Minnesota State Capitol file photo 2020

Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul

Provisions by local legislators made it into a wide-reaching relief bill passed by the Minnesota House of Representatives May 7.

Representatives Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, and Connie Bernardy, DFL-New Brighton, are both authors on the COVID-19 Economic Security Act. The bill would establish modifications to small business loans, grants for broadband and telemedicine, housing assistance and personal care assistance.

The bill, House File 1507, appropriates $55 million to the small business emergency loan account. It splits the money into three pots.

“Whether a small business survives the pandemic should not depend on whether they are able to play the influence game or Washington politics,” Stephenson said during a House debate on the bill. “A small, two-person family business here in Minnesota deserves to make it through the pandemic just as much as the huge, well-connected businesses that sucked up all the (Paycheck Protection Program) money.”

The largest portion, $11 million, would go to businesses who employ six full-time people or fewer. These loans would max out at $15,000 and defer payments for 12 months. If a business continues to operate at substantially the same level for two years following the loan, the entire sum may be forgiven.

Business with seven to 20 full-time employees would qualify for the second pot of money, which is $8 million total. These loans max out at $20,000 and are deferred for 12 months. A limited amount of the loan may be forgiven if the business continues to operate out to three years following disbursement.

The final $10 million would be available for minority businesses and operators of indoor retail space with a “strong ethnic cultural orientation” that is leased primarily to very small businesses.

Those loans have no cap and also have 12 months of deferred payments, with some forgiveness available after three years.

The bill also would modify regulations on consumer loans valued at $350 or less made between the date of its passage and Feb. 15, 2021.

Lenders providing loans during this period would be required to extend the terms of the loan to allow borrowers to repay the loan in equal installments over 12 months. Normally the term of these loans is capped at 30 days by statute.

Broadband access for students lacking internet access to participate in distance learning provided by school districts also is included in the bill. It would appropriate $15 million from the general fund to pay for the grants.

This aid would be restricted for use in providing students with equipment to access learning materials online via the internet, pay for actual costs incurred to provide emergency distance learning access and pay for the cost of internet access for households with students who did not have internet before March 13.

Schools that receive this aid would be required to submit a report of expenditures by Feb. 15, 2021.

The bill also includes an appropriation of $10 million for the border-to-border broadband fund. The money is only allowed to provide services in unserved or under served areas. Grants are available for 55% of a project’s costs provided a non-state entity pays 10% or more of the cost.

Health care facilities providing telehealth services would be eligible for grants reimbursing them for the purchase and installation of telemedicine equipment. The bill appropriates $2 million from the general fund for the grants.

Eligible facilities include: community health clinics, critical access hospitals, local public health departments, county boards, individual or small group physician practices focused on primary care, and nursing facilities.

The grants would be on a first-come, first-served basis with priority given to applicants serving uninsured or underinsured individuals or applicants located in areas where telemedicine would improve the quality, access and safety for patients as well as community health during the pandemic.

Applicants receiving federal aid for telemedicine are required to report that money. If the total of federal and state aid exceeds the cost of telemedicine equipment, the state grant must be reduced to meet the costs.

Evictions and late fees for renters would also be modified under the bill. Landlords would be prevented from charging late fees on rent payments for 90 days after the public health emergency declaration. They also would not be able to terminate or not renew a rental agreement. Nor would landlords be able to file an eviction against a tenant except with 30 days written notice, which may not be issued until the moratorium period has expired.

Another $100 million would be appropriated for emergency housing assistance grants. The money would go to the housing development fund for the family homeless prevention and assistance program.

To be eligible, an applicant would be required to have a rent or mortgage payment, homeowner association dues, lot rent, contract for deed payment, homeowner insurance payment, property tax payment or utility payment due March 1 or later that is past due or is due within 15 days of the application.

Applicants must be unable to pay the money owed as a result of the public health emergency and have a household gross income at or below 300% of the federal poverty guidelines. For a family of four that limit would be $78,600.

Assistance provided to an applicant would be paid to the landlord, financial service or other entity who is owed.

The commissioner of management and budget must assess whether expenditures under the bill would be eligible for funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. If they are, the money would be appropriated from the CARES Act funds received by the state.

Under the bill family members of a person receiving personal care assistance may be eligible for being paid for providing assistance services. The eligibility would expire Jan. 31, 2021 or 60 days after the peacetime emergency declaration is terminated.

The commissioner of health and human services would be directed to temporarily increase the rates for direct support services provided under a covered program by 15%. At least 80% of the rate increase must be used to increase wages, salaries and benefits for personal care assistants. The bill appropriates $43,000 in the 2020 fiscal year and approximately $26.2 million in 2021 from the general fund for the rate increase.

connor.cummiskey@apgecm.com

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