Lawmakers on the House floor social distance as they work Monday. Credit: Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

The Minnesota Legislature passed an emergency COVID-19 relief package Monday night that gives new aid to businesses hurt by the pandemic and extends existing unemployment benefits. 

Though the bill earmarks $216 million in state relief to thousands of businesses, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Secretary Steve Grove stressed that the added support won’t be enough to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19. He described the package as more of a stopgap measure until the federal government comes up with a new round of aid. 

“This is not going to be a package that solves everything for our state businesses,” Grove said. “But it will help, and that’s important.” 

Below, we take a look at how the package will roll out over the next several weeks and who will benefit. 

Which businesses are eligible for the latest round of state-funded relief? 

Businesses eligible for some type of relief include restaurants, bars, gyms, bowling alleys, coffee shops, breweries, caterers, movie theaters, live theaters, large convention centers, hotels, museums, and arcades. The state will also give every county government money to create its own relief programs. The one thing all businesses eligible for relief must have in common is to show they were hurt by Governor Tim Walz’s executive orders related to containing the COVID-19 pandemic. 

What type of relief are businesses eligible for? 

The legislation established three categories of relief that businesses can receive. The first is direct checks from the state Department of Revenue, the second is through grants from DEED, and the third is through grants from county governments. 

How will businesses know what relief they are eligible for?

Bars, bowling alleys, gyms, coffee shops, breweries, wineries, distilleries, and caterers that are eligible for direct checks from the Department of Revenue don’t need to do anything. According to Grove, the Revenue Department will already know if they meet the following criteria: 

—They were directly affected by Walz’s most recent executive order, which shut down in-person service from bars these businesses for four weeks and is set to expire this Friday, 

—They saw a 30-percent decline in sales revenue from last year to this year.

—They reported at least $10,000 in sales in 2019. 

—They are physically located in Minnesota and are in good standing with the Revenue Department.

How big will these checks from the Revenue Department be? 

It depends on the size of the business. Small businesses not enrolled in the state unemployment insurance program will receive $10,000. Businesses that employ 20 people or fewer will get $15,000. Businesses with between 21 and 100 employees will see $25,000; between 101 and 300 employees will see $35,000; and those with more than 300 employees will get $45,000.

The Revenue Department estimates that 5,800 businesses across the state will receive such checks. This direct aid will total between $82-$88 million. 

When will these businesses receive checks? 

We do not know for sure, but Grove expects in a matter of weeks, not months. 

“The Department of Revenue’s hope is to get most of these out by early next year,” he said. “But it’s hard to predict in a sense because this is an unprecedented program.”

Grove added that direct checks are issued by the state government faster than grants. 

What businesses not eligible for checks are eligible for grants from the state, then?

Movie theaters and convention centers with a minimum capacity to house 1,500 people are eligible for grants from DEED. For this aid, theaters and convention centers must also show a direct impact from Walz’s executive orders and a 30 percent drop in sales from 2019 to 2020. But they can’t simply wait for a check like the bars and restaurants; they’ll actually have to apply for the aid through DEED. 

Where can these businesses apply for DEED grants? 

An application and timeframe for businesses to apply is not live yet, but will be available through DEED’s website “as soon as possible,” Grove said. 

How much money will theaters and convention centers get from these grants?

Movie theaters with one or two screens will receive $15,000 per screen. Bigger theaters will receive $10,000 more for each additional screen. The state’s biggest movie theater, according to a state government memo, is in Lakeville and houses 21 screens, therefore it’s eligible for a $150,000 grant. Convention centers are eligible for a maximum grant of $500,000. Convention centers must use this money for operations and upkeep. 

DEED grants for movie theaters will total $9 million and convention centers $5 million. 

Will national or multinational companies receiving any of this state aid be limited to how they can spend it? 

Yes. Large movie theater chains, for example, must use the state money for their Minnesota-based operations. 

What businesses are eligible for relief from the state through county governments? 

The state will give county governments discretion over what businesses can get help through them. They’ll have to be affected by Walz’s latest shutdown order directly or indirectly, Grove said, but from there, counties can decide. 

Even businesses receiving relief from other areas of this legislation could be eligible for county grants, should that particular county decide so. “If there’s a business that may have gotten some money from the Department of Revenue, but they’re a critical business to a main street in town and without more money they’re not going to make it, we’re allowing counties to double down,” Grove said. 

How can businesses get grants from their counties?

Each county will develop its own program for businesses to apply to. Counties must distribute all state aid through this legislation by March 15. If they don’t, it will revert back to the state’s general fund. 

How much aid will counties get to spend? 

That will depend on the size of the county. Each county will receive a minimum of $250,000. Hennepin County, the state’s largest, is expected to get $25.5 million. 

What about businesses that opened in 2020, experienced losses, but don’t have previous years to compare? 

They are not explicitly covered in this legislation, though Grove notes that counties could include them in their programs funded by this aid. 

Any other ways businesses are getting help through this package? 

The legislation also waives fees on state licenses for bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, refunds wastewater permit fees paid by small breweries, and waives late penalty fees for food manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers.

Is the relief legislation limited to helping businesses? 

No. The package also extends benefits for people currently on unemployment insurance. Currently, unemployed workers in Minnesota can receive insurance for up to 39 weeks. This bill extends their coverage another 13 weeks. The added 13 weeks must fall between December 19 and April 10. 

Under the bill, school districts also have an extra two weeks to determine which of its students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. 

How much will workers receive from the added unemployment? 

The same amount as they would under regular unemployment insurance. In other words, this extension does not include any bonus unemployment money seen in federal relief packages earlier this year.

Joey Peters is a reporter for Sahan Journal. He has been a journalist for 15 years. Before joining Sahan Journal, he worked for close to a decade in New Mexico, where his reporting prompted the resignation...