At the beginning of 2020, I outlined in this newspaper how I would keep working with Duluth Mayor Emily Larson — and local business, educational, tribal, and health care leaders — to ensure the federal government is a strong partner in helping create jobs and opportunity across the region.
Nobody anticipated the difficult moment we now find ourselves in. Our nation has been rocked by an unprecedented pandemic that has shaken the foundations of our health and our economy. The coronavirus has upended families, stolen businesses and jobs, and tragically taken the lives of more than 140,000 Americans, including 1,500 of our fellow Minnesotans and more than a dozen people in St. Louis County.
Now, the Northland, like the rest of the nation and the world, is challenged to focus on helping our community respond to this public health and economic crisis.
Since March, I’ve worked to pass four bipartisan relief packages that have helped stabilize families, businesses, tribes, health care providers, and the workers who have been hit hard by the pandemic.
When the president signed these measures into law, they included my provision to make diagnostic coronavirus testing free. Cost should never be a barrier for people getting the health care they need. The president also signed into law my bipartisan legislation to address drug shortages.
During this pandemic, COVID-19 has not been the great equalizer. It hits hardest those without a safe place to call home, those who are at risk working in front-line jobs, people working in low-wage jobs, and those experiencing the impacts of systemic racism.
As we respond, I’m pushing to make progress on these long-standing issues so we can build back stronger.
Earlier this year in Duluth I released my "Without Housing, Nothing Else Works" statewide housing report, which included findings from conversations with hundreds of Minnesotans about the challenges of our housing shortage. Duluth, like virtually every Minnesota community, has a shortage of quality, affordable housing, which hurts families and businesses and constrains job creation and economic growth. The pandemic has magnified these housing challenges, leaving families struggling to make their housing payments. I’m working to get relief in the next round of COVID legislation.
I went to work and secured millions in grants to expand telehealth, including for mental health care, during the pandemic. Now I’m working so that innovations in telehealth can continue when this emergency is over. And I won’t stop until broadband technology is available to everyone, whether you live in Duluth or the most rural parts of the North Country.
This pandemic has been a huge challenge to child-care providers, especially small family providers. This is an economic as well as a moral issue. If families don’t have access to high-quality child care that they can afford, nothing else works. After listening to Minnesota providers about the problems they face, I went to work with Sen. Elizabeth Warren to introduce a bill that will stabilize and strengthen child care across the country and help with the extra costs of operating during the COVID crisis.
This pandemic has deeply challenged Duluth families, businesses, and community organizations, and Duluth has responded with strength and resilience. I have been proud to be your partner. As your United States senator, I put my head down and work for you, and I get results. In this time of deep division and uncertainty, you can count on me to work hard, to focus on results, and to never forget you.
That's what I intend to keep doing to help the Northland recover and move forward.
Sen. Tina Smith represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate. She is being challenged by four fellow Democrats in the Aug. 11 primary. Another five Republicans also are running for the office. Smith and her challengers were invited by the News Tribune Opinion page to submit a commentary. Their columns are being published this month.