ST. PAUL — Members of a panel tasked with handing out $250 million to Minnesota front-line workers next week are set to narrow the pool of professions eligible for hero pay.

The Minnesota Frontline Worker Pay Working Group on Tuesday, Aug. 24, said it would start restricting the categories of workers up for a payment with a focus on those who interacted directly with sick individuals and vulnerable populations.

"I think we know the direction we're generally going in," House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, said Tuesday. "Next week let's try to at least get a conceptual agreement on the kind of package we're going to put together."

The panel is tasked with dividing up the federal COVID-19 relief dollars to workers who had to quarantine or take unpaid time off to recover from COVID-19 during the pandemic. For nearly a month, the working group has sought to identify the front-line workers who put themselves at greatest risk during the pandemic and should be considered for state aid.

Almost 1 million Minnesotans could be eligible for the funds as roughly that many had worked positions that the federal government classified as essential during the pandemic. And members of the panel have grappled with whether to distribute smaller payments to hundreds of thousands of affected Minnesotans or give bigger ones to a smaller pool.

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During several meetings, people who worked in health care, education, food services, public safety, sanitation, trucking, mechanics and child care told lawmakers and state commissioners that their jobs had exposed them to a heightened risk of contracting COVID-19.

And lawmakers on the group said they'd learned from that testimony about workers they wouldn't have thought to count within the front-line worker category.

"This really has been helpful to wrap our heads around everybody that was essential and front-line through this and hear the testimony, things that we didn't know that we didn't know were going on out there," Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, said.

The group has a Labor Day deadline to reach an agreement that they could hand to the state Legislature for approval. Seven of the panel's nine members need to strike a deal before anything could advance.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com