Following the Governor’s agreement with the federal government to protect emergency food benefits, House introduces amendment to ensure an orderly transition of emergency response
[ST. PAUL, MN] — After reaching a deal with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to protect monthly emergency food payments for Minnesotans, Governor Tim Walz today announced a plan to end the COVID-19 peacetime emergency on July 1 while ensuring an orderly transition. Following the Governor’s agreement with the federal government, Minnesota House Democrats introduced an amendment that allows for an orderly transition of the state’s current COVID-19 emergency response.
The Walz-Flanagan Administration’s agreement with the USDA ensures that the state will continue receiving emergency food assistance funds, benefitting grocers, farmers, and truckers who work in the food industry. Without this agreement, the Senate Republicans’ plan would have been devastating for individuals, families, and entire communities who need and deserve healthy food. The House Democrats’ amendment enables the Governor’s agreement, while also allowing the Governor to continue to vaccinate Minnesotans and ensure that Minnesotans receive timely access to unemployment benefits.
“The COVID-19 peacetime emergency allowed us to respond quickly and effectively to the pandemic this past year. We built testing sites from the ground up, we secured emergency personal protective equipment to protect our healthcare workers on the frontlines, and we developed a nation-leading vaccination program to get life-saving shots into the arms of Minnesotans,” said Governor Walz. “The peacetime emergency also made Minnesotans eligible for federal hunger-relief funding for 15 months. Our agreement with our federal partners to extend those benefits for Minnesotans, coupled with the thoughtful plan outlined in the House Democrats’ amendment to wind down the emergency response in state government, means that we can close this chapter of our history and celebrate the brighter days ahead. I ask our colleagues in the Minnesota Senate to adopt this amendment, help us finish the job, and avoid a government shutdown.”
Minnesota’s peacetime emergency gave the state the tools necessary to quickly launch state vaccination sites and acquire supplies and technology to support the vaccine effort. It also supported the rapid buildup of Minnesota’s nationally recognized testing infrastructure; protected Minnesotans against evictions and wage garnishment; provided expedited procurement power for personal protective equipment (PPE) and other equipment; allowed Minnesota to implement measures to follow the advice of public health experts in combatting the spread of COVID-19; protected workers from unsafe working conditions; allowed for enhanced protections for residents of veterans homes; secured over $500 million in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for Minnesotans who need help buying groceries; and provided economic relief and stability to Minnesotans and small businesses impacted by the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 peacetime emergency was critical to protecting Minnesotans throughout this pandemic, including those experiencing food insecurity,” said Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. “As a kid, my family relied on SNAP, and so I know firsthand how SNAP provides basic, critical support for thousands of families in this state. I am proud to work with our federal partners to make sure that children and families, elders, people experiencing homelessness, Native communities, communities of color, communities in Greater Minnesota, and all Minnesotans who need a bit of relief have the resources they need to put food on the table as the peacetime emergency comes to an end.”
Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020, the USDA may provide additional emergency food assistance allotments during a federal public health emergency to requesting states for which an emergency or disaster declaration has been issued due to COVID-19. In Minnesota, these emergency allotment benefits now total $45 million per month. Under the statewide COVID-19 peacetime emergency, Minnesota has received over $505 million in increased benefits that has helped approximately 282,000 households each month. These benefits have brought millions of dollars into the state and have supported Minnesotans struggling to afford nutritious food for themselves and their families during the pandemic.
As Senate Republicans last week attempted to end these benefits, the Walz-Flanagan Administration worked directly with the USDA and Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to identify a different path to meet the statewide declaration of emergency requirement. The USDA and FNS determined that it will accept a joint declaration by Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and Department of Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead to obtain federal approval and secure these continued emergency food assistance allotments through the end of the federal public health emergency.
Governor Walz’s deal with the USDA and FNS ensures Minnesota will continue to receive $45 million in monthly emergency food assistance benefits, or SNAP benefits, for more than 575,000 Minnesotans, even after the peacetime emergency ends.
“As Minnesota’s largest food bank, we recognize that we cannot solve hunger through food distributions alone. Many of the Minnesotans visiting our state’s food shelves also rely on federal nutrition programs like SNAP to stock their pantries and fridges, and since March of 2020, boosted SNAP benefits have ensured that even as people experienced layoffs and illness, they were not forced to face the pandemic hungry. Because of this, we are incredibly grateful that Governor Walz’s administration reached an agreement with the USDA to continue E-SNAP payments, which have provided a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans and boosted local grocers and food retailers with over $500 million in additional benefits. Investments like these have proven effective in reducing COVID-era hunger levels, and by maintaining these additional benefits, we will keep Minnesota’s recovery strong,” said Allison O’Toole, CEO of Second Harvest Heartland.
“We’re so glad this important resource is being extended as Minnesotans continue to recover from a difficult year due to COVID-19. Hunger Solutions Minnesota is honored to work with the Governor and administration to address hunger and applaud their work to make this happen,” said Colleen Moriarty, Executive Director at Hunger Solutions Minnesota.
As Minnesota has seen a rapid reduction in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, the Walz-Flanagan Administration has worked with the Legislature to codify and unwind key provisions of the emergency response. These include an off-ramp for the state’s evictions moratorium and extensions of key waivers related to health and human services programs. The Governor signed these provisions into law today.
In addition, an amendment introduced by House Democrats today—which incorporates bipartisan proposals from both the House and Senate—bolsters the agreement Governor Walz reached with the USDA and allows for an orderly transition of the state’s current emergency COVID-19 response. The amendment:
• Allows the Commissioners of Health and Human Services to declare a public health disaster related to COVID-19—preserving $45 million in monthly emergency SNAP benefits;
• Continues executive orders related to state COVID-19 staffing and unemployment insurance regulations until August 1; and
• Preserves the Governor’s authority to nimbly coordinate, allocate, distribute, and manage COVID-19 vaccination and testing without a peacetime emergency—and also his authority to declare a new peacetime emergency as necessary.
With assurance that emergency SNAP benefits will continue and that the state can continue an orderly wind down of the COVID-19 response, the peacetime emergency can safely end on July 1.
For more information on SNAP, visit the state’s COVID-19 emergency food support webpage .