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Our View: St. Paul snubs miners — again

From the editorial: "How can anyone be this heartless?"

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A mountain of low-silica, direct-reduced-grade pellets awaits its journey to Ohio at Northshore Mining. (File / News Tribune)
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The lawmaker from far Northeastern Minnesota first sounded the alarm way back in July, that unemployment benefits for hundreds of laid-off miners would be running out long before the mine was to reopen — and also before the Legislature would return to St. Paul in January for its 2023 session.

So Rep. Rob Ecklund of International Falls pleaded — repeatedly this year — with legislative leaders and with Gov. Tim Walz for a special session, so lawmakers could vote to extend the benefits and keep the checks coming for families desperate and struggling. Lawmakers had shamefully left plenty undone in 2022 anyway; a special session was already being bandied about.

But election-year politics proved too much. An unwillingness to allow a candidate from the other party to declare a victory before voters resulted in no special session.

And in November, the unemployment checks stopped coming, leaving a “somber” mood on the Iron Range, as Babbitt Mayor Andrea Zupancich reported in a statement last week. Families were noticeably cutting back, she said, and selling belongings, even their kids’ toys, to pay for heat, food, and other necessities. All with the holidays coming.

It all feels reminiscent of 2015, when lawmakers similarly were in position to help laid-off Iron Range workers whose unemployment benefits were expiring. Instead, for months, they attempted to use the suffering and uncertainty felt by those Minnesota families for their own political leverage. They angled to see what else they could get in a special session that also never came. Then, like now, unemployment benefits expired, and Minnesotans needlessly suffered.

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“How can anyone be this heartless?” a News Tribune editorial asked, its words and sentiments just as relevant today. “Their fellow Minnesotans were in trouble, facing financial ruin and in precisely the sort of predicament for which government can make a difference. But (the governor and legislative leaders), even though they were in a position to help, … turned their backs. They played politics and horse-traded while the very Minnesotans they pledged to represent and serve suffered, strung along in emotional and financial despair.”

Calling a special session of the Legislature ought to be a rarity. The suffering of hundreds of Iron Range families would certainly seem to qualify as an exception. Minnesotans deserve better from their elected “leaders.”

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