Federal aid has continued to bolster Minnesota's response to the pandemic, from addressing emergency-room crowding to providing rental assistance and supporting litigation of COVID-related scams.
Gov. Tim Walz detailed plans last week for spending $36 million of the more than $2.8 billion the state government received in the spring through the American Rescue Plan.
"These federal funds will ease the pressure our hospitals and long-term care centers are facing and provide more capacity for Minnesotans who are sick with COVID or other illnesses," Walz said in a statement, which noted some of the $36 million has already gone out over the past month. "These ARP funds will help support our health care system as more Minnesotans continue to get vaccinated to protect themselves and their communities."
The largest chunk of cash in the latest announcement — $20 million — provides three additional months of rental assistance for about 6,000 people. The state government got more than half a billion dollars to help people cover rent and utility costs during the pandemic. But the Walz administration said by March, about 7,000 households could exhaust their allotted 18 months of federal assistance.
Another $7 million went to Minnesota Housing, the agency administering a massive rent-help program. It faced sharp criticism for its slow release of the money, but picked up pace in October. The money will pay for additional staff to get payments out, but raised concerns among a group representing property owners and managers.
"There's lots of questions about the efficiency of the RentHelpMN program and it's been troubling from the very, very beginning," said Minnesota Multi Housing Association President Cecil Smith. "Then seeing requests for additional funding so that they can manage this bureaucracy, I think that warrants investigation by those who have oversight authority."
Attorney General Keith Ellison's office got about $3.6 million to support its work investigating and litigating COVID-19 scams and residential issues. His office has taken up tenants' concerns about utilities and battles with landlords throughout the pandemic.
Another $2.5 million is helping the health care industry and long-term care providers, including addressing crowded emergency rooms and funding temporary hospital surge sites.
Smaller sums went to educational needs, including $1.5 million for early-learning programs to improve children's language, communication and literacy capabilities. And $1 million will add life skills and vocational opportunities for students with disabilities ages 18 through 21.
The smallest allocation, $500,000 for the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, will help address an increase in anti-Asian bias during the pandemic, as well as other discrimination and hate crimes. The department will track intake calls about those issues, spokesman Taylor Putz said, and will also use money to understand who is affected by COVID-related disability discrimination.