Workgroup at an Impasse on Frontline Worker Bonuses; Prospects for Special Session Grow Dim

The Frontline Worker Pay Work Group met yesterday—more than a month past its designated deadline for reaching an agreement—and announced that there was still no agreement for distributing the $250 million designated by the legislature for frontline worker bonuses.

There must be support from seven of nine work group members for a recommendation to advance to the entire legislature. Alternatively, the work group may advance at up to three proposals for consideration by the legislature. However, it appears that unless there is a single work group recommendation, Gov. Walz will not call the legislature into a special session.

Amongst the core issues remaining: who should qualify for bonus payments and how much each qualifying individual should receive. The DFL members on the work group said a broad pool of frontline workers should be eligible to claim up to $375 if they met the requirements. Approximately 667,000 workers would qualify under this approach. The Democrats have stated that they would like to see lawmakers put extra money aside to make additional payments to workers in the future. Republican work group members have focused on frontline workers at greater risk of COVID-19 when interacting with sick or potentially sick with COVID-19, including nurses, long-term care workers, first responders, and law enforcement officers. They propose to provide payments of up to $1,200 to those eligible.

The work group will meet again next week to determine whether there is any compromise that garners the seven votes needed for a formal recommendation from the work group. Without any agreement, the issue will continue to the legislature in January. Even if the work group reaches a deal, there are many other hurdles to a special session. Gov. Walz and legislative leaders continue to disagree about the scope of the session, including whether lawmakers will also take up emergency powers legislation, mask mandates for schools and teachers and commissioner confirmations.

Notwithstanding these issues, we know the workforce crisis in senior care grows worse every day. LeadingAge Minnesota and the Long-Term Care Imperative continue to implore lawmakers to act swiftly to convene a special session to pass workforce solutions, including significant funding to support recruitment and retention efforts.  The Long-Term Care Imperative released a statement in response to yesterday’s hearing, again calling on lawmakers to act now:

“Today’s announcement that the legislative task force on frontline worker bonuses has reached an impasse without a clear path forward to reach an agreement is extremely disappointing for each and every one of the caregivers in long-term care. An already belated and well-deserved thank you for long-term caregivers would have gone a long way to acknowledge their dedication and commitment through the pandemic. 

“We are facing record-level workforce shortages in assisted living and nursing homes across our state, and it is worsening at a swift pace. While everything helps, frontline worker bonuses alone won’t solve our workforce crisis. 

“Lawmakers must act now to ensure Minnesota’s seniors have access to safe, quality care when they need it in all the communities they call home. As soon as possible, we need lawmakers to act to fund immediate, permanent wage increases to support recruitment and retention efforts in long-term care. Each month, millions of hours of professional caregiving are lost because of delays in addressing this critical need. When it comes to caring for Minnesota's seniors, our state's leaders have a remarkable track record for finding solutions together, for facing difficult challenges head-on, and for overcoming differences. That is exactly what we need now."

If you haven’t taken action to share your workforce story and ask lawmakers to act swiftly, we urge you to do so today. To contact your lawmaker, visit our action alert, enter your address, and press send. We encourage you to personalize your letter; it can make a significant impact. More than 1,300 messages have been sent to lawmakers, and we need to continue applying pressure not to delay relief for senior care.

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