The year 2020, defined by a deadly and relentless pandemic, has been devastating for people in Minnesota and across the country whose lives, jobs, health, and safety continue to be upended by COVID-19.
As we look ahead to 2021, addressing the fallout from the coronavirus — which has already taken more than 350,000 American lives, including 5,300 Minnesotans — continues to be a priority. I’ll be a strong partner with local officials and health leaders across the state and as we continue to help the families, communities and businesses which have been hit hard by the ongoing health and economic crisis.
The authorization of two coronavirus vaccines in December gives us hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight. Now the country must not only build trust in the vaccines but also begin the largest, most costly mass vaccination effort in history.
To ensure Minnesota is prepared, I’m pressing the nation’s top health officials to provide $134 million to our state and tribal governments, and local health leaders, to help cover the cost of getting the vaccine quickly and safely rolled out. Earlier this year, I introduced legislation to ensure vaccines are distributed fairly, equitably and free to everyone regardless of insurance status. I’ll continue to press the Trump Administration and the incoming Biden Administration to make that happen.
It will take many months to get vaccines to a majority of Americans, so Minnesotans still need to use the tools that protect us from the virus: masking up, social distancing and getting tested when exposed or sick.
One of my greatest frustrations during the pandemic has been the lack of a national testing strategy, so I was pleased Congress responded by including in its year-end budget parts of my bipartisan measure to allow states to form partnerships to secure adequate testing. Testing will continue to be important while the vaccine is rolled out; we can’t lose sight of that.
During the challenges of the past year, it was inspiring to see local Minnesota leaders and businesses step up to help their communities and help produce and procure the personal protective equipment and supplies that our health providers so badly needed in the early days of the crisis. In 2021 I’ll continue to help communities and businesses build back better in several ways.
One is by working with local officials and the new Biden administration to invest in infrastructure. As communities around the state begin to invest in building back, I’ll continue to be an advocate for important projects that fuel jobs and economic development.
Part of that effort includes my continued push to expand rural broadband to give our businesses, no matter where they are located, the ability to create jobs and to allow health care providers to expand use of telehealth to treat patients for both physical and mental health issues.
I’ll also fight to expand affordable housing and the significant economic and social benefits it generates. Virtually every Minnesota community is facing a shortage of quality, affordable housing that hurts families and businesses, and stifles job creation and economic development. We have to address this shortage, because we know that if you don’t have safe, stable housing, nothing else in your life can work.
As I travel across Minnesota, people often tell me their top concern is the cost of prescription drugs and health care. I’ve passed measures to bring down the cost of medications, including insulin, and I’ll continue this fight as we move into the new year.
Minnesota families, businesses and communities have shown resilience during this challenging past year. In 2021, I plan to continue to partner with Minnesotans as we work to bring people together and build back better.
Sen. Tina Smith represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate.