As Main Street bars, restaurants, and gyms must shut down once again due to the spread of COVID-19, it is urgent that Minnesota enhance its business-assistance program.
Gov. Tim Walz, in his address Thursday evening, agreed businesses need help but deferred to the federal government. He penned a letter to congressional leaders urging a new stimulus plan as soon as possible. Yes, Congress should approve another stimulus package, but we cannot be confident this Congress, or the next, will get anything done. Washington has become quite dysfunctional in this time of crisis.
The state of Minnesota must step in and step up.
While the state is facing a fiscal year-end deficit of $2.4 billion, it also has a rainy-day reserve of $2.5 billion. We should find creative ways to use that money for a Main Street business-assistance program. We should provide the assistance now so as to sustain businesses through the end of the year when a vaccine rollout will be nearer.
If bars and restaurants continue to go out of business, the state will lose tax revenue permanently, so it makes sense to provide these kinds of grants.
While it seems Minnesota’s Democratic-controlled House and Republican Senate could agree on a state aid package, Walz should also consider all available options through executive order. The state should consider ideas such as deferring the collection of sales and liquor taxes from businesses.
On Wednesday, Walz announced that more than $1 million in grants is available immediately through the state’s tourism-promotion office, Explore Minnesota. The grants are for nonprofit tourism-promotion organizations, “so they can continue to stimulate travel for the economic benefit of their communities,” the announcement stated.
The state also could approve funding and plan on reimbursement with federal CARES Act funds. Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, has suggested using $22 million in currently available federal funds for business relief.
Walz has reopened eligibility for $10,000 loans from $10 million available through the Small Business Relief Grant, but that is only open to those who applied for it the first time. Others who tried to go it alone are now penalized by that rule.
There may be some other funds to help balance the deficit that could be tapped to fill a deficit hole such as the health care access fund or various DEED loan funds. At one point a few years ago, the state deferred school funding. In this case, it would only be for a few months, not years. So that's a more palatable idea.
We believe the state needs to take action urgently before more businesses close and the state loses tax revenue permanently. These small businesses have done what they've been asked to do and had to shutter their doors through no fault of their own.
They deserve some immediate state relief.
— The Free Press of Mankato, Minnesota