With number of essential workers up, hazard pay is down

By: - August 16, 2022 9:30 pm

Meatpacking workers, already working in hazardous conditions, faced a high risk of COVID-19 infection during the pandemic. Photo courtesy of U.S. General Accountability Office.

When the divided Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz came to a $500 milion agreement on compensating frontline workers for putting their health at risk during the pandemic, they estimated that 667,000 eligibible workers would apply.

That meant each worker — among them child care workers, prison guards, meat processors, etc. — would receive $750.

Nearly 1 million workers have applied and are not currently subject to denial, which means the total amount per worker will be about $500, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry, which is administering the program.

A spokesman for DLI said the Legislature’s estimate was just that — an estimate.

The estimate was completed during the spring of 2021, which is when lawmakers were first negotiating a hazard pay deal. Anyone who worked 120 hours in one of the frontline worker job categories between March 2020 and June 30, 2021 was eligible.

“There were more frontline workers — people risking their lives — than we ever knew about. This is not the problem,” said Brian Elliott, executive director of Service Employees International Union Minnesota, which was part of a broad coalition fighting for the hazard pay. “The problem is that we were fighting for $1 billion, and Republicans didn’t want to go above $250 million, and we wound up at $500 million.”

About 215,000 applications have been denied. Among the reasons: They collected too much unemployment insurance money during the pandemic; their income was too high; or, their job or ID couldn’t be verified.

DLI also denied 47,000 duplicate applications. This could be people who forgot they applied and mistakenly applied again. Or, more concerning, one person applied and someone fraudulently tried to apply using the same name and Social Security or tax ID number.

Workers whose application have been denied can appeal. The appeal process started Tuesday and continues through the end of August.

From DLI’s appeals FAQ: “The appeal form will require a Social Security number or taxpayer ID and an identity verification. The form will also allow you to explain why you believe the denial is in error. Finally, you will need to certify the provided information is true and accurate.”

For more information on appeals, workers can go here.

Reformer editor J. Patrick Coolican contributed reporting. 

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Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues.