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'Hero Pay' applications flood into Minnesota

25 June 2022

Minnesota’s pandemic frontline workers are quickly lining up for state cash.

More than 762,000 Minnesotans had already sought state “hero pay” as of Thursday morning — and there is still another month to apply.

State officials had estimated 667,000 workers would qualify for the program, which would result in each person getting $750 from the $500 million deal legislators struck this spring. Not all of the hundreds of thousands of people who have requested cash since the application process opened June 8 will be approved to receive a check.

“I am not surprised by the number,” said Sen. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, who sponsored the legislation and had attempted to pass $1 billion in frontline worker pay. “I suspected that our estimates could be low, and I wanted to make sure that we were honoring the work of people.”

Minnesotans have through July 22 to submit their requests.

“After processing and verification of the applications, as well as a 15-day period for denied applicants to contest those decisions, the final list of eligible applicants will be determined. Each eligible applicant will be provided with an equal payment,” Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry spokesman James Honerman said in a statement.

The eligibility criteria the Legislature set in April requires applicants to be an employee who worked at least 120 hours in frontline jobs during between March 15, 2020, and June 30, 2021.

Independent contractors and sole proprietors do not meet the guidelines, Honerman noted.

That has caused consternation among some Minnesotans, particularly many child care providers who operate out of their homes.

“We were asked to step up” during the pandemic, said Cyndi Cunningham, public policy chair of the Minnesota Child Care Provider Information Network. She said those providers believed they would be included in the hero pay and when they found out they were left out, “It’s a letdown. It’s a slap in the face.”

While the hundreds of dollars people will likely get is “not a retirement fund,” it would be helpful, Cunningham said. A bipartisan bill would have set aside funding for such child care providers, she said, but the Legislature did not pass it.

“No special session means no bill,” Cunningham said. She doubts state leaders will convene a special session at this point, adding, “I don’t think anybody has the desire to really come back.”

An effort to help sole proprietors who weren’t included in the hero pay program was one of the things that got left behind this session, Murphy said.

Much of legislators’ work this year — from tax cut proposals to additional spending on education and human services — remains unfinished as they failed to reach agreements.

“This is one of the few things that we actually accomplished this year for working people,” Murphy said of the hero pay. “I hope that it is a meaningful result.”

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