ST. PAUL — Minnesota health and human services commissioners on Friday, July 23, signed a public health disaster declaration aimed at securing millions of dollars in federal nutrition assistance for those in need.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead in the declaration said that while vaccination rates are improving and new cases of COVID-19 are down compared to earlier in the pandemic, the illness and the delta variant pose a critical risk to Minnesota.

And they said the state is still in need of federal help to ensure Minnesotans can access food resources provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Minnesota has received $45 million in emergency food assistance benefits each month during the pandemic that has helped feed over 550,000 Minnesotans.

The aid came to the state while it was under a state of emergency to combat COVID-19. But as part of an agreement with state lawmakers, Gov. Tim Walz ended the emergency and his enhanced powers last month.

With the narrower public health disaster declaration, the state expects to pull down the same food assistance benefits. The USDA is weighing the state's application for continued emergency food assistance supports.

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“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the physical, emotional, and financial health of Minnesotans, putting their ability to pay for essentials like groceries at risk,” Walz said in a news release. “We are committed to ensuring our neighbors are able to continue putting food on the table for their families as we recover from this public health crisis.”

Minnesota has pulled in more than $547 million in boosted SNAP benefits since March of 2020, which helped feed about 234,000 households each month.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com