DEED Call Notes 6/4/2020
APPLE VALLEY CHAMBER NOTE: The Governor is appearing at George Floyd’s funeral this afternoon and is not part of this DEED meeting. He is expected to later today or tomorrow have clearer timelines on opening dates and restrictions.
Especially restaurants, hotels, any business looking at having either their employees sign “liability waivers” (Illegal in MN) or your customers, please read. Bowling Alleys, Weddings, Events, Museums and many other areas are addressed. It appears the next phase might be about your plan to protect more so than the type of business you are in.
2020 06 04 Call, DEED
Thursday, June 4, 2020
Steve Kelley, Commissioner of Commerce
Nicole Blissenbach, Asst Commissioner of Department of Labor and Industry
Cynthia Bauerly, Asst Commissioner of Revenue
Jenell Bentz, Policy Advisor, Dept of Revenue
Steve Grove, Commissioner of DEED
Kevin McKinnon, Deputy Commissioner of DEED
Darielle Dannon, Legislative Director
Anna Peterson, DEED Chief of Staff
Purpose: regular business call with state government. How can we do more for business?
Questions are being circulated into the forum through this regular communication. Always seeking ideas for more targeted supports.
MOVING FORWARD, THESE CALLS ARE ONCE A WEEK ON THURSDAY, 11am – 11:45am.
DEED, Steve Grove
- Much has changed since last Thursday, to put it mildly.
- We have been focused on response to civil unrest in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd.
- Aftermath is devastating. Speaking to members of the communities to determine scope of damage and concerns of business owners re rebuilding.
- A number of community calls to include city/state officials to start with listening to you about what needs to be done.
- Special Session kicks off next Friday: originally designed to engage on extension of Governor’s emergency powers… so much has happened recently that also will be addressed. Working with legislators on relief packages (in partnership with cities).
- Our conversations with business leaders have yielded insights. Concerns about insurance, landlords rebuilding and what it will do to neighborhoods, gentrification, grants not loans are the needed lever, property tax pymts, distress about need to move quickly.
- DEED has moved quickly around displaced workers.
- Also need to move forward on assistance that makes sense.
- This call originally was in the spirit of COVID-19 crisis but also need to face current crisis as a state with economic effects that go far beyond the districts victim to rioting and looting. Add questions to that for this forum because we need to deal with that as well.
- Updates re COVID-19:
- Late last week FAQ on outdoor dining. We know it is not a solution… sometimes no option at all. But is a step in the right direction.
- A lot of pent up demand for personal services.
- Working on Phase 3 of reopening: further opening of restaurants, entertainment… grid on mn.gov/covid19. that work has not stopped.
- Within days, will announce the timing of Phase 3.
- Grateful for the real and painful sacrifice businesses have made in response to COVID-19. in the history of MN, a debt of gratitude owed to business owners for helping the state get through this by complying with EOs.
Commerce, Steve Kelley
- Following up on comments regarding results of unrest. With so many businesses damaged, people are concerned about insurance coverage.
- In general, effects of violence ARE covered by insurance. Standard advice: whether you rent or own, contact your agent, read your policy…
- We’ve put out tips for submitting an insurance claim. Come from our experience in providing support through natural disasters. Adapted those tips to the civil unrest.
- If you run into issues with respect to submitting claims, I hope you’ll let us know because we can work directly with the insurers re how to address the problems.
- We heard the story: one business owner told that, in order to begin submitting claim, needed police report. For too many business owners, that’s an unlikely hurdle. Hopefully we won’t hear that as a common problem because insurers should be more responsive re those issues.
- Also starting to look at how to get financial services back into areas affected. Issues regarding security of any sort of pop-up financial services re-introduced where there is loss of access to banking services because of the destruction of branches and loss of ATM machines. Working with financial institutions on that.
- Back to COVID-19: ongoing questions about paying for testing in the long run, esp as testing evolves, and also about how to pay for antibody testing and under what circumstances. Some states already have taken positions on that. We are bringing together stakeholders, invite business reps to be a part of that, to discuss how to pay for the various testing approaches that will be developed as we try to reopen, get people back to office and protect employees/customers from further spread.
Revenue, Cynthia Bauerly
- We have turned our focus from blanket grace periods you had seen earlier in the Spring to wanting to work directly with individual customers on any of their tax obligations.
- We can get people started on payment plans, help people figure out how to get penalties or interest abated.. Want to ensure not paying if delays due to business interruption due to COVID and due to last week’s civil unrest.
- Also some questions about Coronavirus Relief Fund, from fed govt to states. Also available for local governments.
- Counties of Hennepin and Ramsey got allocation directly from federal govt.
- Ww legislature for last 6 weeks to determine allocation fund for other 85 counties/cities/ townships.
- These funds are for Coronavirus response, not general revenue replacement funds. We know govts have lost revenue, but this is specific.
- Those funds can be used for purchasing PPE, economic response (grants to businesses, direct economic assistance for individuals like rent help…).
- Re local distribution of Treasury funds: Treasury has been putting out guidelines we are studying and sharing. We are very close to an agreement with the Legislature in terms of how to distribute the $. Will keep working on that. A number of govts, re how to shore up the govt itself but the community in terms of direct assistance. Will be local decisions. There is a strong conversation happening amongst govts about that, to ensure funding can get into the local communities.
- Those funds also can be used in combination… don’t be surprised to see a city/cty jointly use funds to support COVID response.
- Other funds allocated to the state: talking with Legislature about uses. Significant needs around testing and tracing, $ can be used there. Also for hospital support, creating program for businesses..
DLI, Nicole Blissenbach
- Good report from OSHA Compliance: majority of questions/issues that have been raised to them have been easily resolved with communication with employers. Seeing a willingness to take any action necessary to address safety/health concerns being raised by workers.
