Outsized demand could mean smaller-than-expected hero checks for Minnesota front-line workers
Gov. Tim Walz and front-line workers on Wednesday encouraged essential workers who'd stayed on the job during the height of the pandemic to apply for hero pay through the state.
ST. PAUL — Minnesota workers who stayed on the job during the height of the pandemic could see lower than expected hero checks from the state after hundreds of thousands of front-line workers applied for benefits over the last several weeks.
To date, 901,000 people have applied for the benefits, Gov. Tim Walz and officials from the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry said Wednesday, July 6. And officials estimated that the pool of applicants could exceed 1 million before the online application closes on July 22.
When lawmakers approved the $500 million plan to send money out to health care workers, meat packers, janitors, teachers and others, they anticipated that about 667,000 people would be eligible for the payments. And broken out between that many people, they expected that each would get about a $750 check.
But with the boosted applicant pool, workers could receive less than that target — at least right away — since the funds are set to be divvied up among those who apply and meet eligibility terms. If all of the 901,000 applicants were deemed eligible, each could receive about $555.
“We want to make sure that people know that we are trying to get this out to you,” Walz said during a news conference at the Capitol. "It's all hands on deck with our teams that are out there."
The governor, front-line workers and lawmakers involved in the legislation's passage lauded the proposal and urged workers who'd not yet applied for the checks to apply at frontlinepay.mn.gov, or to call 866-333-7633 to get help with their application. They noted that Democrats had supported a $1 billion allocation to provide heftier front-line worker checks during the legislative session but ultimately, the divided Legislature struck a deal for half that.
"We all worked hard during this pandemic to keep the state up and running, we all took risks without having protective equipment at the beginning and we all deserve to get paid," Prisley Arredondo, a member of Minneapolis-based union Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha, said, noting that the application took about 15 minutes to complete and is available in various languages. "We worked for this pay. And we want to encourage you to apply for it in the weeks that we have yet."
They said that lawmakers could consider passing additional worker pay funds if the initial pool doesn't stretch far enough to make a meaningful difference for applicants. That proposal would have to pick up support from Republicans in the Legislature who were initially hesitant to approve the $500 million fund earlier this year.
“We can always come back to this issue, based on changing circumstances," Walz said. “We can continue to come back and do more."
Workers have until July 22 to submit their applications, labor and industry officials said. From there, those who are ineligible will receive an email and can appeal during a 15-day window.
Once appeals are processed, workers who will receive the checks will get a notification and will later get the funds sent to them.
Eligible employees would have had to work 120 hours between March 15, 2020, and June 30, 2021, and not have drawn down unemployment benefits for more than 20 weeks.
There would also be an income cap of $85,000 for individual filers who did not work directly with COVID-19 patients to be eligible. Those who worked with COVID-19 patients could receive the checks if they make $175,000 or less a year.