Big bucks coming to Otter Tail County for state coronavirus relief
UPDATE: Gov. Tim Walz announced today, June 25, a plan to distribute $853 million in relief to communities across the state affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Of that, $841 million will be distributed to Minnesota counties, cities and towns to support local government coronavirus relief efforts. The other $12 million will be allocated toward food shelves and food banks to help combat hunger across Minnesota. The funding was authorized under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
"As we work to support the health and safety of all Minnesotans during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also taking steps to build a stronger and more equitable economy," Walz said in a news release. "This funding will bring much-needed relief to communities across the state as we continue to battle this pandemic together."
Earlier story: Otter Tail County will receive $7.2 million in federal COVID-19 emergency money, if Gov. Tim Walz acts on a distribution plan devised by legislative leaders, but never enacted into law.
State Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said Monday, June 22, that he expects Walz to announce that the money will be distributed as planned. The governor has the emergency authority to go ahead and distribute the $841 million in federal money, even without legislative agreement.
Marquart said Walz called him June 20 to ask whether the proposed formula is sound. Assured that it is, Walz told Marquart he would make a distribution announcement this week.
Of the $467 million going to counties:
- Otter Tail will get $7.2 million
- Becker County will get $4.2 million
- Clay $7.8 million
- Hubbard $2.6 million
- Mahnomen $713,000
- Todd County $3 million
- Wadena $1.7 million
Of the $350 million going to Minnesota cities:
- Perham: $255,000
- Pelican Rapids: $190,000
- Vergas: $27,000
Cities with a population less than 200 will get no direct funding (sorry Hitterdal, population 199) but they can apply to their parent counties for COVID-19-related expenses. Counties are receiving extra money for those smaller cities, Marquart said.
Minnesota’s townships will also split up $24 million in federal CARES Act money if Walz proceeds with the distribution.
Republicans say the funding would be a done deal by now if the DFL-controlled House hadn’t tried to juice the pot by adding $150 million in state funding to the original bill, which had already passed the Senate by a large bipartisan majority.
“The Senate passed this bill 62-4, and all four caucuses supported the bill,” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said in a news release. “It's unconscionable for Democrats to block this funding that our cities, counties, and towns desperately need."
The Republican-controlled Senate wanted nothing to do with the extra state spending tacked on by the House, Rep. Steve Green, R-Fosston, said in a phone interview.
“In a time of record deficits, Democrats wanted to add $150 million in spending,” Green said. The House should have voted on the original bill, as it had agreed to, he said.
“I’d love to see us have passed it,” he said. “We all expected it to go through, I even sent out messages to the counties ... The Senate approved it, then the Democratic majority in the House decided they wanted to amend it, to give more money to the governor to spend.”
Among other things, the state money would have gone to Minnesota Human Services for direct care and treatment, to the Department of Corrections, to personal care assistance, to a one-time $500 payment to families in the Minnesota Family Investment Program or the Diversionary Work Program, and to the DNR, the State Patrol, the Minnesota Zoo, a veterans suicide prevention and housing vouchers, as well as about $29 million to cover federal Medicaid funds that went to the White Earth and Leech Lake reservations between 2014 and 2019, for medicine-assisted opioid treatments.
Although the CARES Act bill fell apart in the recent special session, Marquart is convinced that the distribution will go forward anyway.
“I’m feeling confident the money will go out soon,” Marquart said Monday, June 22. “Out of the $841 million, 54% goes out to rural Minnesota -- that’s pretty significant.” The money will not just be used to compensate counties and cities for COVID-19 costs, but also for economic support, Marquart said. “We’re expecting it will all be used.”
Green is hopeful that Walz will distribute the federal funds just as if the original bill had passed. “The governor does have discretion,” to do that, he said.
The fear is that Walz will use the funding as a club against parts of greater Minnesota that are chafing at his COVID-19 restrictions, he said.
“I’m afraid certain areas of greater Minnesota could get hurt,” Green added. That would be an injustice, and the governor needs to stop treating Minnesota with one-size-fits-all restrictions on businesses and gatherings, he said.
“What Becker County needs is not the same as the metro area,” Green said.