Gov. Walz signs bill for Minnesota workers to get pandemic ‘hero pay’ bonuses

May 3, 2022

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Some 667,000 Minnesota workers who were on the front lines of the pandemic can expect to claim their $750 bonus checks in 10 to 12 weeks, state officials said Monday.

Cabinet commissioners laid out some details as Democratic Gov. Tim Walz (pictured) held a ceremonial signing ceremony for a $2.7 billion bill passed Friday that grants the “hero pay” bonuses and rolls back a tax increase that had been needed replenish the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund.

The governor actually signed the bill Friday when he broke away from his son’s high school volleyball game to beat a deadline. But he held Monday’s event to thank lawmakers and stakeholders, and to celebrate the biggest bipartisan success so far of the 2022 legislative session.

The Department of Labor and Industry is setting up the application system for the frontline worker bonuses. Meanwhile, the Department of Employment and Economic Development is handling credits and refunds for employers that had to pay higher unemployment insurance taxes for the first quarter because lawmakers didn’t break their impasse over the two issues until late last week.

Labor and Industry Commissioner Roslyn Robertson said a vendor will be building the online application system over the next three to four weeks. It should be running within the next month. Then there will be a 45-day application period, she said, and a 15-day appeal process.

“When you add all of those timeframes together I think that pushes us out to about 10 to 12 weeks before we can reasonably expect that checks will be out the door,” Robertson said.

More than 22,000 individuals have already signed up on the state’s Frontline Worker Pay website to receive updates on the process, she added.

The experience of other states suggests that nearly all the 667,000 eligible workers will apply for the $750 checks, said Democratic Rep. Cedrick Frazier, of New Hope, a lead negotiator on the deal.

Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said his agency would spend the next week to 10 days recalculating tax bills for around 130,000 to 140,000 businesses to reverse the automatic unemployment insurance tax increase that kicked in recently.

Details are available on the unemployment insurance website, Grove said. But he said employers that have already made their first-quarter payments, which were due Monday, will get credits they can apply to their second-quarter bills, or they can request refunds that will take a couple months.

The frontline workers and unemployment insurance deal leaves about $6 billion of the state’s original $9.25 billion budget surplus left to allocate in the final three weeks of the legislative session. Walz was adamant that he won’t call a special session to give lawmakers more time.

But the House Democratic and Senate Republican majorities remain far apart on whether to use the remaining surplus for permanent income tax cuts, as Republicans want, or Democratic proposals for targeted tax relief through expanded child care and property tax credits and refunds plus spending on education and other programs. Big policy differences also remain on crime and other issues.

Walz said he’s hopeful that the deal helps build momentum for reaching bipartisan compromises on the remaining issues before the May 23 adjournment deadline. And he said his proposal for one-time income tax rebates of $500 for single filers and $1,000 for joint filers remains “alive and well,” in his view, even though it’s not in either the Senate or House tax bills.