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

From small business aid to questions about testing, the volume of contacts to most Minnesota offices is up.

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.

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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.