Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka speaks during a press conference on Jun 2, 2021. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer.
DFL Gov. Tim Walz on Friday said he intended to rescind his peacetime emergency declaration to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic by Aug. 1. The additional time would allow the state to leverage continued federal aid, he said.
This is the first time Walz has provided a date for when he would relinquish his emergency powers, despite repeated calls and votes from the Republican-controlled Minnesota Senate to give up his emergency authority as early as last summer. He first declared the emergency on March 13, 2020.
“I’ll start packing up the warehouse,” he said, referring to the efforts the state undertakes now to wind down its testing and vaccination efforts.
Senate Republicans, however, were not satisfied with Walz’s stated end date.
On Friday, the Senate voted 37-30 — with one rural DFL state senator and the chamber’s two independent members joining 34 Republicans — to amend the state government budget bill and ending the emergency on July 1.
The amended bill also reimburses any businesses that were penalized for violating Walz’s COVID-19 public health orders.
Gazelka told reporters that other states have begun ending emergency powers, and said it was not necessary to leverage additional federal funds for items such as food stamps.
“This is not something that we have to or need to negotiate with the governor,” he said. “This is the legislative prerogative.”
The state government bill now heads to the DFL-led House, where its fate is uncertain because of the last-minute amendments adopted by the Senate.
A spokesman for House Speaker DFL Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said there was no comment “at this time” on the Senate’s vote.
Hortman has previously said she supported keeping the emergency in place to leverage federal funding for food stamps.
Walz’s office on Friday released a memo that lays out federal guidance, allowing for a “phase out” month of federal food stamp aid for 30 days after a state of emergency expires. “Extending the peacetime emergency into August would provide certainty that Minnesotans will continue to receive benefits in August and September,” according to the memo.
That amounts to $90 million. The federal food stamp relief has helped 500,000 Minnesotans put food on their tables, according to the memo.
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