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Minnesota has created a $500 million fund to award one-time bonus payments to frontline workers, including assisted living workers, for staying on the job during the pandemic.

Gov. Tim Walz signed the bill into law on Friday. Eligible workers — including assisted living, home care and other frontline workers — employed between March 15, 2020, and June 30, 2021, each can apply for a maximum $1,500 bonus payment. 

Approximately 667,000 frontline workers are eligible to receive a payment. The law also provides $2.7 billion to replenish the state’s unemployment trust fund, preventing a tax increase on small businesses.

“Frontline worker bonuses are a long overdue ‘thank you’ to caregivers for their sacrifices during the heart of the pandemic, but we need to focus on the issue facing us today: there are 23,000 open caregiver positions across the state, and one-time bonuses will do almost nothing to recruit and retain the workforce we need to care for Minnesota’s 1 million seniors,” Care Providers of Minnesota President and CEO Patti Cullen told McKnight’s Senior Living. “Until we are able to pay career wages, thousands of seniors are at risk of losing access to the care they need.”

Care Providers of Minnesota is the state affiliate of the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living.

LeadingAge Minnesota President and CEO Kari Thurlow shared a similar sentiment with McKnight’s Senior Living, saying that lawmakers now must turn their attention to the industry’s “significant” staffing crisis.

“The state plays a major role in setting the rates for aging services, but it’s not enough to cover the cost of care,” Thurlow said. “Without investments in the elderly waiver, a program to help low-income seniors receive care in assisted living and other home- and community-based settings, thousands of seniors are at risk of losing access to the care they need in the communities they call home.”

For the bonus payments, the state is working on an online application system through the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry that will give eligible workers 45 days to apply.

Workers in the following sectors are eligible to apply for the bonuses — long-term care and home care, healthcare, emergency responders, public health, courts and corrections, child care, schools, food service, retail, temporary shelters and hotels, buildering services, public transit, ground and air transportation services, manufacturing and vocational rehabilitation. 

The Minnesota Senate recently passed a comprehensive health and human services reform bill to address the state’s long-term care workforce crisis. The legislation includes a $1 billion surplus priority to increase rates for long-term care, personal care and disability waiver rate service industries. This amount is in addition to the $322 million rescue package introduced earlier this year to address the staffing crisis in such facilities.