
Noting the July 25 expiration of the temporary federal enhancement to unemployment insurance payments, the letter said more out-of-work Minnesotans may turn to public entitlement programs for help as they struggle to afford basic needs. Additional support for those programs will thus also be crucial, they said, in order to keep low-income households and communities of color from facing additional hardship.
"There is a narrow window of opportunity for lasting and meaningful change, to define this new era as one where our communities can be successful in welcoming a future that allows all to thrive," the letter reads.
Given the dire straits in which some Minnesotans now find themselves, Hunger Solutions executive director Colleen Moriarity said Congress should consider additional funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Access Program, or SNAP, as well.
"All of these things work together. If there's no job, there's no food in the house, there's no hope. And they need help now," she said. "If you're going to chip away at all the public benefit programs that support people with basic needs, we're going to end up with wide swaths of the population who have nothing."
After Congress failed to renew the $600 federal unemployment enhancement, President Trump sought to revive that by executive order. Questions remain as to whether the order, which would provide unemployment beneficiaries with an additional $400 a week instead, is enforceable and how it can be implemented.
It remains under review by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, which oversees unemployment insurance, according to a department website.
In its letter last week, the nonprofit council said Minnesota will need to raise additional revenue to respond to challenges presented by the pandemic, but cautioned lawmakers to do so "fairly."
"Those still doing well — profitable corporations and the wealthy — should shoulder more of the responsibility of funding essential public investments to secure the health and well-being of our neighbors, and support the recovery," a blog post by Clark Goldenrod, director of the council's Budget Project, reads.
Whether Minnesota's business community would welcome that responsibility is unclear. In a pre-pandemic report, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce said that member businesses consider their tax burden to be among their top priorities for state lawmakers to address.