By Melisa Franzen

Guest Columnist

Sen. Melisa Franzen represents Senate District 49, which includes all of Edina, west Bloomington, the northeastern corner Eden Prairie, and the southeastern corner of Minnetonka.

Most of us have never experienced the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. By now you know: This is not a drill.

More than ever, the focus of my work as your state senator is to safeguard your health and safety and to mitigate the adverse impact of the pandemic on our communities. With that in mind, I want to update you on some important developments. Earlier this month, we unanimously approved over $20 million specifically for the Minnesota Department of Health. This week we approved an additional emergency appropriation of $200 million for hospitals and clinics to have the resources they need to respond to the growing pandemic.

With this $200 million, MDH is authorized to allocate $50 million to ambulance services, health care clinics, pharmacies, health care facilities, and long-term care facilities. The remaining $150 million will be available for grants so health care providers can establish temporary facilities to provide testing, treatment beds, and to support the isolation and quarantine of individuals that contract COVID-19. This critical funding will help these service providers such as hospitals and nursing homes to plan, prepare, and respond to the growing pandemic.

We are working to introduce more flexibility into our health care systems so individuals with disabilities can have improved access at this time. We are also working to eliminate barriers for everyone, including things like co-pay waivers for testing, lab work, office visits, and urgent care visits. We are setting up additional grants and loans for health care facilities to respond to training, equipment, transportation needs that are emerging as our health care providers prepare for the increasing demand created by COVID-19.

The state is accelerating and modifying unemployment insurance and exploring options to provide aid for self-employed or independent contractors. The state is allowing for expanded sick leave for public sector employees when taking time off related to COVID-19. We are also granting a 30-day Sales and Use Tax grace period for payment due and filed on March 20th and will not assess penalties or interest to help Minnesota businesses weather the financial impact created by the crisis.

Our partners on the Hennepin County Board approved $2.5 million to purchase and contract for necessary materials, supplies, equipment and contracted services as part of the COVID-19 response. The County Board approved an additional $3 million to provide alternative quarantine and isolation spaces for people who depend on county services. They are also taking care of Hennepin County staff who are required to be off work due to COVID-19 by authorizing the use of up to 80 hours of COVID-19 pay, in addition to other supports for employees.

COVID-19 is creating much uncertainty in our economy, but Minnesota is prepared. Our state budget reserves ($2.3 billion) and a healthy budget surplus ($1.5 billion) has our state on solid footing at this critical time. The state’s rainy-day fund is ready to help Minnesotans weather the storm until we can normalize work and commerce. I will continue to consult with our business leaders and employers to balance the need for public health and safety with our need to maintain strong supply chains and public services.

I want to thank all of you who have reached out to me with questions and feedback on COVID-19 and other bills being considered this legislative session. Your input is helpful and keeps me informed and connected to you during this critical time. Please do not hesitate to reach out to my office by phone or email. We will not stop working for you during this unprecedented time in our state’s history. Our state, county, and municipal leaders are an important source for reliable and trustworthy information as this crisis continues to develop. It’s important we come together as a community to help one another, to fight this virus, and to recover as quickly as possible. I’m confident that together we will overcome this challenge. Please stay home as much as you can until March 27th and follow our state health expert’s guidance at MDH.

Several online resources (best way to stay updated) are available below:

Unemployment insurance questions: tinyurl.com/tmxva2w

Minnesota Department of Education: tinyurl.com/r535zme

Minnesota Department of Health: tinyurl.com/qrol67f

If you have further questions, several hotlines have been set up.

School and child care questions:

• Call 651-297-1304 or 1-800-657-3504 (7am-7pm daily)

• Visit education.mn.gov

• Childcare providers with questions should call 1-888-234-1268

Health questions:

• 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903 (7am-7pm daily)

• Visit health.state.mn.us

Questions for workers and employers:

• 651-259-7114 or 800-657-3858

mn.gov/deed

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