The Potluck

Walz names three agency heads to working group on frontline worker pay; one spot left

By: - July 14, 2021 4:00 pm

DFL Gov. Tim Walz holds a ceremonial bill signing for a new $52 billion state budget on July 1, 2021. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer.

Long-term caregivers and other essential workers who kept Minnesota running through the pandemic are set to receive $250 million in back pay for the risks they took over the past year. 

This week, Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders announced eight people of a nine-person working group that will determine how much money long-term care workers and what other essential workers will get. 

In June, in the waning days of budget negotiations, legislative leaders and Walz struck a deal to provide the millions in federal COVID-19 relief aid to frontline workers who were not eligible for other assistance when they took unpaid leave to care for themselves or others who contracted COVID-19. 

The governor, the Senate and House all get to appoint three members to the nine-person panel. The majority caucuses in the House and Senate each get to appoint two members, and the minority caucuses one each. 

The group has until Sep. 6 to set criteria and determine the size of back pay checks for essential workers. The proposal needs the support of seven of the nine working group members. 

Long-term care workers are included, according to the recently-enacted law. And, the working group must consider factors including “a frontline worker’s increased financial burden and increased risk of virus exposure due to the nature of their work,” the law reads.

Walz and legislative leaders say they plan to take up the recommendation and pass into law during a brief September special session. 

This week, the Senate and House announced which lawmakers will form the working group. 

Senate Republicans appointed state Sens. Mary Kiffmeyer of Big Lake and Karin Houseley of Stillwater. Senate Democrats appointed state Sen. Erin Murphy of St. Paul. 

The House DFL appointed Majority Leader Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley and state Rep. Cedrick Frazier of New Hope. House Republicans will make their announcement Wednesday, a spokesman said. 

“The task of this panel will challenge us,” Murphy said in a statement. “But our charge is clear — to make whole the workers who risked their lives to keep Minnesotans alive and to keep our economy moving with the backpay they are due.”

Walz appointed three of his agency commissioners: Steve Grove, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development; Roslyn Robertson, commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry; and Robert Doty, commissioner of Revenue.

“Minnesota’s essential workers have borne a large burden of the COVID-19 pandemic to protect our communities and save lives,” Walz said in a statement.

It’s unclear yet if Walz will seek a signed deal ahead of the special session that would limit its scope and duration. 

Under Minnesota law, the governor holds the sole power to call a special session, but lawmakers are the only ones who can adjourn it. 

Walz has reason to be leery. Senate Republicans surprised the governor and Senate Democrats when they decided earlier this month to continue the special session which adopted a new two-year budget, in order to hold confirmation hearings for some members of Walz’s cabinet. 

The surprise maneuver led to the ouster of former Minnesota Pollution Control Agency commissioner Laura Bishop. Senate Republicans have indicated they might yet consider other commissioner appointments in September, but have so far been noncommittal.

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.