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What Minnesota’s congressional offices are hearing from constituents during the COVID-19 crisis

Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Matt McClain/Pool via REUTERS
Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s office has received questions about the need for more widespread testing for COVID-19, as well as concern for vulnerable seniors.
Minnesotans have questions for their representatives about COVID-19 and the federal government’s response to it. Even with most staff working remotely, congressional offices are finding a way to answer those questions on the phone. So what are people asking about?

Congressional offices from around the state told MinnPost that they’ve been asked many questions about the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, how to access unemployment and how to access student loan relief. They’ve heard from Minnesotans stuck in foreign countries or on cruise ships.

“There have been more calls than usual to both the D.C. office and the district offices,” said Sue Dieter, Communications Director for Rep. Collin Peterson.

Dieter said that the question the office is getting the most is: How can constituents access the Small Business Administration (SBA) programs established in the CARES Act? Particularly, how can farmers and self-employed people access the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Emergency Advance (EIDL), which provides up to $10,000 of economic relief to businesses impacted by COVID-19? “We are also hearing from folks that the wait time to visit with someone on the phone about these programs is long,” Dieter said.

Abby Rime, Press Secretary for Rep. Tom Emmer’s office said he has a page on his website set up with resources and that he’s been sending both digital and physical mail to keep people informed. “Rep Emmer believes we must open the economy soon and give people the opportunity to resume the lives they’ve worked hard to build,” she added.

Rep. Betty McCollum said that some of the issues her constituents have faced accessing these relief programs are a consequence of the way the federal government has done business over the past few years. “SBA staff are working day and night to process small business loan applications, and the agency has been chronically understaffed for years,” she said. “Now in this crisis, we’re seeing the negative consequences of failing to responsibly fund essential government agencies.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s office has received questions about the need for more widespread testing for COVID-19, as well as concern for vulnerable seniors. Last month, Klobuchar introduced the AARP-endorsed Advancing Connectivity during the Coronavirus to Ensure Support for Seniors (ACCESS) Act, which would expand telehealth services and offer virtual visitation services in nursing facilities.

In response to constituent questions about stimulus check eligibility for children above the age of 16, Sen. Tina Smith and Rep. Angie Craig authored the All Dependents Count Act, which would expand the qualifying age of a dependent under the CARES Act to 19, 24 if you are a dependent and a student, and beyond 24 for individuals with disabilities (dependents above the age of 16 currently don’t qualify for stimulus checks).

“I have already heard from a number of college students who are surprised that neither they nor their parents will receive any benefit from our rescue plan,” Craig said in a letter to Rep. Richard Neal, Democrat of Massachusetts and chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. “Many of these students are now back home due to shuttered colleges around the country. The definition used in the Senate bill is too narrow and will deprive them of the rebate families were expecting to receive to help pay their bills and support their families.”

UPDATE: After this piece was published, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota’s Fifth District provided the following statement:

We have seen a major uptick in constituent service requests — many focused on the financial difficulties Minnesotans are facing, whether it is paying rent or just putting food on the table. This has informed both our legislative work and our work with local and state officials. Because of constituent input, I was able to pass the MEALS Act into law, which will fund school meals programs for students while schools are closed. We also are working to cancel rent and mortgage payments during this crisis to help aid Minnesotans and extend financial assistance to mixed status families. We’ve been holding regular online town halls to make sure we get Minnesotans the latest information on how to protect their health and get the financial support they need.

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Solly Johnson on 04/17/2020 - 10:37 pm.

    My question to each Representative and Senator is “Why don’t you go back to D.C. in a national emergency and take care of constituents’ needs and those of small businesses?” In the bailout package they took care of large corporations, gave small businesses and individuals peanuts, and then left for home while front line workers in health care, food service, delivery, etc. have to perform their essential duties.
    This pandemic was an excuse for a corporate bailout with the Senate voting 96-0, the House cowardly acting on a voice vote rather than a roll call vote, and magnified the fact that Congress and our government does not serve us. As more facts emerge about the provisions of the bailout, we see further how badly our government sold out everybody but the extremely wealthy.

  2. Submitted by joe smith on 04/18/2020 - 08:52 am.

    What you are going to hear more of is “let us, the American citizen, be responsible for our own health”. None of the models showing hospital beds needed, death rate, infection rate have been close to accurate. One size fits all Government doesn’t work and one size fits all healthcare doesn’t work either. Americans have had enough and the rallies, not only in Minnesota but all across our country, will grow until the Government gives us back the right to decide for ourselves what is the proper path.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/19/2020 - 06:17 pm.

