With a difficult year now drawn to a close, there are many reasons to be hopeful that 2021 will be brighter. The rollout of coronavirus vaccines across the country means there is a light at the end of the tunnel in tackling this pandemic. And right before the new year, Congress passed a bipartisan relief package that included much-needed help for American families, workers, and businesses — as well as funding to get vaccines out faster.
Looking ahead to 2021, Northlanders should know that more help is on the way. The relief bill included funding for additional priorities like expanded coronavirus testing and continued help for small businesses and those out of work.
My bipartisan Save Our Stages bill — which provides financial support for small, independent venues including live-music stages, movie theaters, and museums — was included in the relief package. These venues, like Bayfront Festival Park, are a fundamental part of our culture and critical employers in Duluth and beyond.
The year-end government funding package signed into law also included bills I led to protect consumers, provide necessary assistance to agriculture workers and producers, and help families pay for child care.
While this year-end bill was a big step forward, there is still a lot of work to do.
This pandemic has exposed how critical access to broadband is for staying connected to work, school, health care support, and more. In Minnesota, 144,000 households still don’t have adequate access to high speed internet — including more than 11,000 households in St. Louis County. This is despite the good work we have done together in the past to get significant federal funding to St. Louis, Lake, and Cook counties.
We made progress last year when two of my provisions were signed into law, one ensuring that students with the greatest financial need have access to high-speed internet and one providing funds to help the FCC improve the accuracy of its broadband availability maps.
But more action is needed to ensure all Americans have access to high-speed internet, regardless of zip code. I will continue to focus on making this a reality in the next Congress.
I am also urging the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden to make infrastructure a key and immediate part of its agenda, including not only broadband but roads, bridges, ports, trails, and rail — all so important to northern Minnesota.
I will also keep working to protect our outdoor economy. As one of the vice chairs of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, I pushed to pass the reauthorization of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in December. This is an important investment in the Great Lakes and ensures continued support for projects that keep our water clean and clear.
These are steps in the right direction, but getting our economy back on track will require help for more industries hit hard by this pandemic — including tourism and restaurants. Restaurants were given some additional relief in the year-end bill, but I will continue pushing for funding to help restaurants like Grandma’s and Va Bene keep their doors open.
Rebounding from the events of this year will require building a competitive agenda for America, which we can do by being laser focused on jobs, wages, affordable health care, and infrastructure. One of my priorities will be investing in a 21st century workforce that allows everyone to be successful by providing skills training and apprenticeship programs. Because there isn’t just one path to success.
During this difficult past year, I’ve been so grateful to serve Minnesota as I’ve watched our state rise to the challenge and have seen neighbors helping neighbors. From our frontline health care workers, to our teachers, to our service members, we’ve seen ordinary people step up and do extraordinary things.
I’m confident 2021 will be brighter — but it will take all of us working together.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate. She wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune at the invitation of the Opinion page.