Hundreds of out-of-work miners in northeastern Minnesota can start collecting unemployment benefits again under a bill signed by Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday.
"This industry goes up and down, and when it's a time of down, that's when the rest of us need to be there," Walz said as he signed the bill, surrounded by legislators and local government leaders from the region. It's the second bill signed by the governor so far this legislative session.
The $10 million program will help cover unemployment benefits for roughly 450 miners laid off from Cleveland-Cliffs Northshore Mining operations in the midst of a dispute over royalty fees with Mesabi Trust. The trust, based in New York, leases the mine and collects royalties on part of the profits.
The company idled its operations in Silver Bay and Babbitt last May, and unemployment benefits ran out for those workers ahead of the holidays. The law signed by Walz will provide retroactive benefits to cover that period, while extending the benefits for workers through April.
"They had heating bills, they had Christmas, their kids' presents to consider, they had groceries, rising prices," said Sen. Grant Hauschild, DFL-Hermantown, the sponsor of the bill in the upper chamber. "Despite that, they held on. They stayed in our communities."
The Department of Employment and Economic Development will immediately start reaching out to impacted workers to let them know about the benefits. Some workers will get a lump sum payment to cover the gap in their benefits.
It's not the first time Minnesota lawmakers have stepped in to provide benefits for miners who are out of work. Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora, held up a newspaper article from 2001 when he lost his mining job.
"That money helped my family," said Lislegard, the sponsor of the bill in the House. "This money will help everyone in the community."
Lawmakers said they believe the mine could resume operations in April, but they're ready to come back to consider additional benefits if the dispute between Cleveland-Cliffs and the trust extends longer than that.
"We've said all along that we have these workers' backs," Hauschild said.