Stauber reassures Hermantown business owners
In a Zoom meeting with local Chamber members, Stauber praised decision-makers forced to react to COVID-19, but stressed a need to reopen the economy.
U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber didn’t have all the answers when he met online with his peers in the Hermantown business community Wednesday.
But for the roughly 45 members who took part in the Zoom video conferencing meeting, Stauber’s presence seemed enough.
“We appreciate this link to you,” Kim Parmeter, executive director of the Hermantown Area Chamber of Commerce, said. “It’s very reassuring."
Dubbed “Open for Business,” the Chamber event was billed as a chance to hear from the congressman “as we prepare for fully opening our state.”
It was among the first of the mostly anonymous questions Stauber fielded: When will the state reopen the bars, restaurants, gyms, theaters, hair and nail salons, churches and other entities in which people congregate?
“The exact date, I can’t really say,” Stauber said, while offering that there needed to be a parallel path to opening up the economy while also remaining safe from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Republican lawmaker owns a hockey retail business with his brothers in Duluth. He stressed safety and bipartisanship, and expressed empathy for the position Gov. Tim Walz was in.
“Elected officials are making decisions today using the best information, the most accurate and most truthful information, they have,” Stauber said. “They’re making good decisions and that is better than a perfect decision seven months from now.”
Stauber encouraged business owners to help create the practices and solutions that would make for safer environments.
“The Chamber members, they’re the experts,” Stauber said. “I would encourage you to work with the state Chamber on being that voice, to be part of solutions on how you open up. It’s important you’re part of the conversation.”
Stauber directed members with questions on federal rescue loans to resources that can help them. He also said another stimulus to taxpayers like the one-time $1,200 payments sent out earlier in April is being discussed in Washington, D.C.
“I can’t guarantee there will be additional stimulus at this point,” he said.
Regarding employees, Stauber responded to a query about workers who refuse to come back.
Stauber called it a “gray area,” because some employees might be immunocompromised and fearful of returning to work. Conversely, he also provided a road map for employers in that situation, telling them to inform the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development of the employees who don’t come back. They might risk forfeiting unemployment benefits, he said.
A federally-added $600 weekly boost to the unemployment benefit “was never meant to stay at home so you can make more,” Stauber said.
Finally, Stauber addressed the liability issue businesses face by reopening. Republicans in the Senate are fighting to protect businesses from liability in the event a customer or employee gets sick with coronavirus. Democrats oppose it, he said.
“As you know that’s the biggest question for the U.S. Chamber right now,” Stauber said. “There’s got to be unity for liability for COVID. It’s going to be a good discussion … what’s going to be our minimum standard?”
This story originally listed the location of Stauber's hockey company incorrectly. It was updated at 9:45 a.m. April 30 with the proper location of Duluth. The News Tribune regrets the error.