House Committee Approves Bill to Give Essential Workers $1,500 in Bonus Pay
A bill that would provide a total of $1 billion in bonus pay to workers deemed essential during the COVID-19 pandemic cleared one Minnesota House committee hurdle this week.
Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, is chief author of House File 2900. The bill would provide $1,500 to each worker who could not work from home and meets certain income and eligibility requirements. It would impact workers in a wide range of industries from nurses and child care workers to meat packing plant employees and jail staff.
“We called them ‘heroes.’ But so far we’ve given them nothing but hollow words and thanks,” said Frazier during the committee hearing.
The money would come out of the state’s $7.7 billion surplus. The House Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee passed the bill on a 9-4 vote. Republican lawmakers on the committee expressed some concerns about eligibility and income requirements, but expressed the bill has traction for bipartisan support.
To qualify for the $1,500, someone must have worked at least 120 hours between March, 15, 2020, and June 30, 2021. The worker must also meet income limits of $85,000 for individuals or $185,000 for married taxpayers.
A higher income limit of $150,000 for individuals or $250,000 for married couples is also written into the bill for those “employed in an occupation with direct COVID-19 patient care responsibilities.” That provision would prevent the exclusion of ICU nurses, who may have logged higher salaries due to overtime at hospitals amid surges in COVID patients.
Last year, the Minnesota legislature failed to pass a smaller $250 million essential worker bonus pay bill due to disagreement over eligibility requirements.
Robbinsdale Nurse: Frontline Worker Bill ‘Exactly What We Need’
During the committee hearing held Wednesday, Mary Turner, a nurse at North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale testified, urging lawmakers to pass the bill.
“You’ve got a chance to recognize our small contribution to society. And you know something, you don’t have to call me angel. You don’t have to call us heroes,” said Turner, who is also president of the Minnesota Nurses Association. “But what we would like is just a little recognition for the work that we continue to do, because I’ll tell you what, right now the morale is at its lowest point.”
The bill is estimated to impact 667,00 frontline workers. If it passes the full Minnesota House, a companion version would also need to pass the Minnesota Senate.
There is some skepticism a bill of similar nature would get worked out in the Senate.
“Where is the seriousness of their proposal coming forward?” said Rep. Liz Olson, DFL-Duluth.