Our View: Unemployment help for miners — finally

From the editorial: "These are precisely the moments ... when government can make a real difference, can step up. ... Heartlessly turning their backs instead ... is unacceptable."

BSP template.jpg
John Cole/Cagle Cartoons

This absolutely should have been taken care of last session. Or during a special session of the Minnesota Legislature. Any time, really, before unemployment benefits ran out for hundreds of Northeastern Minnesota mining families, throwing them unnecessarily into financial turmoil over the past several weeks.

The inexcusable snub of the Iron Range by St. Paul — and it was hard to see it as anything other than petty, partisan, election-year politics, with both DFL and GOP lawmakers guilty — was rectified this week, finally.

Gov. Tim Walz and others held a signing ceremony Wednesday to enact an unemployment insurance extension bill . As long as it took, it was one of the first things taken care of this session. It contained $10 million in unemployment benefits for roughly 400 laid-off miners and their families.

"I am glad to see this bill pass to provide the support needed to help the families affected by these layoffs in our area,” Rep. Natalie Zeleznikar, R-Fredenberg Township, said in a statement Monday. “These mine employees are a critical anchor in our community, and I was proud to support this important bill. Our community is home to many of these affected miners, and it is so encouraging to see that we can work quickly and in a bipartisan way to get people the help they need."

Communities directly impacted by the mining layoffs included Silver Bay and Babbitt, both in Rep. Roger Skraba’s House District 3A.


“We can accomplish great things when we work together and put the needs of Minnesotans first,” Skraba, R-Ely, said, also in a statement. “This bill is going to help hundreds of miners in our area that have faced significant financial hardships through no fault of their own. It’s the right thing to do for these folks and their families, and I am encouraged that we could get this done in the first month of the legislative session. It is my hope that this can bridge the gap until both the Peter Mitchell Mine in Babbitt and the processing facility in Silver Bay can get up and running.”

The unemployment checks stopped coming in November, just before the holidays and with Cleveland-Cliffs Northshore Mining not expected to be reopening and calling workers back until April. Almost immediately, a "somber" mood fell across the Iron Range, as Babbitt Mayor Andrea Zupancich reported. Families noticeably started cutting back. Some sold belongings, even their kids’ toys, to pay for heat, food, and other necessities.

Troublingly, it wasn’t the first time state officials in St. Paul seemed to forget about or show little care for the northeastern corner of the state during a difficult and challenging time. In 2015, when lawmakers similarly were in position to help laid-off Iron Range workers whose unemployment benefits had expired, they instead, for months, used the suffering and uncertainty for political leverage, to see what else they could finagle a special session. Then, like now, that special session never came, the unemployment benefits expired, and Minnesota families needlessly suffered.

These are precisely the moments and the sorts of predicaments when government can make a real difference, can step up for people in need. Heartlessly turning their backs instead, while horse-trading and playing politics, is unacceptable.

Which Legislature will Minnesotans get now and going forward? Heartless or helpful? We know which we elected, and it’s on us to hold them accountable — to insist they be responsible and responsive rather than partisan and punitive.

our view.jpg

What To Read Next
Get Local