- Workers Comp: now over 1000 claims classified as COVID claims. Still TBD how many will be denied.
- Since last week, have received a number of additional questions about ability of employers to ask their employees to sign liability waivers that would prevent the employee from filing a claim for workers comp. To clarify: any agreements to waive workers comp rights are prohibited by MN law. Employers cannot sign away the right to file those claims, can’t discriminate against employees for filing claims, also prohibited to advise employees not to report injuries, or requirement to hold employer harmless. All covered under workers comp statutes. We are seeing additional businesses ask customers to sign similar waivers. i.e. haircuts or gyms… but when it comes to employees, not legal to ask for that.
- Incentives typically have been focused on non-retail or non-service sector jobs. In Greater MN, will we consider loosening program restrictions to we can offer incentives for downtown recovery? Without state or federal help, will be difficult path forward. McKinnon: you are referring to MIF, Job Creation Fund… no discussion of opening them up to retail or service or local market competition for funding. Appreciate the question; there might be other ways to address that vs those 2 programs.
- Re rules around outdoor seating: can restaurants use tents in contiguous parking lot or street with local jurisdiction approval for outdoor seating? And requirements for emergency hardware or fencing to serve alcohol on patios – will it be required? McKinnon: re fencing around alcohol serving areas… that’s how you’ll control the # of people in the restaurant, so I’m thinking yes. Need some sort of fencing/enclosed area. Re tents in the parking lot/streets, good question and I don’t know the answer. I suspect if tent includes social distancing requirements and capacity limits, I would think it makes sense.
- Weddings and funeral event centers: can they reopen under current guidelines? Do they need to follow separate guidelines for event center portion vs catering portion (all catering would be done outside). McKinnon: as I recall, those groups were not in the initial Phase 2 reopening but I believe will be addressed in next phase. Don’t quote me on that… will need to get answer for that.
- When might we hear more from Governor about large outdoor events? Peterson: per the Governor, clarity will be provided in the coming days. McKinnon: there are a variety of agencies working and as quickly as possible to look at and consider all these options.
- Much pressure being put on businesses in border communities, like ND that’s almost entirely open. Any conversation about retaining businesses to keep them competitive? Blissenbach: this is all part of our ongoing discussions. A number of different work groups: economic security… specifically how we will keep businesses going, how to institute better process in the future… all happening as we’re working on reopening additional businesses, removing restrictions… all being considered. We hear you, understand the concerns, esp with border cities, being taken into consideration.
- Has any local/federal COVID $ been spent yet (CARES Act $)? Bauerly: Hennepin and Ramsey have been pushing that $ out. Don’t have comprehensive list, but I understand is for rental assistance/payments, support for local businesses… talking with Legislature to push out $ to other 85 counties. McKinnon: confirm both Hennepin/Ramsey have announced their business programs, $7500 grants through lottery system.
- Museums can open more safely than, say, a bowling alley or racetrack… some can provide hands-free with social distancing… will they be considered differently from, say, Children’s Museum which is all hands-on? McKinnon: will be based on controls you can put in place. Easier to manage occupancy and risk within a museum/theater vs bowling alley or playground or trampoline park… I believe there may be separate guidance on that.
- Please provide guidance on food service workers and returning to work. Outside workers on contract… any mandates for food/hospitality workers and health screening? Blissenbach: health screening is a part of requirements of preparedness plan.
- Is there website to track federal $ used by local/state govt? Bauerly: MMB is setting up a way to report on what those funds are. Don’t anticipate that would include local govt as well but we certainly can explore that option.
- We’re getting requests for preparedness plan template for in-home care businesses like cleaning crews, nannies, etc. Is there a sample we can reference? Blissenbach: preparedness plan on website is generic. Guidance docs help inform the plan for that specific industry. Does outline types of things that need to be addressed… is there for guidance while allowing businesses to address their individual needs as well.
- Employment insurance: do we know at DEED when the line will reopen to address back to work concerns that employers have? The employer inquiry line. Grove: good question. We had to move around our phone lines, and employer phone line has been made unavailable here and there. Don’t have the best answer today. Will get it and circle back. As you all know, have had record-length wait time of 1-2 hours due to the complexity of inquiries we’re getting now, re getting UI. Freeing up lines for applicants has been at the expense of employer line. Will circle back.
- Reopening: hotels, esp small ones run by 1 person who doesn’t qualify for unemployment, doesn’t seem to qualify for state/fed funding because they’re open but running at maybe 20%. Any new assistance for hotels? Grove: I met with a group of hotels yesterday. 20% is better than most are doing. Most are in single digit %. Didn’t pause hotels through EOs, but usage is driven by events and travel. We have focused thus far on businesses shut down. Further conversations on what state aid looks like to include broader cross sector… SBA loans and others include requirement of impact by COVID-19. that includes hotels, even though they’re not closed. Re UI, we continue to encourage employers to look at shared work to help ensure you can keep people on the payroll… is an ecosystem business impacted by the broader climate. 17-18 hotels have shut down, at least 30 or so are still open but occupancy is still low… will continue those conversation.
- Will UI rules around COVID-19 like protection from rate increases end if peacetime emergency lapses in June? Are the rules tied to it? Grove: EOs do have temporary rules, but specific issues of employers making up cost of employer insurance will remain. Not looking to charge employers for having to put employees on furlough or layoffs… don’t want employers to be concerned about that.
- Can you talk about UI for 16-18 yos in school? Are legislators considering amending? Why can’t they currently connect and why does school attendance matter? Peterson/Grove: statute in place that students can’t get UI, and Legislature IS currently considering this. Is active discussion, and being raised by advocates. Jobs Committees are evaluating.