We are about to finish the hardest year many of us have ever experienced. COVID-19’s public health impact, the injustices highlighted by George Floyd’s death, and enormous new economic challenges all led to painful times for many Minnesotans.

While we are all eager to leave this year behind, we can use these experiences, as difficult as they were, to help ensure the path ahead will be brighter.

During the next legislative session, we must enact a two-year state budget. For my part, I will advocate for a budget that lifts up families, communities, and our shared future as Minnesotans.

Quality health care; excellent educational opportunities; good jobs; and safe, just, and inclusive communities are fundamental desires we all have. We should invest boldly in each of these. By working toward the vision we need from our state government, we can better ensure our current economic challenges are only temporary, with a more prosperous future on the other side.

We have lost too many lives to COVID-19. Until a vaccine is widely distributed, keeping Minnesotans safe from the virus will require the Legislature’s constant focus. Residents in congregate-care settings still face disproportionate risk. Protecting older adults, as well as those who care for them, will continue to be a challenge. In many cases, COVID-19 has proven to have long-term, uncertain impacts on the health of patients. As we continue to learn more about the illness, we will need to find out how to help people overcome these effects.

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No matter how hard the last year has been on all of us, there are reasons to be optimistic. Minnesota has a COVID vaccine-distribution plan, and long-term care residents and health care workers will begin being vaccinated before the end of the month. Lawmakers also have enacted an economic-assistance plan with direct aid to struggling businesses and a 13-week extension of unemployment insurance benefits. This is urgent help for Minnesotans while we wait for the federal government to deliver a recovery package.

This coming session, I will have the honor to chair the Human Services Finance & Policy Committee. In this role, I will work to strengthen and improve services for people with disabilities, programs for older Minnesotans, food support, economic help for struggling families, assistance for those experiencing mental illness and substance abuse, and health care services.

Our success as a state can be measured by the quality of life of the most vulnerable among us. I look forward to hearing their stories and ideas about their own needs. I will also be working to balance one of the largest pieces of the state budget, Health and Human Services. Chairing the committee is a significant responsibility that will consume a majority of my time, particularly toward the end of session.

Looking back, we should all be inspired by Minnesotans who truly stepped up to help their neighbors. Our state’s health care workers have been asked to do an impossible job. Our educators were forced to learn how to work in a completely different setting to keep their students engaged in learning. Grocery workers and others in critical-supply chains, first responders, child-care providers, bus drivers, truck drivers, postal workers, and Minnesotans in so many other professions proved how invaluable they are in our communities. They reported for duty every day despite risking increased exposure to the coronavirus.

There are plenty of lessons we can take from the difficult journey we’ve been on in 2020. There has been an extraordinary amount of grief, stress, injustice, and tragedy.

But in 2021, I am hopeful we can realize a future where all Minnesotans can be safe and healthy and have new opportunities to be successful.

Rep. Jennifer Schultz of Duluth is the DFL representative of Minnesota House District 7A. She wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune at the invitation of the Opinion page.