Lawmakers tackle COVID-19 aid as Minnesota records 2nd death

Published 12:50 pm Thursday, March 26, 2020

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MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Legislature was poised Thursday to pass a financial aid package to help soften the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic that has sickened more than 300 people and claimed two lives in the state.

The Minnesota Department of Health said Thursday that the state’s second COVID-19 death was a patient from Ramsey County who, like the first fatal case, was in their 80s. The state’s count of confirmed cases jumped Thursday to 346, up 59 from a day earlier, though officials caution that the actual total of people with the disease is likely much higher because many don’t qualify for testing.

The legislative proposals were worked out via private conference calls to keep lawmakers from risking catching the disease and were rolled into one big bill to minimize the number of votes that must be taken. Makeshift House and Senate procedures to maintain social distancing mean that lawmakers have to take turns for getting on the floors to vote or speak and wait elsewhere in the Capitol complex until their turn comes up.

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Among the bill’s highlights are a $200 million fund that state agencies can tap for responding to the pandemic. It also would provide $30 million in grants to groups that provide child care for children of essential workers. And it also includes $40 million in emergency grants and loan guarantees for small businesses,

Walz, who signed a stay-at-home order for Minnesota residents that takes effect Friday night, planned to give an update on the state’s efforts in a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

Minnesota will also be getting money as part of the $2.2 trillion congressional relief package that the U.S. Senate passed late Wednesday and that the House is expected to pass on Friday. The bill includes nearly $2.2 billion for the state as part of a $150 billion stimulus package for state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“With this legislation, families will see direct financial help, local businesses will find a lifeline, and our heroic health care workers will know we have their backs,” Democratic U.S. Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota said in a statement.