ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz called on Congress to pass a new round of economic stimulus funding on Thursday, Aug. 6, saying the recent expiration of expanded federal unemployment benefits threatens to further disrupt the finances of households already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.
Pressure is mounting on lawmakers to pass new stimulus measures and restore the additional $600 in federal unemployment insurance included in the initial rescue package adopted in March. The enhanced benefits were due to be paid out only until last week.
Without them, Walz and other state leaders said at a press conference held in St. Paul's Midway neighborhood on Wednesday, Minnesotans collecting unemployment may struggle to afford their basic needs. He said other governors expressed support for the renewal of the benefits on a recent phone call.
"We're not here to chastise the federal government. We're here to ask them to just move on what everyone knows we need to do. We need to have to this next round of relief so that we can make sure that we get a handle on the virus, and we keep vibrancy back in our businesses," Walz said.
Approximately 900,000 applications for unemployment insurance have been submitted in Minnesota since the pandemic took hold in mid-March, according to the state Department of Employment and Economic Development. Minnesota has since burned through the state unemployment trust fund as a result and is borrowing from the federal government to maintain the flow of unemployment benefits.
Fewer applications have been submitted in recent weeks and the state seasonally adjusted unemployment rate did dip slightly in June to 8.6%, however, though even that is double what had been observed earlier in the year.
According to DEED estimates, the loss of the extra $600 in unemployment insurance will work out to a statewide loss of between $200 to $300 million a week for Minnesotans. It may be felt most acutely in Minnesota's Black communities and communities of color, department commissioner Steve Grove said Wednesday, given that they are over-represented in a food service and hospitality workforce already devastated by the pandemic.
Still, Grove said that many businesses in the state are hiring and that DEED will soon launch a new campaign meant to highlight in-demand fields.
"Even though the economy is in a challenging situation, there are thousands of employers across the state who are hiring, and who can't hire fast enough," he said.
For those struggling to find work, Grove said that DEED would be able to deliver the expanded unemployment benefits as soon as Congress reauthorizes them. Walz cautioned that creating a system to deliver benefits of differing amounts based on individual household needs, as some lawmakers have suggested, would cause significant delays.
Officials on Wednesday advised Minnesotans who anticipate difficulty stemming from the loss of the enhanced unemployment benefits to inquire about their eligibility for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, and other forms of public assistance. Local community action partnership organizations, like the one officials spoke outside of in St. Paul on Wednesday, can help with the enrollment process.
The state should have capacity to absorb new assistance program applicants, the officials said, and will maintain its eviction moratorium even though one at the federal level expired last week.
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said that enrolling for public assistance is not something that Minnesotans need feel ashamed about, and credited them for supporting her own family when she was a child.
"Every Minnesotan deserves a roof over their head, food on their table and the resources that they need to survive during this time," she said.