The Minnesota Senate recently approved compromise legislation creating a formula to fairly distribute the share of federal COVID-19 assistance that can be used to help local governments.

Gov. Tim Walz currently has the sole authority over the federal coronavirus aid, and concerns have been raised about both transparency and accountability in how the aid is distributed.

“This bill is the result of a lot of hard work and effort towards even handedness,” said District 16 Sen. Gary Dahms of Redwood Falls. “The people of rural Minnesota need a guarantee that they will be given what they are due and not shortchanged once again in favor of Minneapolis and St. Paul. This legislation fills that requirement and will put relief funds exactly where they should be.” 

Minnesota received more than $2 billion from the federal government to help local governments, health professionals and businesses fight COVID. That money went into an account called the federal coronavirus relief fund, so it could be quickly deployed to places it is needed most.

The compromise agreement, authored by Senate Finance Chair Julie Rosen of Vernon Center, distributes the local government portion of that funding (about $841 million) fairly to Minnesota counties, cities and townships based on a formula using their population.

In other recent action during the state’s special session, the Minnesota Senate voted to end Governor Walz’s peacetime emergency powers relative to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If the House agrees, it would end the state’s longest peacetime emergency in history.

Walz first put the state under emergency powers March 13, 2020.

“The legislature is, and has been, ready to work together through the COVID-19 emergency,” said Dahms. “Governor Walz had to make some tough decisions, and everyone towed the line to create a safe environment from the beginning. However, decisions about relief fund spending are now being made by a single person. That is unacceptable. The people elected the legislature to represent them, and we should be able to do our job – making data-driven decisions and listening to the voices in our districts.”

The vote to end peacetime emergency was 38-29, with three Democrats joining all 35 Republicans supporting the resolution.

Dahms is in his third term representing Senate District 16, which includes communities in Brown, Lac qui Parle, Lyon, Redwood, Renville, and Yellow Medicine counties. He also serves as chair of the Senate commerce and consumer protection finance and policy committee and is an assistant majority leader.