Federal aid continued to bolster Minnesota’s response to the pandemic, from tackling emergency room overcrowding to providing rental assistance and supporting litigation over COVID-related scams.
Governor Tim Walz last week detailed plans to spend $ 36 million of the more than $ 2.8 billion the state government received in the spring as part of the US bailout.
“These federal funds will ease the pressure our hospitals and long-term care facilities face and provide more capacity for Minnesotans with COVID or other illnesses,” Walz said in a statement, which noted that a part of the $ 36 million has already gone out in the past month. “These ARP funds will help support our health care system as more and more Minnesotans continue to get vaccinated to protect themselves and their communities.”
The largest amount in the latest announcement – $ 20 million – provides three more months of rent assistance for about 6,000 people. The state government has secured more than half a billion dollars to help people cover the costs of rent and utilities during the pandemic. But the Walz administration said that in March, around 7,000 households could use up their 18 months of federal aid.
Another $ 7 million went to Minnesota Housing, the agency administering a massive rent assistance program. It came under heavy criticism for being slow to release the money, but accelerated in October. The money will be used to pay for additional staff to make the payments, but concerns have been raised within a group representing property owners and managers.
“There are a lot of questions about the effectiveness of the RentHelpMN program and it’s been troubling from the very beginning,” said Cecil Smith, president of the Minnesota Multi Housing Association. “Then seeing requests for additional funding so that they can handle this bureaucracy, I think it deserves an investigation by those with oversight power.”
Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office has received approximately $ 3.6 million to support its work in investigating and litigating COVID-19 scams and residential issues. His office took into account tenants’ concerns about utilities and battles with landlords throughout the pandemic.
An additional $ 2.5 million is helping the healthcare industry and long-term care providers, including tackling overcrowded emergency rooms and funding temporary emergency sites for hospitals.
Smaller amounts were allocated for educational needs, including $ 1.5 million for early learning programs aimed at improving children’s language, communication and literacy skills. And $ 1 million will add life skills and career opportunities for students with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 21.
The smaller allowance, $ 500,000 for the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, will help fight an increase in anti-Asian stigma during the pandemic, as well as other crimes of discrimination and hate. The department will follow up on admissions calls regarding these issues, spokesman Taylor Putz said, and will also use the money to understand who is affected by COVID-related disability discrimination.