      All of the numbers are lower BECAUSE we are doing this.

      • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 04/20/2020 - 08:35 am.

        That is not an accurate statement. The data proves that R0 had already peaked in mid March before the stay at home orders went into place. Karl Denninger was first to prove it by back calculating R0. Harvard also proved it by doing the same. Others have since done so as well.

        Now we have data from Stanford and MA (and others) showing very high rates of people with antibodies. As much as 50% in some cases. That means the virus was much farther along than the “experts” claimed. It also means we are days away from herd immunity if the data is accurate.

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 04/18/2020 - 10:52 am.

    Rep. Emmer and a MN legislative GOP leader had an op-ed in the Star Tribune today that falsely blamed Governor Walz for ostensibly displaying attitudes and behaviors on the virus pandemic that really they should throw on Donald Trump’s shoulders. Reading it, all I could think of was their hypocrisy and disingenuous statements. Walz is light years more responsible, and caring, than Donald Trump is, and MN government is functioning WAY better than the Trump administration, which has mishandled this coronavirus pandemic from the outset.

    The “open it up” protesters represent only a far-fight, libertarian fringe of the Republican party in Minnesota. Clearly, they didn’t pass their math classes in high school, and don’t understand exponential multiplying.

    And the protests are so carefully coordinated, nationally, that no one can believe that the attitudes displayed are “Minnesotan.” Most of us good Minnesotans are wearing masks, staying at home and distancing ourselves from others so we don’t get the virus and then spread it–as those “protesters” are doing (you want to be their families, when they get home from “protesting” and spread the virus around? I don’t.).

    We have a really ignorant president at this time but we have one of the really excellent governors in the nation. Go, Walz!

  4. Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 04/18/2020 - 12:08 pm.

    You got that right Joe. Trump will promote more reelection rallies in blue states which he knows he is now losing because of his mishandling of the U.S. version of this pandemic disease.
    His non-caring, uninformed, self-centered fawners have been taught well by their wanna-be king of ignorance.

    • Submitted by joe smith on 04/18/2020 - 06:12 pm.

      Dennis, what demographic is dying due to COVID 19? Once you find out that answer, please explain shutting down the economy (where average age of workforce is 42) and schools. I will wait for your answer.

      • Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 04/19/2020 - 11:11 am.

        Joe, you read so you know who is dying from this disease… we all know that. We all also know that the carriers are your stated “42” year olds and others who carelessly flaunt “their rights” because they, like their God image president do not think beyond their own person.
        Like you, I feel that the school shutdown needed more thought; but with that said, one needs to remember that the students are coming from your “42 year old” homes and could be carriers also.

  5. Submitted by lindalee soderstrom on 04/18/2020 - 01:01 pm.

    Maybe its only me, but I am confused about the testing. Not knowing the public health or surveillance fields (or facts) I just need someone to explain to me who besides the following get tested next. The groups I think I understand are first responders and medical providers, elders, residents of congregate settings, people with previous medical conditions, underlying risks, homeless folks at risk and if other identified first groups needing testing please tell me these too. Will the next wave of testing be those who present at clinics with Covid-19 complaints or All Who Enter Clinics? And can someone explain to me then how that informs us of where and how high our numbers are and what safety is calculated from this. This is probably not even the right question. Oh yeah. All the types of testing and what they are good for and wo can do what and why ….. just a few confusions. thoughts? A last Ask: if we are not going to keep 6-10 feet apart, clean the devil out of all surfaces, pay the cleaners and buy the cleaning supplies and wear masks everywhere all the time are we really going to open our society freely? Isn’t that asking for big trouble right quick??

  6. Submitted by Jerilyn Jackson on 04/18/2020 - 02:06 pm.

    According to any available polling, large majorities of Minnesotans approve of the way Governor Walz has been handling the health crisis and wish for the continuance of the stay at home order for as long as medical experts recommend it to save lives.

  7. Submitted by Kevin Schumacher on 04/18/2020 - 05:50 pm.

    Joe, assert your rights. Head out to any grocery store, or Walmart. Make sure to ride your motorcycle without a helmet, after all, it is your right. Make sure to not wear a mask when you go to the store, because it is your right..oh heck, make sure to bring your handgun, because it is your right. Send me a note when you are in the hospital, or even worse, when someone’s grandmother is ill because of your rights. You can truly be responsible for your own health, but grandma’s, not so much.

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