In surprise move, Minnesota House approves $3.73 billion plan to repay unemployment fund, issue hero checks

The chamber suspended the rules to take up the proposal with little warning on Monday evening and advanced the bill to a conference committee.

Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman
Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman, right, and House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, left, speak with reporters at the Capitol on Thursday, April 21, 2022.
Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — In a surprise move on Monday, April 25, the Minnesota House of Representatives advanced a more than $3.7 billion proposal to replenish the state's jobless fund and send out checks to front-line workers.

The plan would repay the federal government for helping the state pay unemployment insurance benefits during the pandemic. It would also replenish the state's unemployment insurance fund.

Roughly one in five workers drew benefits from the fund, according to the Department of Employment and Economic Development, due to COVID-19 and the state's effort to quell it.

Minnesota employers have seen their payroll taxes jump by double-digits since lawmakers failed to refill the fund prior to March 15. Those who already paid the higher taxes would see a reimbursement credited to them under the proposal.

After suspending the rules on Monday evening, the chamber voted 70-63 to approve the bill after tacking on a pair of additions. Because House lawmakers included new pieces that the Senate didn't agree to, members from both chambers will have to hash out a compromise in a conference committee.


“We are taking the action today in sending a message that we will take care of employers at the same time some of the other provisions we’ll be discussing today,” Rep. Mohamud Noor, DFL-Minneapolis, said.

The Minnesota Senate in February approved a $2.7 billion plan to repay the federal government and to replenish the state's unemployment fund. But House Democrats waited to approve a similar plan, saying it should be paired with payments for those who remained on the front lines during the pandemic.

Legislative leaders spent weeks in closed negotiations but failed to strike a deal that could appeal to both chambers. Even after meeting on Monday afternoon, leaders and Gov. Tim Walz withdrew saying they were hopeful for a compromise, but they'd not found it yet.

And a deal could remain out of reach due to provisions that House Democrats added to the bill before passing it on Monday night. On voice votes, they included amendments to send $1,500 checks to roughly 667,000 front-line workers and extend unemployment insurance benefits to hourly school workers.

The bill's author on Monday night told House lawmakers that the plan came up later than many had hoped but could still get done before the April 30 deadline for businesses to pay their quarterly taxes.

“We have a bill before us that addresses one of the most onerous outcomes of the pandemic and we could have done it earlier but we did not,” Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, said. “We have the opportunity to fully pay back this fund, stop an increase in taxes on our businesses and move forward."

Republicans in the chamber opposed the additions and urged passage of the unemployment insurance repayment provisions on their own. And they said the amendments likely pushed the House and Senate further from a deal.

"I think tonight we're missing an opportunity. Democrats have amended a couple things onto this bill that really shouldn't be here," House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said. "All it does is make it more difficult for us to live up to the promise that was made to the employers of Minnesota at the beginning of the pandemic ... that they would be held harmless."


Earlier in the day, legislative leaders and the governor met to discuss a potential deal to repay the trust fund and send out hero pay checks to front-line workers. At that time, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said the group primarily discussed deadlines heading into the last month of the legislative session and offered few details about the discussion.

Hortman and Gov. Tim Walz in comments to reporters said negotiations were ongoing but Democrats who control the House and Republicans who lead the Senate had not yet reached a deal on unemployment insurance and hero pay checks.

Despite that, leaders in the House moved the bill through quickly on Monday night.

Several incumbent state legislators, particularly in the Senate, edged out competitors with more extreme views on COVID-19, election security and more.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter  @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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