Walz administration to distribute $853 million in COVID aid to counties, cities, townships, food shelves

    Gov. Tim Walz at a press conference announcing a new executive order that eases restrictions on restaurants, gyms, and other areas of the economy on June 5, 2020 in St. Paul, Minn. Photo by Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune.

    Gov. Tim Walz announced a plan Thursday to dole out $853 million in federal COVID-19 relief money to communities after the money was held up for weeks in stalled negotiations with the Legislature. 

    The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES, funding became a political football during the regular session as lawmakers disagreed about how the money should be distributed. Then it became a bargaining chip during the recently concluded special legislative session, though an agreement was never reached. 

    Walz has the power to distribute the money himself. He said $841 million will be distributed to counties and cities using a formula lawmakers came up with but didn’t pass.

    The state received $1.9 billion in federal CARES funds to cover costs incurred dealing with the COVID-19 public health emergency, 45% of which was to go to cities and counties.

    “As we work to support the health and safety of all Minnesotans during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also taking steps to build a stronger and more equitable economy,” Walz said in a press release. “This funding will bring much-needed relief to communities across the state as we continue to battle this pandemic together.”

    The $841 million for local governments across the state can be used to support government services as well as grants to businesses, hospitals and Minnesotans who have been affected by COVID-19.

    The Minnesota Department of Revenue will distribute the funding to local governments based on the per capita formula developed by state lawmakers, with larger counties receiving up to $121 per capita, while small townships and cities would receive $25 per capita. 

    The governor submitted his distribution plan to the Legislative Advisory Commission Thursday for review and requested their swift approval so the funds can be distributed. The Department of Revenue will distribute funds on a rolling basis beginning the week of June 29.

    Food shelves and other food nonprofits will receive $12 million to combat hunger. Walz said about 300,000 Minnesotans have visited food shelves monthly since the pandemic ensued, 30% above normal. Food banks are distributing some 2.4 million pounds of food per week, a 20 to 40% increase since 2019.