About $4.4 million earmarked specifically for Steele County is sitting in limbo at the state Capitol.

During Wednesday’s Steele County Board of Commissioners meeting, commissioners discussed how the legislative special session failed to pass a bill that would allocate the federal funding known as the CARES Act to the different municipalities across the state.

“This is funding from Congress sent to the state to pass through to local governments to help with costs and expenses accrued during COVID-19,” said County Administrator Scott Golberg. “The state has the ability to add any additional parameters and add to the funding as they see fit, but unfortunately nothing did happen in this special session.”

According to Golberg, the CARES Act would provide Steele County — not including the individual townships and cities — with roughly $4.4 million to aid with various expenses and hardships brought on by the public health pandemic. Commissioner Greg Krueger said that Steele County and Owatonna’s funding combined totals about $6.6 million.

“It was and is a potential source to help with some of our costs,” Golberg said, adding that there is a chance that a bill could still be passed in a second special session later this summer. “We would also like to look at how we can utilize some of that funding for our businesses and local economic support.”

Last week before the special session ended, the Minnesota Senate passed 62-4 a bipartisan bill that would help disperse the $841 million received through the federal program. The bill had the appropriation split roughly 55% to counties and 45% to cities and townships over a certain population. The bill also would have required the funding to be distributed by June 30 and for county governments to return funds unspent by Dec. 1 to the Department of Revenue. In the Senate bill, at least 10% of county allocations must be spent on economic/business assistance.

“The bill got hung up in the House as additional things were tacked on and it stalled,” Golberg said.

Krueger encouraged the public to put pressure on the Minnesota House of Representatives to get a bill passed in an upcoming special sessions, noting that now is the time to contact local representatives and have their voices be heard.

“I call on the Chamber and on other people to hitch on to that wagon and get this passed,” Krueger said. “We need to make a push to the House. This is something that will really help all the citizens of Minnesota, not just Steele County.”

Commissioner Jim Abbe echoed Krueger’s comments, also imploring that all elected officials personally reach out to representatives and encourage them to pass the bill. Krueger said that he believes that attention could also be focused on the Speaker of the House, Rep. Melissa Hortman (D-Brooklyn Park).

Also during the board meeting, the commissioners unanimously passed the reopening plan for Steele County. Though county facilities reopened on June 1, the commissioners took official action in approving the safe reopen plan that follows the guidelines from Gov. Tim Walz’s Executive Order 20-56. The plan lays out guidelines for cleaning/sanitization, traveling and health screening of visitors.

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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