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More than 1 million front-line workers to receive $487 checks from Minnesota

Legislators passed a bill this spring to provide $500 million in bonus checks to workers who had to report to their jobs during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic and put themselves at greater risk than those who were able to work remotely.

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St. Luke’s Emergency Department registered nurse Josh Solberg disinfects a workstation in the monoclonal antibody clinic where patients with COVID-19 are treated. He recently spoke about what it’s been like being on the front lines of the battle against the pandemic.
Steve Kuchera / 2021 file / Duluth News Tribune
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ST. PAUL — More than 1 million Minnesotans will receive checks of $487.45 in recognition of their work on the front lines during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Tim Walz on Monday, Oct. 3, announced the state will begin sending the checks to workers starting Wednesday. Workers eligible for “hero pay” included health care workers, meatpackers, janitors, teachers and others.

Legislators passed a bill last spring to provide $500 million in bonus checks to workers who had to report to their jobs during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic and put themselves at greater risk than those who were able to work remotely.

Officials had originally estimated each worker would receive about $750. Workers had until July 22 to apply for the bonus pay, and the state ended up receiving nearly 2 million applications — more than double the 667,000 applications lawmakers expected to receive.

Applicants who chose direct deposit will get the bonus pay in seven to 10 business days, the governor’s office said. Others who chose to receive a debit card with the funds can expect to receive the card in the mail within three to four weeks.

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In a statement, Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry temporary commissioner Nicole Blissenbach said the program is a token of appreciation for the services front-line workers provided to the state.

“It’s been an honor to administer the Frontline Worker Pay Program and provide the well-deserved and long-awaited recognition to so many of Minnesota’s front-line workers for the extraordinary sacrifices they made during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Blissenbach said.

In order to qualify, employees had to work for 120 hours between March 15, 2020, and June 30, 2021, and couldn’t have taken unemployment benefits for more than 20 weeks. Individual tax filers with an income higher than $85,000 couldn’t qualify unless they worked directly with COVID-19 patients. Those who worked with COVID-19 patients had to earn $175,000 or less a year.

More than 200,000 applications faced rejection — or 18%. Applicants had from Aug. 16-31 to file an appeal. Of those, 95,282 were turned down due to ID verification issues. Other applicants used too much unemployment to qualify, couldn’t verify employment, or earned too much to qualify. There were 47,145 duplicate applications.

The state ultimately awarded bonus pay to 1.03 million applicants.

The $500 million currently available is the result of a compromise between Democrats and Republicans in the divided Legislature. Democratic lawmakers had proposed $1 billion, though Republicans initially said they would not go past $250 million, and wanted to limit the eligibility pool to public safety and health workers.

Labor groups say the state should boost the front-line worker pay pool to $1 billion in order to increase payments. Republicans have not expressed interest in returning for a special session to address spending bills including front-line worker checks.

This story originally mischaracterized the number of applications received by the state. The state received more than double the 667,000 applications lawmakers expected to receive. It was updated at 2:51 p.m. Oct. 3. Forum News Service regrets the error.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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