Unemployment Fund. This week, both the Minnesota House and Senate began to examine and discuss ways to address the massive $2.7 billion debt and shortfall in Minnesota’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. On Monday, the Minnesota Senate heard SF2677, a bipartisan proposal authored by Senator Pratt. Using a combination of unspent federal COVID relief funds and a portion of the state’s $7.7 billion budget surplus, the bill would direct $2.7 billion to repay money borrowed from the federal government and replenish the state’s budget reserve.
Hospitality Minnesota played a prominent role in Monday’s hearing with member Troy Reding (Ally Restaurants) testifying in support of the Senate proposal. The bill passed out of committee with no opposition votes. Today, the Senate Finance Committee heard SF2677 and with a unanimous bipartisan roll-call vote sent the bill to the Senate Floor. It is likely the full Senate will hear the bill in the coming days.
In the House, the companion bill to SF2677 is also a bipartisan bill with DFL Representative Pelowski as the chief author. The House is considering HF1035, authored by Representative Noor. The bill will only partially repay the outstanding loan of $1.3 billion to the federal government and does not return the UI Fund to full solvency. It is likely the issue will head to a conference committee and negotiations between the House and Senate Leadership.
Commissioner Grove from DEED has suggested this legislation needs to be passed and signed into law by March 15th, to prevent any tax increases or surcharges from taking place. With Governor Walz including the full repayment of the fund in his supplemental budget and the UI issue one of our top legislative priorities, we are hopeful this can be resolved quickly.
Senate H2-B Visa Release Request On Tuesday, we sent a letter to Senator Klobuchar, requesting that she sign on to a letter being circulated in the senate asking the Department of Human Services to release the full number (44,617) H-2B visas and compel them to speed up H-2B processing. With the demand received by Department of Labor of over 100,000 positions beyond the cap, it is critical the H-2B visa program be fixed.
This morning, we were gratified to receive notification that Senator Klobuchar added her signature. Senator Smith had signed on to the letter earlier. H2-B visas are a critical tool to help address the labor shortage that faces seasonal businesses such as our hotels, resorts and restaurants in greater Minnesota. We appreciate our senators support of this important issue for our industry.
Liz provided a brief update on the industry and requested that in view of the economic impact to foodservice businesses and rapid decline of virus-related statistics, the vaccine/test mandate be lifted before the important Valentine’s Day holiday. David and Brent led the discussion with the operators who shared their concerns over the business conditions and the large difference between city store locations and those located in suburban areas.
While neither mayor would commit to metrics or a date for making a decision to lift the mandate, Mayor Carter indicated he would be in a better position to make a decision after reviewing updated health information by end of the week. Mayor Frey also noted that he would be looking at the data to make his decision but would not commit to a timeline. Since the time of this meeting, several news outlets (see In the News below) have been reporting increasing pressure for the two cities to lift the mandate as quickly as possible.
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