This week, the federal government passed another stimulus bill, totaling nearly $2 trillion, and directing more than $4.8 billion in aid to Minnesota, along with direct checks to individuals, an extension of unemployment insurance, and many other provisions. Of the $4.8 billion, more than half ($2.577 billion) will go directly to the state, while the remaining funds will be allocated to counties ($1.109 billion), cities and other municipalities. Allocation details are available here.
While many legislators and lobbyists alike have already imagined millions of ways to spend the billions in federal money, it is important to note that it is only temporary funding. This means that it is best used to only pay for one-time costs, not ongoing budget items. Therefore, Governor Tim Walz and others may continue to suggest that a tax increase is still needed to fund expenses into the future.
Governor Walz will release his updated budget request to the legislature next week (rumor is that it will be on Thursday). He had released an earlier version prior to the February forecast, but the revised version will be changed based on the significantly improved economic numbers and the influx of federal cash. Additionally, on March 21, he will have an opportunity to promote his new budget as he delivers the State of the State address from the Mankato classroom where he once taught.
As had been promised by Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, on Thursday the Senate passed S.F. 263, authored by Senator Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook), which exempts forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans from income tax. The bill had broad support, passing by a margin of 55-12. The House has advanced a similar bill in committee, which is laid over for possible inclusion in the tax omnibus bill. At this point, the House and Senate have not agreed on if, when, or how to advance this issue.
Today Governor Walz released updated guidance that will take effect at various times in the next month. Included in the guidance is reinforcement that masking and social distancing are still required in certain circumstances. However, various restrictions on work and gatherings (indoor and outdoor) are lifted or lessened. Beginning on April 15, the requirement that workers “who can work from home, must work from home” is lifted, however employers are “strongly encouraged to allow employees…to work from home.”
Earlier in the week, Governor Walz announced that nearly 70% of Minnesotans aged 65 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Due to hitting this milestone, the next two tiers of individuals are now eligible to receive the vaccine. This group consists of approximately 1.8 million people, and constitutes roughly 40% of Minnesota adults. Looking at the infographic below, individuals who are within the yellow areas are now eligible, and state leaders indicated that the next tiers are likely to be eligible sometime in April (if available vaccine doses increase as hoped).